Monday, December 31, 2007

Site moved

To start off the new year fresh, this blog has moved to Thanks for reading. And as coal for power goes, the journey isn't over quite yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Local Sustainability Efforts

Suzy Fenner, a Fairbanks resident, has taken up the mission to put together a grassroots effort to encourage sustainability. You can read about the nascent efforts at I'd been encouraging the development of a clearinghouse of efforts locally and statewide so that we all can communicate and coordinate better. One good source for that has been the Northern Alaska Environmental Center page on global warming, which has a number of good links.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Consider the Source

I see that some haven't given up casting seeds of doubt on working for mitigation of climate change causes and consequences. Resource Development Council board member Paula Easley's "Sky is not Falling" editorial is a case in point. She grabs at discredited or irrelevant straws to argue that global warming isn't any fault of ours and, anyway, we will benefit from warmer weather, so get ready. One might think her "facts" sound reasonable unless you know her sources are industry sponsored and/or cherry-picked, and her snide comments about various respected folks that disagree with her. In the same 11/17/07 Newsminer was an article on how the IPCC, a pretty broad group of internationally renown scientists, just released their 4th report on climate change , even more convinced of the need to take action to both mitigate and adapt.

The Resource Development Council has a partisan agenda, representing the legacy extraction industries which look for the short term buck. Alaska, with all our resources, are a part of their world view. Ms. Easley lambastes those for grassroots lobbying for action to address climate change, but not the resource industries who have spent billions lobbying to have it their way. Exxon Valdez settlement delays, millions in feel-good TV, radio, print, and mail out ads? Legislator/congressional payoffs anyone? While some industries may be starting to see the light of preserving our environment for the future, apparently the RDC through Ms. Easley, has yet to get the word.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

MEA cancels coal plant idea

Reading the Nov. 10, 2007 ADN, MEA (Matanuska Electric Association) announced it is canceling efforts to build a large coal plant in Matsu. They do have issues with not having any of their own generation, but this idea seemed ill advised.

It was reported that MEA will stop pushing this coal plant idea due to poor economics. This seems like face saving. What should be apparent is that, forward looking, there will be less economic incentive to burning coal with CO2 emissions factored in. A wise decision, for whatever the stated rationale.

If those proponents for coal are so gung-ho, why haven't they worked to buy power from the AIDEA-GVEA-Usibelli experimental coal plant in Healy that cost the state and feds nearly $400 million? Of course, that's only a 50 mw plant.

Long term decisions need to be made with carbon footprint considerations. We're all on the same planet (some more than others) and share a common future with climate change mitigation and adaptation. Coal might be plentiful, but about the most destructive form of non-renewable energy in terms of CO2 and toxic emissions.

Seems like a natural gas bridging solution for just in-state use would allow us about 500 years of stability. What's the big push to export?

That being said, I hope someday MEA will get be able to be less political and confrontational in its approach to getting things done. They may feel besieged, but maybe there is a reason.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Changing Our Resource Culture

I don't know everyone can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we are in the position of having to change our culture toward the resources we consume or waste. At the same time, we need to start taking obvious and radical actions to reduce our carbon footprint.

Weighty, heavy task. We are continuing to be told the consequences of failing to act. Besides the IPCC, who co-won the Nobel Prize for Peace along with Al Gore, every day we see new impacts of climate change. I heard today that the climate change models were too safe in estimating the CO2 carrying capacity of the warming
oceans. The data shows that in earlier times, similar ocean warming caused mass extinctions. We have an early entry with the polar bear.

I was talking with Alaska Lt. Governor Sean Parnell yesterday evening following a presentation he gave, exhorting UAF students to get active in helping impacted communities like Shishmareff (ocean storms eating away the town) or Hooper Bay (burgeoning landfill). I pointed out that his examples are all attributable to our failure to account for the after-cost of using resources, without those costs being built into the original purchase. What to do with the leftovers after one is finished consuming the part we are interested in? Leftover from burning fossil fuel for heat - CO2 and more. Leftover from that package of Dove bars - plastic and paper. He saw the point, but then said - boy, those are big problems. How are we going to deal with that?

Hello? If we can't our government leaders willing to take the longer view toward species/biome/habitat stabilization/survival, it's pretty hard for the ordinary citizen. A fundamental shift in how we value goods and services is required. Non-egoist economic behavior usually manifests itself after a disaster, such as Katrina, or the recent wildfires in southern California. The longer we wait, the more disasters, the more cost to societies.

One of the comments of the Nobel Committee in awarding the Peace Prize to those who were urging climate change mitigation is that, to stabilize the climate would preserve peace, as opposed to war and conflict over diminishing resources.

We've known many of the things we need to do to be more intelligent and efficient about the resources we use, what is available to us in the form of non-carbon emitting resources for the energy we do use. We've known for decades. And to be fair, we are making some changes, but the time grows shorter as we discuss the more fundamental changes. Even with newer technologies, the old legacy constituencies still keep us from actively recognizing and taking radical actions to change our behavior.

This brings me back to my first point - changing the culture. My view is that, in general, culture can only change from perceived risks and costs. The U.S. is more self-centered, thus more resistant to change. We don't have a culture of commune-ism, such as Europe has. And we certainly don't value self-sacrifice. As the leading resource consumer and carbon contributor, we have so much we can do.

Politicians don't yet feel strongly they have the mandate for that fundamental restructuring of resource economics to cover our kids' butts. We are still tinkering with mini-projects, suggesting "clean" alternatives such as nuclear (oops, Mommy, I left the plutonium in the oven). Some of the states are starting to get it. Alaska, who holds a fortune in resources, still is pretty tentative, preferring to be powerless in the face of change, just willing to adapt, seeing little opportunity or showing the will thus far to mount the bully pulpit as those like Amory Lovins, Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and James Hansen have been doing for decades.

If action only happens after a whack to the head, then please let me help. Whack, whack, whack?

Oh, and for those who don't believe climate change is causing all these extreme weather changes? By denying it, you are saying we have no control over it, thus can't change it and we'll just have to bear the high cost to our societies to adapt.

And if you don't believe that man can change the climate, there are still obvious and rational economic reasons to not consume non-renewable fossil fuels so inefficiently. As I told Sen. Stevens some years ago when I asked him to get behind an increase in CAFE standards, let's get the biggest bang for the gallon we can. There isn't a need to madly export every last drop out of the North Slope of oil or gas as fast as possible? How about giving it the full value? It makes alternative non-polluting energy so much more attractive.

A fundamental change in how we value our resources is needed. Lots of good ideas are out there. Action is what is needed, as fast as we can. As it is, we've done a good job of committing our societies to increased costs of weather damages. Any idea how much it will cost to move southern Florida?

I hesitate to be too cynical with so many positive opportunities for changing that culture and our actions, but climate change inaction just impacted the Doomsday Clock. We were the generation that was going to save the world. Now I have to tell MY kids, "you've got a big job, sorry for the mess."

Friday, September 21, 2007

It's Been a While

It's been a while since I've posted. Not that I've lost interest in things, but the summer was typically busy and actually quite pleasant sans mosquitoes and yellow-jackets. Fall is now in fall-swing. Some nice evenings of aurora and the colors.... A nice photoblog to give you an idea of what I mean.

A short off-year local election is coming up soon. A neighbor of ours has been running most actively for FNSB Assembly. She's been quite active, but doesn't follow through on neighborly commitments, like cleaning up her junkyard, dealing with a drainage clearing mess on the road which was in her bailiwick. And I guess I also happen to disagree 100% with her platforms of "get the government out of our lives, no taxes." I'll be supporting Kelly Brown, who seems to have a better appreciation for where Fairbanks is now.

I expect to soon have more to say about the University of Alaska's commitment on reducing its carbon footprint and sustainability this fall. I've been actively trying to get some action going to follow up on all the speeches and other verbal commitments.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Utility Plans need full environmental considerations

Electrical utility plans need to have a full accounting for environmental costs, especially considering the challenges of CO2, climate change and the costs we will bear in the future for having changed so much of our environment.

Matanuska Electric Association is now going out to members to ask about siting for a coal fired power plant, justified by a new state prison to be built. This was recently reported in the Anchorage Daily News. There are a number of members who believe a coal plant has environmental concerns that have not been taken into account. The CH2M Hill Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) commissioned by MEA is not available to the members, so they have no way to review it. I'm happy that GVEA hasn't been so secretive with their IRP and having it available to members for review can lead to a better report. Members don't charge for their input.

In a recent study commissioned by the University of Alaska Fairbanks to look at meeting future power needs, they also came out with a recommendation to build (another) coal fired power plant on campus. Having access to the report helped point out that the economic analysis didn't include any carbon cost analysis, no substantive consideration of alternatives and a near-total wash on further conservation/demand side reductions. You can download the Utility Development Plan at the bottom of the linked page in 3 different sections.

When GVEA performed an Integrated Resource Plan in order to justify the experimental coal plant in Healy in the 1990s, the study found that conservation would cost 1.5 - 2 cents/kwh vs. 3.5 -4.5 cents for a new plant. What the MEA IRP found is anyone's guess. The irony of UAF's plan to add a coal plant is that a coal plant is either on full time or it isn't. There is no load balancing one can do without hours or days for starting a plant. If one builds a 20 mw plant, the most efficient use of that plant is to use 20 mw, not less. This is actually a disincentive for conservation.

I also notice that Governor Palin just awarded Usibelli Coal an award for exporting large quantities of coal to Korea. Rewarding a company for exporting a product that creates pollution that alters our environment? This is the same governor who just created a sub-cabinet level group to find ways that the state can reduce its "contribution" toward climate change.

With all the recent ramp up in discussion over climate change and the added CO2 that coal puts out, it seems like the discussion and research being performed demonstrating all the hazards aren't being translated into action.