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.”


At 5:04 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Using modern technology coal can be burned cleanly and safely. With electrostatic precipitators 99% of the particulates (fly ash) is eliminated from stack emissions. With a wet scrubber 98% of SO2 is eliminated and upwards of 60% of NOx is eliminated using a comibination of overfire air and selective catalytic reduction (SCR). With or without these systems the immediate area of the plant won't see the bulk of stack emissions. They stacks are built high enough that the emissions are diluted and distributed over such a vast area their effects are negligible. Any noticeable effects, if there are any, wouldn't be observed in the mid-west but the east coast or even Europe. Biomass and wind are not a practical substitute for coal. Coal plants can be built quickly (relative to a nuclear plant). Coal costs about $3 per million BTU where gas costs $7 per million BTU. For a 750 MW plant, minus distribution and taxes, that's about 2 cents per kWhr for coal and 4.5-5 cents for gas. Coal is abundant. In the US alone there is 250+ years worth of proven coal reserves. The only cheap and abundant fuel source we have next to that is Uranium. There isn't enough wind or Biomass to keep up with demand. It's nice to have around to reduce the amount of coal burnt and lengthen our reserves, but both technologies are severely limited in scope due to the lack of energy content of the source. Wind turbines are 20% efficient with a maximum theoretical efficiency of less than 50%. Biomass doesn't have near the energy content of coal. Another drawback are emissions from burning biomass, especially methane. Coal is cheap, plentiful and clean given the proper application of technology.


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