Clean energy requires better infrastructure

Renewable energy is the way of the future, but infrastructure needs to improve (PDP)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | 1/23/2018

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a statement that contained some encouraging news: Clean, renewable energy use is on the rise, and power plants using coal and fossil fuels are slowly but surely being shut down forever.

In 2017, around 25 gigawatts of utility-scale power was added to the overall power grid –generators capable of producing enough energy to run entire buildings or power grids in residential or business areas. Of those additions, nearly half used renewable energy sources, mostly wind and solar power.

Clean energy comes with some issues, most of them due to infrastructure. Curtailment is the practice of stopping a power plant once it’s produced its fair demand of energy to save on fuel. But this method works better with fossil fuels and consumables. Natural resources, such as wind and solar rays, are often wasted because of curtailment. There is currently no practical way to store excess renewable energy, and any potentially useful clean energy is “wasted” as a result.

Current predictions place wind energy use at around 5.5% nationally.


Iowans ask to halt CAFO construction until water is clean

Large livestock feeding operations often pollute local waterways with organic waste. (Waterkeeper Alliance/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 19, 2017

Local, state and national organizations showed up at the capitol in Des Moines this week to ask lawmakers to halt Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) construction until fewer than 100 of Iowa’s waterways are impaired.

Called Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture, the coalition rallied behind Independent Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan as he introduced a group of 15 bills designed to tighten environmental regulations on large hog farms. At present, 750 of the state’s waterways are polluted to the point of impairment due to industrial agriculture byproducts.

Bill Stowe, CEO of the Des Moines Water Works and member of the coalition, said that industrial agriculture is making Iowa’s “rivers, lakes and streams filthy — filthy with nutrients, filthy with bacteria, filthy with organic matter,” according to the Register.

He added, “Iowans need to push back on this and join together with leaders here in the Legislature to stop the status quo.”

There are 13,000 CAFOs in the state of Iowa and that number continues to grow. The current regulatory document for new hog facilities was developed in 2002 and only requires CAFOs to meet 50 percent of its requirements to be approved for construction.

Senator Johnson’s package of bills would also require CAFO applicants to notify nearby landowners and give county supervisors the power to determine CAFO locations. Johnson said, “It’s time to get tough on the poor siting of hog confinements, including those being built in environmentally sensitive areas, where the smell and sound of someone else’s money is in your bedroom every night.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Reynolds has said that she would consider the legislation if it reaches her desk.

States resist federal move to expand offshore drilling

A 100 foot flame flares above the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. (Jim McKinley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 18, 2018

More states are lining up to be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in the United States.

The administration released a proposal earlier in January to make nearly all U.S. coasts available for drilling over the next five years. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department’s Ryan Zinke granted Florida’s coasts exempt from the deal after a short meeting with Gov. Rick Perry, citing concern for the state’s tourist economy. Shortly after, requests to be excluded from the proposal from other coastal states rolled in. Governors and state officials from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware have asked for meetings with Zinke to discuss the plan’s threat to tourism industries.

Governor John Carney of Delaware posted a Tweet last week, “Tourism and recreation along the Delaware coastline account for billions in economic activity each year, and support tens of thousands of jobs.”

The only states in support of the plan are Alaska and Maine.

Aside from repelling tourists, offshore drilling has serious implications for ocean life and human health. One drilling platform typically releases 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the sea. Drilling fluids, or drilling muds, which lubricate wells and cool drill pipes, contain toxic chemicals that harm aquatic life. When oil is pumped, water from underground surfaces along with it. Called “produced water,” it contains anywhere from 30 to 40 parts per million of oil. For example, each year in Alaska’ Cook Inlet, 2 billion gallons of produced water contaminates the area with 70,000 gallons of oil.

This new plans marks another rollback of Obama’s environmental legacy, which prohibited offshore drilling in 94 percent of U.S.’s coastal waters.

More mudslides possible for southern California

Rescue workers wade through debris and sediment following last week’s mudslide in Santa Barbara county, California. (Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2018

Meteorologists warn that rainfall during the fourth week of January could trigger another mudslide in southern California, where residents of Santa Barbara county are still reeling from last week’s massive landslide. Between two and five inches fell in the county between January 8th and 9th, sending boulders and thick sediment raining down on Montecito, California. A recent wildfire in the area left mountain slopes without vegetation to slow down the runoff and played into the destruction of 115 homes and the death of at least 20 people.

Jonathan Godt of the U.S. Geological Survey told the New York Times, “It was pretty rare, in essence a worse-case scenario from that standpoint. The same rainfall that falls on a burned landscape can cause a lot more damage than it would before a fire.”

AccuWeather officials have predicted that a shift in the jet stream will bring more moisture from the Pacific Ocean into southern California’s atmosphere by January 23rd and 24th. They caution that the weather pattern presents the risk for “locally heavy rainfall, flash flooding and a significant risk of mudslides.” Their report states that areas surrounding Point Conception, California are most likely to be affected.

February and March are heavy precipitation months for Santa Barbara county, and following California’s record-setting year for wildfires, conditions are right for faster-moving and more destructive landslides.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said, “People need to leave the area by evacuation deadlines as they are given. Once a mudslide begins, there may only be minutes to seconds before a neighborhood is wiped out.”

Solar panels bring new life to Chernobyl disaster site

The Ukrainian government is seeking to bring new life to the abandoned plant. (/shutterstock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 16th, 2018

Sections of the long-abandoned site of the 1986 nuclear accident are being repurposed by the Ukrainian government for solar power.

Around 25 square kilometers have been opened up for solar projects and energy proposals, most taking place within the “sarcophagus”–a metal dome designed to seal leftover radiation leakage away from nearby residents. Solar panels are attached to concrete slabs placed over the toxic soil, facing skyward; once up and running, the panels are estimated to produce enough energy to consistently power a small village–around 2,000 homes.

Chernobyl’s nuclear plant stood near the small village of Pripyat, back when Ukraine was under control of the USSR. During a safety test, one of the reactors within the plant exploded from steam pressure, spewing toxic radiation into the air and killing approximately 32 people. The plant itself continued to run after the meltdown until its eventual shutdown in December of 2000, but the surrounding land has suffered the consequences of radiation fallout well after the initial disaster.

The earth surrounding the nuclear site is too poisoned and damaged to be farmed or inhabited, so the government sought another way to utilize this skeleton of a plant; a memorial to one of the country’s greatest environmental disasters.

Yevgen Varyagin, the current head of the Chernobyl Solar Project, is passionate about the potential the site has for producing clean energy: “It shouldn’t be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine.


On The Radio–Bitcoin and the environment

Bitcoin is a growing digital currency with real-life environmental consequences. (link)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 15th, 2018

This week’s segment looks at Bitcoin, the rise of digital currency and its surprisingly large impact on the environment.


The rise of digital currency, Bitcoin, may be impacting the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

There are lot of mixed feelings about Bitcoin. The currency has been slowly attracting investors as its value rose to $17,000 in December. Bitcoin is unique in that it is a completely digital product, and is not tied to any central bank. Transactions of the money are done between people directly, with no government authorities or banks involved.

Huge data centers use multiple computers to generate Bitcoin by processing algorithms, data chains, and complicated formulas. The entire process is difficult to follow, even for investors. The main problem with Bitcoin is the energy required to make it.

This year, the currency required 2 terawatts of energy to produce. That’s enough energy to power three million homes. As the currency grows, more and more algorithms need to be solved and worked through by these data centers. According to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, if Bitcoin is continuously mined at this rate, the energy consumption by 2019 would be enough to power the United States.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Australia’s carbon emissions continuing to rise

Australia (Mauro/flickr)
Kasey Dresser | January 12, 2018

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose for the 3rd consecutive year. According to the Environment Department, carbon rose 0.7% this year because of an increase in gas production and exports. In 2016, Australia’s levels rose 0.8% and they were warned they were off track to miss the 2030 target set by the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Australia’s government signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 which outlined a plan to reduce emissions 26-28% by 2030.

Despite the increasing carbon levels, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg claims they are still on track and, “the final decision on the timing and appropriate quantity and quality limits will be taken by 2020 following further consultation and detailed analysis.” “If you look on a yearly basis [it] is true [that emissions went up]. But if you look on the last quarter, they went down. If you look at the trend, it is improving.”

Minister Frydenberg’s statement is not congruent with the 2017 United Nations Emissions Gap Report that stated the “government projections indicate that emissions are expected to reach 592 [million tonnes] in 2030, in contrast to the targeted range of 429-440 [million tonnes]. The Environment Department‘s most recent review said that Australia is currently responsible for 1.3% of carbon emissions.