Coal ash in the bottom of a lake

In an article yesterday in The Charlotte Observer by Sara Coello called “Researchers detect coal ash beneath five NC lakes, including a Charlotte water source” a troubling study result indicates that coal ash has been invasive over time. It is the gift that keeps on giving long after its use and not in a good way.

Here are the first few paragraphs from the article, with a link to the full piece below:

“Scientists have detected coal ash in sediment at the bottom of five North Carolina lakes, evidence that it can reach bodies of water in previously unknown ways. Sediments beneath Mountain Island Lake, a drinking water source in and near Charlotte, was one spot where ash was detected. The study did not conclude that the waste is a risk to people or wildlife, but recommends more research.

Experts had thought that coal ash polluted ground and surface waters primarily by leaking from pits and ponds where power companies traditionally stashed it. Duke Energy is excavating 80 millions tons of coal ash across the state to reduce that threat, with 5.4 million tons once stored close to Mountain Island Lake already removed.

But researchers from Duke and Appalachian State universities found that airborne ash particles fell directly into lake waters over the past 40 to 70 years, especially before pollution controls were installed. And that ash particles that dropped to the ground also washed into the lakes, especially during extreme weather.

‘We thought that the majority of the coal ash is restricted to coal ash ponds and landfills,’ said Avner Vengosh, a professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. ‘Now we see it’s already in the open environment.’”

One of the many costs of burning coal that is usually underestimated is the long-term impact of trying to keep coal ash corralled long after the coal has been burned. The Dan River spill from a few years back was from coal ash from a closed down plant. This is why we must continue to move (and have moved away from) coal burning to create electricity. The tail on its maintenance is very long and costly.

This is also why I have long been critical of leaders from coal mining states. They have known this for years and instead of helping workers to transition to newer cleaner energy solutions, they clinged to the past. The last time I looked the sun shines, the water flows and the wind blows in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

US Solar jobs dwarf coal jobs today, but that is not news and was highly predictable several years ago. Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said about ten years ago on “60 Minutes” the future of energy in the US is with wind energy. Natural gas will buy time, but the wind blows across the plains and offshore.

Solar and wind energy are now on par with or better than fossil fuel production costs. But, when you factor in all of the other costs related to acquisition, transport, healthcare, maintenance and litigation, eg. the costs for renewables beat the pants off coal and even natural gas. And, when a wind mill offshore “spills” the only thing that happens is a splash.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article266613326.html#storylink=cpy

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A four-year old post showed clean energy progress is happening

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act which includes very significant renewable energy funding is a huge step forward. Even Republican legislators who were told not to vote for it, are silently celebrating the needed investment in their states that will be forthcoming.

Four years ago, I wrote the following post which sheds progress at the same time the former president was pulling the US away from the adult table on fighting climate change. President Joe Biden has gotten us back to that table and helped pass the Inflation Reduction Act. Please note the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has caused some hiccups to the progress with Russia punishing its critics with fossil-fuel restrictions, but the progress continues.

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“Global citizens are rightfully concerned the US President Donald Trump is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, but progress continues as “we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy.” Even the US pullout cannot stop the train, as states, cities, businesses and other countries continue the push. It just means the President and his team will not be at the adult table on this issue and may not be invited at all.

Here are a few miscellaneous energy tidbits that should offer encouragement.

Per the UK Based organization Carbon Tracker, here are a few highlights from the past year:

  • more than 1/2 of the US coal plants in existence in 2010 have been closed;
  • more than 1/2 of the remaining coal plants in Europe are losing money;
  • the UK has slashed electricity from coal usage from 40% to 2% in the last five years; and
  • there have been big strides in China and Australia on reducing coal usage.

Per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five member, Republican dominated agency denied the request by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to fund the building of more coal-fired and nuclear plants. This was a surprise move given the make-up of the committee. I would call this decision as not wanting to throw good money after bad.

It should be noted, it is not just coal that is giving the FERC commissioners pause. The US division of Westinghouse Electric Company had to declare bankruptcy for cost overruns on a new nuclear power plant for SCANA, the South Carolina utility. As a result, the new plant is being shuttered and SCANA is being sold to Dominion Resources, so as not to overburden SC citizens with the cost of the lost investment.

The International Energy Agency in their 2017 Energy Outlook notes the cost of new solar photovoltaic electricity has declined by 70% and wind energy has fallen 25% since 2010. It should be noted the IEA has tended to favor fossil fuel energy in past releases. China, the new country leader in the climate change fight, will be investing US$360 billion more in renewable energy by 2020. Plus, the price of solar has fallen so much in places like Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it has won bidding contests against fossil fuel energy sources for projects.

Finally, any discussion on future energy cannot exclude the declining cost and increasing capacity in battery storage. Per Bloomberg New Energy Financials, energy storage will double six times between 2016 and 2030. Elon Musk just helped southern Australia go live with a major battery installation and 21 states in the US have planned projects on energy storage.

All of the above stories are important because it has always been a financial argument to combat the environmental concerns, whose long term costs have been undervalued. Now, the financials are favoring the renewable energy engine, so market forces will continue to force the ultimate demise of coal-fired energy, which started with the lower cost of natural gas. If a company can find a clean energy source which is cheaper and more predictable long term, that is easily the better path forward. If you don’t believe me, just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Walmart and IKEA to name only a few.”

Rural Virginia pivots from coal to green jobs

An article by Nina Lakhani in The Guardian this weekend called “‘This is the future’: rural Virginia pivots from coal to green jobs,” is a must read, especially for those who still want to cling to a declining industry. The article can be linked to below. Here are a few salient paragraphs that will give you the gist.

“When Mason Taylor enrolled at the local vocational school with dreams of becoming an electrician like his dad, it was assumed that the ninth-grader would eventually end up moving away from Wise county, Virginia, to find a decent job.

Now 19, Taylor just bought a truck after a summer apprenticing with a crew of electricians installing rooftop solar systems at public schools in the county. He was among a dozen or so rookies paid $17 an hour, plus tools and a travel stipend, as part of the state’s first solar energy youth apprenticeship scheme.

The region’s long-awaited energy and economic transition will be substantially boosted by America’s first climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

It’s far from a panacea, but Joe Biden’s legislation provides $369bn for the transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy – a historic investment that scientists estimate will reduce greenhouse gases by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 and ​​create an estimated 1.5m new jobs.

Decent well-paid jobs are desperately needed. In Virginia, coal production has declined by 70% since its peak in 1990, and much of what’s left is semi-automated. Those old jobs are largely gone and are not coming back.

The IRA provides ring-fenced money for training, innovation and manufacturing, as well as an array of tax breaks and other financial incentives to help consumers and businesses transition away from fossil fuels. And Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat senator from West Virginia played a pivotal role in watering down – and then reviving – the legislation, directing billions of dollars to the economic revival of depressed coal towns.

‘It’s a game changer for rural and coal communities,’ said Autumn Long, a project manager for solar financing and manufacturing workforce development at the non-profit Appalachian Voices. ‘Renewables are a way to honour the region’s energy-producing legacy and be part of the 21st-century global energy transition. The IRA is a turning point.‘”

In my view, these efforts are about ten years overdue. I have been writing for several years now of the demise in coal jobs in our country as contrasted to the uptick in solar and wind jobs. If I knew of the demise, the elected officials in these coal states have had to have known. This would include the Senate Minority leader who hails from Kentucky, one of those coal states. The sun has always shined and the wind has always blown in those states.

Yet, they did nothing. They were paid campaign funds by coal manufacturers to do nothing and perpetuate the status quo. Whether people like him or not, the only 2016 presidential candidate who told coal miners the truth – in person – was Senator Bernie Sanders, who said your jobs are going away, but here is what I plan to do about it.

Now, at long last, more is being done about it. Solar and wind energy are now on par or better in production costs with coal energy. And, when you factor in the environmental, maintenance, trucking, and litigation costs, the two renewables beat the pants off coal. It makes little sense to build a new coal plant which will become obsolete before it is finished.

So, this new law is good news and we should give credit to this Congress and President for getting it done. It is better late than never, but let’s hope it is not too late.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/08/rural-virginia-pivots-from-coal-solar-green-jobs

Water is the new oil – a reprise from 2013

The following post was written nine years ago, but with the severe water shortages occurring in the western United States and in Italy, Germany, England, etc., this issue is coming to head. Some of the observations made then are now coming home to roost in more than a few places.

Let’s get down to basics. Our planet has two vital resources  – air and water. We cannot live without them, but we continue to be pretty poor stewards of both. With the advent of man-influenced global warming, one of the key outcomes is we will have more severe droughts in drought-stricken areas. The models are showing global warming is occurring at a faster pace than predicted several years ago. Yet, even without global warming, we must be better stewards with our resources, water in particular. In the book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon, he devotes an entire chapter looking to the future. The chapter is called “Water: The New Oil.”

First, some context. This book is one of the best history books I have ever read. Solomon discusses how civilizations came into power and then fell by their ability or inability to manager water resources. Water serves several purposes besides drinking water – farming, sewage maintenance, transport and energy. Getting water into cities and out of them with sewage are vital to their health and wealth.  The latter can be equally important due to the bouts of cholera and dysentery that occur when sewage intermixes with the drinking water supply.

A few examples might help. There are three things that occurred in US history which significantly aided our rise to power in the world. The first was the Erie Canal which connected New York with the Great Lakes. The second is the Panama Canal which gave the US control over two oceans. The third is the numerous dams and water shed protections which gave us energy as well as secured drinking and farming water. Teddy Roosevelt’s greatest contribution is he was the most prolific water oriented US president in our history.

Yet, we have a major problem. We are not protecting our water supply like we need to. There are an increasing number of fights over water, where people downstream argue with people diverting more gallons to their communities upstream. Also, with the worsening droughts, there is insufficient rain to replenish the water. This problem is not restricted to the US. Saudi Arabia is rich with oil, but very poor with water. Its water sheds are in danger of drying out in the reasonably near future. In the US, Texas has numerous cities where the water aquifers are dried out. Water has to be trucked in from elsewhere. The national and international agencies that measure the impact of global warming, say the extreme droughts in Texas are exacerbated by man-influenced global warming.

Water is more critical now than ever before. Water is the new oil. We straighten out rivers allowing water to run off too quickly. We let run off occur from developments that increase silt in the water by washing the sand, dirt and clay into the water. With the rising seas, we let seawater run into fresh water lagoons that were used for farming. We Americans over water our lawns to make them green, when the indigenous grass and shrubs would be OK with a healthy brown color. We cut down on the water flow downstream by damming up a river upstream. We get energy, but there needs to be a more judicious way to let the water flow and still provide the energy.

And, we use water for energy purposes besides the hydro-powered electricity the dams create. In some energy solutions, the water can flow back into the water supply as tepid water, but not all of it as some gets lost in the process. For example, with coal-fired, nuclear powered, and natural gas-powered plants, the water is used to create steam from the heated source. The steam turns the turbine which causes the electromagnetic generator to turn and create the power. Once the water re-forms from the steam, it can be released back into its source. Yes, there are other environmental impacts, but the leftover water can flow back to the source.

Fracking to get the natural gas is a totally different matter. The major concern I have over fracking is not just the chemically laden water, the mercury, arsenic and methane that leaks into the air, the earthquakes that are causally linked to deep ground water disposal and the environmental infrastructure defamation, it is the water cannot and must not be reused. There are two problems. You cannot let the chemically laden water to get back into the water supply. It is harmful to humans and animals. Yet, water finds a way and it poisons the water sources. In the movie “Gasland” there is story of a woman who freezes and saves all the dead animals she finds near rivers and streams adjacent to fracking sites. She has hundreds of them.

The bigger concern is the use of the water in the first place. As noted, we cannot reuse the water. Yet, to frack a well, it is estimated by industry that it takes 4 to 6 million gallons per frack. The average well is fracked ten to twelve times, but let’s use ten for ease of the math. So, the average well is fracked with 40 to 60 million gallons of water. In Utah, they built 2,000 wells in close proximity. If you multiply this out, that is 80 to 120 billion gallons of water. In my home state of NC, they are talking about fracking 10,000 wells. That translates into 400 to 600 billion gallons of water. Using an unscientific term, that is a bucketload of water.

My question is this where you want to use your water? Given the above problems that fracking causes, is this where you want to use your water? You may say I am blowing smoke, but farmers and frackers fought over water in Kansas and Colorado this summer. I would add that Texas is a leader in fracking and they have an extreme drought issue with some cities out of water. I am not linking the two causally as I don’t know for sure, but that is one hell of a correlation, meaning one occurrence happens at the same time as another.

Is this where you want to use your water? I don’t. Fracking is bad enough news without this issue. But, this makes it a slam dunk. The developer makes money, gives a stipend to the landowner and then leaves the clean up to the state. The state residents are the ones who will suffer from the water shortage and other issues.

Water is one of our two dearest resources. Water is the new oil. We cannot soil it and then immediately drink it. We cannot flush it away and not reuse it. We must find ways to conserve it, distribute it equitably and be judicious with its use. We need to innovate on ideas like the flushless toilet competition that is underway. In desert areas, find inventive ways to get rid of sewage. In a major county in California, they are significantly filtering sewage run off water to make new drinking water. And, I mean signficantly filtering it with multiple steps. We need to use more indigenous plants. We need to conserve our water use.

And, we need to use renewable energy sources that do not demand the use of water. Solar and wind energy processes continue to get more scalable, but we need to factor the overall cost of eco-energy versus fossil fuel energy, which must include the cost on the environment, health of our people, and use of water. Fossil fuel produced energy may be cheaper without these other factors, but we need to move away from them in a concerted way.* Our lives depend on it.

*Note: Nine years later, producing wind and solar is as or more cost effective than coal energy production even without factoring in the other environmental, litigation and transportation costs.

Offshore wind energy in North Carolina is taking shape

In an article by Adam Wagner of the Raleigh News and Observer called “Duke Energy among companies with winning bids for NC offshore wind energy,” North Carolina’s efforts to take advantage of its windy coast is taking shape. Per Wagner, “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s 18 round auction netted $315 million for the wind energy areas, which are roughly 20 miles off the coast.”

The bids were won by two sets of companies, Duke Energy based in Charlotte and TotalEnergies Renewables USA. “‘Investments from two developers means an increased supply chain investment and recruitment, workforce development and thousands of good paying jobs and infrastructure development that will support other North Carolina industries,’ Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, said in a statement.”

The Duke Energy $155 million investment will help power 375,000 homes and help Duke meet its renewable energy goals. Most of its wind investments have previously been in Texas. TotalEnergies will produce electricity for roughly the same number of homes, as its investment was a little more than Duke’s. TotalEnergies has also won a bid for a lease just off the coast of New York and New Jersey.

The US has seen most of its wind energy on land in the plain states, with Texas leading the way and other states like Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma following suit. The last statistic I checked said Iowa gets 43% of its electricity from wind. Texas is around 20%, but is a much larger state. I have referenced before deceased oil tycoon T. Boone Picken’s comment on “60 Minutes” about ten years ago when he said the future of energy in the US is in wind energy. Solar energy has taken off as well, but Pickens noted how windy the plain states and coast are.

Seeing this expansion off the coast of the US is exciting. Much of the offshore wind energy development has been in the North Sea off the shores of the Scandinavian countries and Great Britain. It is good to see this occurring in areas where it can help so many. NC has roughly 10 million people, so seeing investments that could power roughly 750,000 homes (doublnig the Duke share cited), reveals the size of the impact. Adding that NC is in the top five states in solar energy and our renewable energy future is even more promising.

Lower-cost clean energy rises in NC

The following are a few excerpts from an editorial written in The Charlotte Observer on Sunday by columnist Ned Barnett. While the focus is on what North Carolina has done the past ten years, it shows what can happen with a focus on renewables and attracting business. It should be noted a lot of NC’s success is in part due to companies like Amazon, Facebook (now Meta), Google and IKEA setting up centers powered by renewable energy, which got the attention of legislators.

“A new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group gives North Carolina strong grades for renewable energy. In measures of growth since 2011, North Carolina ranks third nationally in solar power, 10th in energy efficiency, 17th in electric vehicle sales, 20th in battery storage of renewable energy and 26th in wind power. ‘It’s amazing the difference that a decade can make and how many people are choosing to embrace renewable energies like solar power,’ said Krista Early, an advocate with Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

That growth raises prospects that seemed hopelessly remote just a decade ago: widespread use of electric cars that could eliminate the volatile cost of gas and a power grid driven by renewable energy that will reduce utility bills. North Carolina’s move toward renewables will be accelerated by this year’s passage of a major energy bill, House Bill 951.

Steve Levitas, a vice president at Pine Gate Renewables in Asheville, one of the nation’s fastest growing renewable energy companies, said the new state law will have a big effect. ‘HB 951 is going to drive a dramatic transformation of the state energy sectors,’ he said. ‘It will drive retirement of (Duke Energy’s) coal fleet and will result in more renewables. That’s going to happen.’

The new federal infrastructure law and the possible passage of the Build Back Better bill will also expand the use of renewable energy. While renewables still produce a small fraction of electric power, Levitas said the rising use of solar and wind power will make renewable energy an increasingly cheaper option to fossil fuels. ‘People predicted a long time ago that if you created demand, that would drive down costs and that’s been proven to be true many times over,’ he said.”

Note, while the reference to renewables providing a small fraction of electric power may be true in NC, in places like Iowa, Texas, California, Oklahoma, et al, the percentages are not small fractions. Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind energy while Texas is right at 20% on electricity from renewables, primarily wind energy.

Progress is being made, but we now need to hasten it as we have passed the tipping point. Yet, what business has started realizing the past several years, if they do not keep up, their ability to compete may be compromised. State legislatures must recognize this as well.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article256092197.html#storylink=cpy

Greta Thunberg accuses leaders of creative public relations – reprise from 2019

My wife and I just watched the first part of a PBS documentary series on Greta Thunberg and her climate change response advocacy. Below is a post I wrote two years ago following her UN speech in Madrid. I had the good fortune of seeing her on her US trip before she traveled back for this speech. One of the highlights is how much a student of the issues she is, unlike many of her loud critics who offer personal attacks and even death threats in rebuttal. Plus, I should add the US has reentered the Paris Climate Change Accord and has seriousness of purpose to help lead the efforts.

In an Associated Press article called “Teen activist accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at UN climate talks” by Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans, Greta Thunberg did not shy away from calling leaders on the carpet. The activist who was recently awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019, “accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s ‘climate emergency.’”

Using a multitude of scientific facts, Thunberg “told negotiators at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.” It should be noted, the US is present, but its attendance is on the shoulders of lower level folks who cannot make decisions. Unfortunately, sans the US leadership as one of the two biggest polluters, other countries did not send decision makers either.

“‘The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.’ said Thunberg.” Even at age 16, she is savvy to an age old practice by leaders to look like they are doing something when it is all a part of a subterfuge.

There was a positive action last week, “where the European Union announced a $130 billion plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal’ would ‘give the discussions here (in Madrid) a boost.’”

“Some experts echoed the activist’s concerns about lack of progress. ‘In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful actions,’ said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US based non-profit group.”

The lack of leadership on climate change is appalling and was a major concern of mine if the current (now former) US president won the election. Good things are happening in the US in spite of his naysaying efforts, but the world needs its leaders of the bigger polluters to be part of the solution. Thunberg is well deserving of her honor and continues to speak truth to people in power. It is sad that she knows far more about this topic than many adults who could make a difference. That would include the (now former) US president who is more concerned with perception and awards than helping the planet address this pandemic-like issue.

The virtuous cycle – a repeat

The following post was written about six years ago. Since that time the production cost of renewable energy has fallen to be competitive and, in some cases, lower than fossil fuel energy costs. And, that is without the residual costs of fossil fuel acquisition, transport, litigation, and maintenance.

The virtuous cycle is a nice term, but what in the heck does it mean? In the context under which I most recently saw it used is with one of two ultimate rationales why the move to renewable energy will begin to accelerate and replace fossil fuel energy sources.

Of course, renewable energy has many benefits and as the cost of production continues to fall, it will be on par with current fossil fuel energy production costs. This does not even consider the other costs that can be avoided which are inherent in the fossil fuel process. And, a key rationale for the migration will be the avoidance of the significant water loss that occurs in the fossil fuel and nuclear power production process through dissipated steam and loss of water to retrieve natural gas and oil through fracking.

But, the virtuous cycle will be one that will join water as the key reason for the accelerated migration to renewable energy. In essence, in fossil fuel energy production, energy has to be used to create energy. For example, to create electricity with fossil fuel, we have to burn coal or natural gas to boil water into steam to turn the turbines which turn the electromagnet generators. We have to exhaust energy to make more energy.

With renewable energy, we need not exhaust energy to make energy. The sun will shine and the wind will blow. They are doing this already, so we are merely harnessing that energy to produce electricity thereby creating a virtuous cycle. Using monetary terms, we do not need to spend money to make money, once the solar panels or windmills are created. Yes, we need to maintain them, but we do not have to spend energy to create new energy.

This matters now as energy companies look to build new energy production facilities. As a company considers the building over years of a natural gas-fired plant, the virtuous cycle of renewable energy may render that natural gas investment obsolete before a return on investment can be achieved. Companies will migrate to cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy sources. The fossil fuel industry is big on focusing on the cost and jobs as reasons to do more of the status quo, yet the production cost will flip the other way and will become more favorable for renewables. The jobs are already there and growing rapidly with double-digit increases.

So, when  people say we cannot afford to move to renewable energy, that is actually a very short-sighted argument. When you factor all of the added costs on environment and health of fossil fuel acquisition, use, and future maintenance, the costs are already in the favor of renewables. The virtuous cycle will accelerate the move even more.

Ice on Fire – a reprise

Note, the following post was written two years ago, but still serves as a reminder of the progress we have made and need to make to address our climate change problem.

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK to allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (a reprise from 2014)

The following piece is a reprise from a post in 2014. It is important to read the concerns of six years ago about this industry. Fortunately, the renewable energy industry continues to make huge strides.

I recently completed a very interesting book written by Gregory Zuckerman, a Wall Street Journal reporter called “The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” published by Portfolio/ Penguin Press in 2013. Zuckerman is also author of “The Greatest Trade Ever.” I highly recommend this book as it is as entertaining as it is informative, in multiple ways. It gives you a clearer picture of the risks and rewards of fracking, but also shows how hard it is to both glean the fossil fuel you are seeking and to be so highly leveraged in debt as you do.

The successful fracking companies, usually bucked the odds and the more measured risk takers in the larger companies who had much more capital to withstand some of the risk. As a result, even the ones who had success, usually failed before, after and sometimes during their success, due to the need to be land rich which came at a highly collaterized cost of debt. When some went public, they also had to contend with impatient shareholders. These wildcat developers made and lost huge sums of money, oftentimes with their egos getting in the way of knowing when to stop.

Zuckerman does an excellent job of telling the story of people like George Mitchell, who has been called the “father of shale fracking,” Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Harold Hamm, Charif Souki, Robert Hauptfurher and Mark Papa, among countless others who were key to the success of gleaning natural gas and oil from places that were perceived too difficult to crack. He also defines why methods and strategies are so secretive, as companies will follow suit to leverage off your success. These men and their companies, Mitchell Energy, Oryx Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, Chenier Energy and EOG Resources, were truly the path finders in this process called fracking. They led the US to become more energy independent, yet in so doing, understated or overlooked the risks that came with those rewards.

As I read this entertaining book, I found myself convinced of a preconceived notion, that the main mission of these guys was to make a lot of money, as well as proving others wrong. Some even took delight that their hypothesis was true, even if they had not benefitted as greatly as the company that bought out their rights. Yet, what I also found this lust for money also was an Achilles Heel, and there seemed to be less consideration of what fracking was doing to the environment. They were more content to let the problems be handled by someone else and often belittled the complaints and complainers.

Zuckerman addresses these concerns from the frackers viewpoint earlier in the book, yet does devote an Afterword to the environmental risks that are real. But, before doing so, he notes that George Mitchell, late in life continued to buck convention. Per Zuckerman, Mitchell “gave millions to research clean energy even as he, along with his son and Joe Greenberg, invested in a new shale formation in Canada.” But the quote that interests me most, is by Mitchell who responds to those who contend how safe fracking is:

“Fracking can be handled if they watch and patrol the wildcat guys. They don’t give a damn about anything; the industry has to band together to stop isolated incidents.”

This dovetails nicely with a well-worn phrase I gleaned early on. Even if fracking were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator. Mitchell, the father of fracking is more than acknowledging the bad operators. His son Todd, who was also in business with his father, said “his father’s work will have had a negative impact on the world if it forestalls progress on renewable energy, instead of giving innovators time to improve wind, solar and other cleaner energy sources.”

Let me close with an even-handed quote from Zuckerman, which frames the issue, yet also notes a caution. He answers the question “Is fracking as bad as activists say, and what will its impact be as drillers continue to pursue energy from shale and other rock formations?” His conclusion is as follows:

“The short answer: Fracking has created less harm than the most vociferous critics claim, but more damage than the energy industry contends. And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”

With my reading I would agree with both of these sentences, yet not place the fulcrum in the middle of the scale. I would be more on the side of vociferous critics as the evidence continues to mount and as non-industry scientists are revealing issues. The massive water usage, the seepage of the poisonous slickwater fracking fluid into the environment, the particles that are blasted into the atmosphere which are causing breathing difficulty, and the degradation to the surrounding environment just to get vehicles and equipment into frack are compelling arguments by themselves.

But, the great caution in his last sentence is where we need to focus. “And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”This is the bane of any environmental group fighting for people and the environment. Oftentimes, it takes years for the true damage to be seen and felt. Some show up in shorter order, yet when the companies making the money do not want to stop a mission, they can afford to fight people who cannot clearly make a connection. The developers want to settle with each complaint at minimal outlay and move on. Unfortunately, the people exposed to the problem, remain in harm’s way.