Friday, April 28, 2006

Bring a can of tuna May 11

The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends that women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant and children under six should eat no more than three 6 ounce servings per month of canned tuna because of the high levels of mercury present in fish, like tuna, at the top of the food chain. This risk is also present in fish taken from lakes and rivers inland that receive mercury pollution from airborne sources. Coal-fired power plants are the largest industrial source of mercury contamination in the U.S. The plant proposed for Waterloo may emit hundreds of pounds of mercury that will in turn contaminate eastern Iowa's waters.

We've worked hard to clean up Iowa waters. It's a shame to see another source of pollution appear just as we're making progress. Here's an idea: if you object to increased levels of mercury in Iowa waters and in your fish, bring a can of tuna to the May 11 meeting with LS Power representatives. Give them back their mercury. Better yet, tell them you don't want any more.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 25 Op/Ed on LS Power Public Meeting

The Op-Ed below just appeared in the Waterloo Courier. A few corrections and clarifications: LS Power has been invited to several and welcome at all community meetings. Their representatives have repeatedly refused to meet with local residents. Local officials have claimed that citizen meetings are "not informational" and somehow illegitimate because they are convened by concerned citizens, not by the developer. This seems to us entirely backward.

A few factual points: IGCC has higher capital costs but lower operating costs, not higher capital and operating costs as the Op/Ed has it. And LS Power/Elk Run Energy Associates has not yet filed an application for a certificate of need with the Iowa Utilities Board. All they've filed is a notice of public meeting.

Power plant meeting must address broad public concerns

LS Power has set a time and date for a long-awaited public informational meeting regarding its proposed $1.3 billion coal-fired power plant east of Waterloo that may answer many questions that have arisen since the project was announced last December.

Elk Run Energy Associates, an affiliate of New Jersey-based LS Power, proposed the meeting, which will be May 11 at 6 p.m. at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in downtown Waterloo. Representatives from the Iowa Utilities Board will preside over the session, and several employees of LS Power will field questions from the public.

Robert Colozza, project manager for LS Power, said the meeting will have more of an open-house format rather than a panel with a question-and-answer session. Stations will be set up regarding various aspects of the project, such as general information and environmental impact.

That may do much to advance knowledge of the project, but a full public airing of the proposal still needs to take place.

To this point, LS has limited its discussions to small group sessions. On the other hand, one-sided community forums have been held to discuss concerns about the plant --- without LS's participation --- raising a lot of questions and heat, but not generating many answers.

This is too important a project to leave vital questions unanswered.

At $1.3 billion, it would be the largest single economic development project in the history of the Cedar Valley.

The plant would require 1,200 construction workers during a four-year period at a total payroll of $200 million. It would employ 100 people at an annual payroll of $7 million --- an average of $70,000 per permanent employee. LS Power would hire a private firm experienced in power plant operations to staff and run the facility. The plant would pay about $2 million a year to the city, county and Dunkerton schools in taxes.

However, environmental concerns also weigh heavily, such as the emission control system and the disposal of the fly ash. The impact on the local infrastructure also has to be in the mix, including the frequency of coal delivery by rail on grade-level tracks with trains that even now temporarily divide Waterloo.

No doubt, LS Power officials have heard about the petitions, the forums and a recent rally. Some objections may seem to have little merit --- that the power generated probably will not be used locally --- but others hit home. People want assurances that the quality of the air and the local landscape will not be adversely affected.

The United States has abundant coal resources, and the need for greater energy independence is becoming more obvious daily. Coal is part of that equation. The Department of Energy has had more than 100 proposals for new coal-fired plants --- mostly in the Rockies and upper Midwest.

The state of environmental technology for "pulverized" coal plants has improved tremendously during the past 30 years. In that regard, it's important to know what emissions controls are planned in Waterloo. It apparently won't happen here, but even some environmentalists have become enamored with the possibilities of coal gasification, which significantly reduces the potential for pollution. Yet it's a new and expensive process with higher capital and operating costs.

LS Power's first priority has been to get its application before the Iowa Utilities Board. That has happened. Now it's time for the company to lay its proposal before an audience at a public forum.

LS Power would be well advised to include a formal public presentation on its project at the May 11 meeting. The "open house" format is a good opportunity to answer questions one on one. However, this is an undertaking with the potential for an enormous impact on the community, and residents need to be able to weigh the potential positives and negatives. Neighborly chats alone won't allay the broader concerns.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Freedom?

Freedom - Exemption from an unpleasant or onerous condition, and the capacity to exercise choice; free will
Choice - The power, right, or liberty to choose; option
Democracy - The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.

We live in a democracy, where the common people should be the source of power. That power is one of choice. We believe in freedom, including exemption from an unpleasant or onerous condition. And there is no question that the imposition of a 750 MW coal-fired power plant with out-of-date technology on the community is an unpleansant and onerous condition. But what happens when freedoms collide? Is it not also the right of the corporation, considered an individual person by our courts, to locate where it sees fit? Does it not also have a right to pollute our lungs and waters for years to come, and destroy the delicate balance of life by changing our climate?

The question becomes one of whose freedom: the community's or the corporation's. And when we live in a democracy, it should be the choice of the common people, the community. But that only happens if the community makes their choice known - if they speak up. We know what LS Power wants. They have proposed a 'public' forum to tell us what they want: http://www.wcfcourier.com/articles/2006/04/14/news/metro/2911f43d879d80a786257150004aff69.txt.
But is that really a 'public' forum? Individual questions to LS Power, their responses. That is not communal, not community, not democracy. Show up and make it so - let freedom work, make a choice.

In terms of choice, some would have you believe that a 750 MW coal-fired power plant is the only choice we have. That we need electricity, so we need coal-fired power plants. But that's just not true: Iowa doesn't need the power. Even if we did, MidAmerican Energy is adding another 545 MW of wind power capacity already. We don't need old coal technology. We can, through the Iowa Utilities Board and our other government entities, choose wind. We can choose biomass. Or we can keep quiet, and let LS Power choose coal for us.

They want to stick Waterloo, Dewar, Dunkerton, Cedar Falls, and all of the other communities in the area with their pollution, their trains, their cancer and asthma, their 400 ft. tall stack. In exchange, they'll take the profits and sell the power out of state. Or you can say no. Sign the petition, write a letter. Come to the public forum on May 11th. Make your choice heard.

It is time to create new guards for our energy security. Forms of energy that safeguard our health and future, not destroy them. Pursue your happiness the way you want it, not the way the corporation tells you to. Exercise democracy, freedom, and choice.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. "
- The Declaration of Independence

Breakfast thoughts

I sit hear eating my breakfast watching the wind blow the tops of our tree's, it's out of the east today. Dunkerton, Independence and Jesup are the lucky people today.
That means Waterloo/Cedar Falls would be the unlucky recipients of the pollution coming from a 750 MW power plant if it were constructed. George Wyth park would receive their fair share of the mercury and you all get to share whatever else finally settles to the ground.

Isn't it about time to find a better solution to our energy problems.

Gail Mueller
5729 Newell St.

Monday, April 24, 2006

What to do with petitions

Gail Mueller of Waterloo is gathering petitions against the proposed power plant. If you have completed petitions, please mail them to:

Gail Mueller
5729 Newell St.
Waterloo, Iowa 50703

or call Gail at 319-269-9777 and he will pick them up.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Where to send checks

A group of around 40 eastern Iowans gathered Saturday, April 22 in Sullivan Park in Waterloo to share their concerns about the coal plant proposal. After informational meetings over the last few weeks, this was the first meeting organized around activism. The Waterloo Courier did a nice job of announcing the gathering beforehand and reporting on the event. Channel 7 and Channel 2 were also present. If you saw other coverage, please note it in the comments.

Those who would like to contribute to a fund to defray expenses like printing and mailing for Clean Air Waterloo volunteers can make checks payable to the Iowa Renewable Energy Association (I-Renew) with "Clean Air Waterloo" in the memo line. The address is:

I-Renew
PO Box 3405
Iowa City, IA
52244-3405

Any checks to I-Renew with a Clean Air Waterloo designation will be earmarked to pay expenses for the grassroots campaign in Waterloo. I-Renew promotes wider implementation of renewable energy and energy conservation by educating Iowans to achieve long-term social, environmental and economic sustainability. Contributions to I-Renew are tax deductible.

Monday, April 17, 2006

April 22 rally and canvassing in East Waterloo


On Earth Day, April 22, at 2 p.m., concerned residents of eastern Iowa will gather at Sullivan Park (E. 4th St. and Adams) in East Waterloo to share information and organizing strategies. We'll head into the streets with fact sheets about the coal plant proposal, lawn signs, and petitions. This is the neighborhood that will bear the worst of the proposed plant's impact on health and property values. Come stand with your neighbors and make your voice heard!

The East Waterloo location is significant for several reasons. First, as you drive toward Waterloo along Newell St. from the proposed plant site, this is the first neighborhood you reach. Second, the neighborhood has a large African American population, and a report sponsored by the Black Leadership Forum and partners indicates that 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. That number is 56% for white Americans. Maximum health impacts from coal-fired generation occur within 30 miles of the smokestack plume. We cannot allow Iowans to fall victim to this tragic racial divide. Our community must unite to stop it.

Sullivan Park has playground equipment, picnic tables and restrooms. Bring the family!

Where to send letters

If you'd like to share your thoughts about an out-of-state developer's proposal for 750 MW of merchant coal-fired generation on the edge of Waterloo, here are some suggestions for where to send them:

Robert Colozza
Project Manager
LS Power
400 Chesterfield Center
JE110
St. Louis, MO 63017

Timothy J. Hurley
Mayor
City of Waterloo
715 Mulberry Street
Waterloo, Iowa 50703

Colonel Duane Gapinski
U.S. Army Engineer District, Rock Island
Clock Tower Building
Rodman Avenue
Rock Island, Illinois 61299
duane.p.gapinski.col@usace.army.mil

For general comments on the plant proposal to the Iowa Utilities Board: iubcustomer@iub.state.ia.us

IUB Member Diane Munns
Iowa Utilities Board
350 Maple Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0069

IUB Chairman John Norris
Iowa Utilities Board
350 Maple Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0069

IUB Member Curt Stamp
Iowa Utilities Board
350 Maple Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0069

Governor Tom Vilsack
State Capitol
Des Moines, IA 50319

Jeffrey Vonk
Director
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E. 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0034
jeff.vonk@dnr.state.ia.us

Please forward a copy of your letter to cleanairwaterloo at gmail.com so we can track correspondence. With your permission, we'll post some letters on this blog.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

State Rep. Rob Hogg's Feb. 15, 2006 letter

Iowa General Assembly Representative Rob Hogg expresses concern about LS Power Elk Run Energy Station proposed for construction near Waterloo

February 15, 2006

John Norris, Chair
Iowa Utilities Board
350 Maple Street
Des Moines, IA 50319

Jeff Vonk, Director
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E. 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319

Mary Lawyer, Director
Iowa Department of Economic Development
200 E. Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50309

RE: --- LS POWER ELK RUN ENERGY STATION PROPOSAL

Dear Chairman Norris, Director Vonk, and Director Lawyer:

I am writing to you to express my serious concerns about the proposed 750 megawatt pulverized coal Elk Run power plant which LS Power would like to construct near Waterloo, Iowa. At a recent meeting between your staff and LS Power representatives, your staff asked to hear concerns early in the process. As requested, I am sharing my concerns with you and I hope that you will share them with your staff working on this project.

At this point, I have three main concerns about the proposed plant: (1) the proposed plant would likely squeeze out Iowa,s developing renewable energy industry, (2) the proposed plant would likely have a serious negative adverse effect on the health of many Iowans, and (3) the proposed plant, if built, would almost irretrievably commit Iowa to higher levels of future greenhouse gas emissions despite the need to reduce such emissions.

1. LS POWER'S 750 MEGAWATT COAL-BURNING POWER PLANT WOULD SQUEEZE OUT IOWA'S DEVELOPING RENEWABLE ENERGY INDUSTRY.

Iowa has been blessed with abundant renewable energy resources such as wind and biomass. As you know, "[i]t is the policy of this state to encourage development of alternate energy production facilities . . . in order to conserve our finite and expensive energy resources." Iowa Code § 476.41. Further, a new power plant facility is not to be built unless it is "consistent with reasonable land use and environmental policies." Iowa Code § 476A.6.

Our state has been working very hard to develop a strong, dynamic renewable energy industry. In the field of electric generation, we have long had a renewable energy standard for our investor-owned utilities. Iowa Code § 476.44. In 2003, Governor Vilsack set a goal of 1,000 MW of production capacity from renewable energy sources in Iowa. Later that year, we passed a bill (HF659) to help MidAmerican build a 310-megawatt wind farm. Governor Vilsack's goal was not the end; it was only the beginning toward greater reliance on renewable energy after 2010. Iowa is a leader in research through its Biomass Energy Conversion Facility (BECON) at Iowa State University. Iowa is a leader for co-firing switchgrass in existing coal plants and developing high-efficiency bio-refineries that will produce heat, electricity, high-value chemicals, and renewable fuels in the future. In 2005, we passed tax credits to encourage construction of wind power and other renewable energy sources like methane digesters and biomass conversion facilities. Iowa Code §476C.1 et seq. We also provided business incentives which helped convince Clipper Windpower to locate its production facilities in Iowa. Iowa Code § 15.335. Further initiatives are under consideration this year. In short, clean renewable energy produced in Iowa is a winner for our economy and our environment and supporting those clean energy sources is critical for our state's future.

By contrast, a 750 megawatt conventional pulverized baseload coal burning power plant - as is being proposed by LS Power - would squeeze out the development of Iowa's renewable energy industry and direct millions of dollars out of state for the purchase of coal. Iowa already obtains 84% of our electrical production from coal plants. Iowans now spend $2.9 billion on electricity every year, much of which leaves the state to pay for coal and other fossil fuels. Worse yet, once built, the high fixed costs of a coal burning power plant almost ensures that the plant would be operated squeezing out clean Iowa renewable energy for decades.

2. LS POWER'S 750 MEGAWATT COAL-BURNING POWER PLANT WOULD CAUSE OR CONTRIBUTE TO HEALTH PROBLEMS IN IOWA.

Air pollution from coal-burning power plants can cause or contribute to serious health problems such as asthma, emphysema, mercury poisoning, and even premature death.

Asthma. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, asthma affected 200,000 Iowans in 1999, of whom 40,000 were children under age 18. More than 1,500 children were hospitalized in Iowa with asthma in 1999. The economic cost of asthma in Iowa in 1994 the last year the cost was calculated was $116 million. Nationwide, the Natural Resources Defense Council has reported an estimate that smog triggered more than six million asthma attacks in 1997. (www.nrdc.org/air/pollution/qbushplan).

Particulates. As the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has reported, "[p]articulates can harm lung tissue, cause eye and throat irritation, premature death and reduced visibility from haze." (www.iowadnr.com/air/citizen/health/partic). According to the American Lung Association's Particle Pollution Fact Sheet, "Fine particles can cause serious health effects at relatively low concentrations. Tens of thousands of premature deaths each year are attributed to fine particle air pollution." (www.lungusa.org).

Mercury. Coal-fired plants account for approximately 40% of all mercury emitted by industries in the United States. In 41 states, officials warn against eating fish from lakes and rivers (www.nrdc.org/air/pollution/qbushplan). Although Iowa has issued at this point only a general advisory for pregnant women and children, the proposed plant in northeast Iowa would add mercury to the environment and to fish in northeast Iowa.

These are serious concerns that need to be fully assessed and weigh heavily against the construction of a new 750 megawatt coal burning power plant, which would be a multiple decade commitment to higher levels of pollution. As we struggle with rising health care costs, we need to make sure our energy investments support the protection of public health. Increasing mercury pollution in our state will not make fish safer to eat. Increasing emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and other air pollution will not help us reduce asthma and other respiratory ailments in our state.

3. LS POWER'S 750-MEGAWATT COAL-BURNING POWER PLANT WOULD PREVENT IOWA FROM REDUCING ITS EMISSIONS OF GREENHOUSE GASES.

As you may know, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has funded an Iowa Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for 1990 and 2000. The original 1990 inventory is important because 1990 emissions are the base level for international negotiations for emission reductions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Ultimately, to stop the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is expected that emissions will need to be reduced by more than 60%. Although the United States has not ratified any mandatory reductions under the United Nations Framework Convention, the participation of the United States in a future international greenhouse gas regulatory structure is virtually certain.

Assuming that the proposed 750-megawatt coal burning power plant is built, and achieves a capacity factor of 90%, it would emit more than 6.5 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. In 2000, total greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa were 32.8 million metric ton carbon equivalents, or equivalent to 120 million tons of carbon dioxide - an increase from 84 tons of carbon dioxide in 1990. The proposed LS Power plant, by itself, would represent a more than 5% increase in the state's greenhouse gas emissions -
equivalent to adding more than 700,000 vehicles to the highways in Iowa every day for the life of the plant.

Given the almost certainty of greenhouse gas regulations during the lifetime of the plant, it would be environmentally and fiscally irresponsible to allow the plant to be built without careful scrutiny of alternatives and without considering options to mitigate or eliminate the greenhouse gas impact of the plant, such as carbon offsets or carbon capture. Iowa has obligations to the environment and future generations to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. I ask that you consider those obligations in your actions on the LS Power plant.

I hope this letter is helpful to you. Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further, or if there is anything else I can do to be of assistance.

Sincerely,

Rob Hogg
State Representative
House District 38

Upcoming Events

April 22 (Earth Day): Clean Air Waterloo rally and neighborhood leafletting in Waterloo at Sullivan Park (E. 4th St. & Adams), 2 p.m. This will be the organizational meeting for the Clean Air Waterloo coalition.

May 1: Waterloo Downtown Rotary presentation on the coal-fired power plant proposal, speaker will be UNI Professor of Geology Lynn Brant.

May 11: LS Power/Elk Run Energy Associates, LLC public meeting at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center, 6 p.m.

April 12 public meeting, Waterloo Public Library

Last night at the Waterloo Public Library, a group of more than 50 local residents (we had to expand into the meeting room next door) met to discuss the coal-fired power plant proposal. Lynn Brant, a professor of geology at the University of Northern Iowa, gave a presentation on the environmental impacts of coal-fired power generation and answered technically oriented questions. Carrie La Seur, an environmental lawyer from Mount Vernon and adjunct professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa, responded to questions about environmental law and the permitting process. The meeting was covered by two local TV stations.

Cedar Falls City Councilman Kamyar Enshayan: “Not in my backyard” is OK

The phrase “not in my backyard” was invented by the powerful to ridicule local opposition to something that a deep-pocket entity wanted to build. The logic is that this thing has to be built somewhere, near some people, but “people get emotional” and do not want it near them. We all use the products of these polluting factories, and we might as well be honest, take responsibility for it, and be willing to live near them. So they say.

Obviously, no one wants to be living near a nuclear waste dump, a smelly factory, or high voltage power lines and other nasty outcomes of industrial life as we know it. But the issue is more complex than they make it to be.

First of all, they put the focus on personal responsibility (“it is you who should accept it and live near it”) rather than systemic patterns and policies (lack of proper safeguards, cheapened resources, weak labor and pollution laws, etc.), originating from outside the local community, that perpetuate the problem.

No doubt, we bear some responsibility as users. But just because we use electricity, it does not mean that the power plant must be a polluting one. Just because you eat ham does not mean you should live near, or put up with, manure spills from poorly managed hog lots! There are many ways of generating electricity, some much less polluting than others.

When lack of leadership and the consequent absence of national, state and local energy policies have led to more and more polluting power plants, does that mean we have to live near one? Of course not, and that is why “not in my backyard” is OK. Local opposition is the only recourse many of us have.

For the proposed coal-burning power plant, there is even another more profound reason for not in my backyard. In 2001, Iowa state legislators passed a law that allowed “merchant power plants” to come to Iowa. These plants come here to burn coal and sell the power to out of state locations.

In the process, the legislators weakened the public review and environmental requirements, and gutted any form of local control from cities and counties in requiring any additional measures! (Just as they did for hog lots, counties have basically no say.)

Prior to 2001, the applicants had to prove that there was a local need for more electricity, but in 2001, the state of Iowa declared open season on Iowa’s clean air.

When our rights as citizens to participate in decisions that affect our future are taken away, when state legislators are not protecting Iowans’ well-being, we have no choice but to say not in my backyard.

As my attorney friend, Carrie La Seur, puts it “The community has the power to affect the outcome of this plant proposal. We are not at the mercy of LS Power, DNR or anyone else, if people are vocal about what they want.” I second that.

The proposed coal-burning plant, while near Waterloo, has implications for all residents of Eastern Iowa. In the next few columns, I will explore many key questions surrounding the proposed power plant:

  • What about mercury?
  • Who exactly is the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and why are they chasing smoke stacks?
  • Why is that polluting plants are never proposed near a well-to-do neighborhood?
  • Why so much coal burning?
  • Does coal burning warm the globe? You bet.
  • What about the existing coal burning plants?
  • Conservation & efficiency: the real solutions.
  • Wind: local & renewable

I believe that public conversations about our energy situation are much needed. I hope I can contribute positively to the conversation.

Dr. Kamyar Enshayan, a mechanical engineer, works at UNI’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. He can be reached at 319-273-7575 or Kamyar.enshayan@uni.edu. His column appears on a weekly basis in the Cedar Falls Times and several other small town papers in our region.


Friday, April 07, 2006

April 5 meeting, Cedar Falls Public Library

This Wednesday was the second community meeting on the proposed coal plant for Waterloo, Iowa. The first was an informational presentation back in February at the University of Northern Iowa, but it didn't allow for much public discussion. This meeting was all about public discussion, public questions, and all the questions we need to ask and answer about the proposed 700 MW of pulverized coal electrical generation on the edge of East Waterloo.

A few key issues include querying the developers' (LS Power) reasons for rejecting IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) technology when other power companies are choosing it as the cleanest and best available technology, what exactly the emissions will be and how they will affect our health, what this huge plant will do to local property values, and why LS Power wants to build their plant right next to an economically depressed area with one of the largest African-American populations in the state. There are a lot of questions.

Next meeting: Waterloo Public Library, 7 p.m., Wednesday April 12, 2006.