Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cedar Falls Spill Another Example of the Dangers of Dependence on Dirty Coal

At 7:15 am on Friday Black Hawk county residents got a taste of what life might look like with another coal-fired power plant in their backyard. A train derailed in downtown Cedar Falls cascading tons of coal down a slope. The coal pile came to rest against a popular eatery, nearly sliding into the Cedar River.

“How fortunate it wasn’t during the Sturgis Falls Days Festival,” said Cedar Falls resident Pat Higby, echoing the safety concerns felt by many local residents.

LS Power, a New Jersey company, recently announced plans to build a 750 MW pulverized coal-fired power plant near the east side of Waterloo, roughly 400 meters from the community of Dewar. 120-car coal trains would pass through Waterloo nearly every day. Numerous residents on the east side have expressed concern about the trains blocking traffic, including halting emergency response vehicles in route.

“People must see that further dependence on dirty coal is hazardous to our community’s health, our children’s health, and the health of our climate,” said Gail Mueller, president of Community Energy Solutions. “We need a new energy system, one that is clean, renewable, and secure. Coal isn’t any of those things.”

Had the coal tumbled into the Cedar River water quality could have been threatened. Coal-fired power plants are already the primary source of man-made mercury in the environment, with a single plant emitting hundreds of pounds per year. The National Research Council estimates that more than 60,000 children are born each year at risk for adverse neurological effects due to exposure to forms of mercury. The threat of heavy metal leaching, especially mercury, lead, and arsenic, during a heavy rain is also present with the often 100-feet tall coal piles interminably present at power plants.

“Contaminated water could go right into Elk Run Creek, which runs right through Elk Run Heights and Evansdale into the Cedar River, and which has a history of flooding,” said Waterloo property owner Betty Seamens. “Can you imagine water with mercury and lead washing by where your children play?”

“Thanks to the efforts of its citizens, Iowa has made great strides on water quality and wind power. There is far more to do, though, and further dependence on dirty coal-fired power plants will set us back years,” said Alana Stamas, a field organizer for Iowa PIRG.

Iowa gets nearly 90% of its electricity from coal. MidAmerican announced plans to construct 545 MW of wind capacity and the state legislature and governor collaborated to enact standards and provide funding to improve water quality in Iowa this year.

Coal train spills, blockages, and the potential for serious damage to water quality and citizens’ health are just a few of the devastating effects of depending on coal power for Iowa’s energy needs. Iowa’s abundant wind and biomass resources, coupled with energy efficiency improvements, are ready to make our energy system clean, renewable, and independent.

“We have the technological capacity to design an efficient energy system for the 21st century,” said Mark Kresowik, a conservation organizer with the Sierra Club. “Coal interests are trying to take us back to the dirty fuel of the 19th century. It’s time we said NO to dirty coal and created good new jobs through clean, renewable energy sources.”

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Cloud over Eastern Iowa

New Jersey’s LS Power recently announced plans to build a 750 MW pulverized coal-burning power northeast of downtown Waterloo, Iowa. The proposed construction of this merchant power plant, which plans to sell most of its power out of Iowa, throws us into a debate about the future of energy generation in the Midwest and across the country.

We know what coal plants are like. Even while operating in full compliance with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the plant will emit particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and more than 100 lbs of mercury a year into the air, not to mention groundwater contamination, increasing risk of asthma, autism, cancer, and other illnesses. Iowa DNR does not monitor mercury contamination in surface water, so we will have no way of knowing the true impact until it is too late. Carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 700,000 cars a year will exacerbate global warming. And this is just one of more than 150 coal plants proposed or under construction in the United States, a veritable coal rush.

The coal industry is trying to stick us with out-dated technology before carbon regulation is enacted. They know that the cost of coal will increase and consumers will be stuck paying the bills. But we have the technology to do better. Iowa has become a leader in wind, and with our abundant natural resources biomass is a real option. We also have sustainable building techniques and energy efficient technology to reduce demand. It is time to create an energy system for the 21st century. We have to stop the coal rush or else we’ll be dependent on dirty coal for the next 50 years.

The issue is especially pressing for a community like East Waterloo, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state. This predominantly African-American community now faces increased health care costs and infant mortality due to the proposed plant. Waterloo needs the assistance of all of Eastern Iowa at this crucial time. If the coal industry’s plans continue, all of our efforts on global warming, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and water quality will mean little. Pollution from more than 150 coal-fired power plants will see to that.

Community Energy Solutions!

Community Energy Solutions is committed to the safe, secure energy system we need for the 21st Century. A mix of energy sources that uses Iowa’s renewable resources, combined with improved energy efficiencies, will lead us to energy independence and economic prosperity.

Right now, over 140 traditional coal-fired power plants are currently proposed or under construction across the United States. The coal and utility industries want to lock us in to decades of dependence on a dirty and nonrenewable form of energy. We have the technology to do better. In the interest of Iowa and of the United States, it’s time to insist we use those technologies, and stop the “coal rush” so we can develop clean, home-grown energy.

To begin construction, LS Power must get permission from the local planning body (Waterloo and Black Hawk County), the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Iowa Utilities Board. They have also requested interconnection and upgrading of transmission lines from Midwest ISO, Alliant West, and MidAmerican Energy Company. The company believes that, if they can persuade the citizens that construction of the plant can not be stopped, they can get all their permits quickly.

Many of the residents in the Cedar Valley and surrounding areas oppose construction of this plant. More than 3,000 people have signed a petition opposing the proposed plant. They know that LS Power, importing coal, exporting energy, and leaving the pollution in Iowa, is NOT part of Iowa’s energy future. To voice your opposition and stop construction of this plant, contact:

Clean Air for Waterloo: cleanairwaterloo@gmail.com and sign a petition
Mayor of Waterloo: mayor@waterloo-ia.org, 319-291-4302
Black Hawk County Supervisors: supervisors@co.black-hawk.ia.us, 319-833-3003
Deparment of Natural Resources: jeff.vonk@dnr.state.ia.us, 515-281-5918
Iowa Utilities Board: iubcustomer@iub.state.ia.us, 877-565-4450
Alliant Energy: customercare@alliantenergy.com, 1-800-255-4268
MidAmerican Energy Company: info@midamerican.com, 1-888-427-5632
LS Power: mmilburn@lspower.com, 888-317-6567

For more information: