Who Wouldn’t Want Clean Power ?

Einstein Quote w Tree

Judging by the flurry of articles in our local Democrat-News published on Aug 12, 2015 there are certainly some who don’t want to make the effort to have cleaner sources of powering our electricity in these parts of our country. They include not only our local rural electric co-op and the guiding National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) but our politicians as well. That our politicians are directly supportive of our electric utilities doesn’t surprise me. The monthly Rural Missouri co-operative publication has been carrying editorials against the EPAs initiatives for months, maybe a year or longer. So of course it doesn’t surprise me to see editorial pieces this week in our local newspaper by Congressman Jason Smith (R) or Sen Roy Blunt (R) against the EPA plan as well.

I’ve only seen ONE real argument against making any changes to how we get our electricity from any of these official sources – COST.

Sen Roy Blunt – “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians . . . ” and “Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, . . .”

Congressman Jason Smith – “. . . under the Clean Air Act . . . emission limits will raise the price of electricity, force the closure of coal plants in Missouri and cost people jobs . . .”

Jo Ann Emerson (former Missouri Congresswoman, now CEO for the NRECA) – “Any increase in the cost of electricity impacts those who can least afford it, . . .” and “While we appreciate the efforts . . . the Clean Air Act . . . will raise electricity rates . . .”

Barry Hart, CEO Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives – “We are focused on the affordability . . . of electricity” and “. . . the final rules make it far more likely electric rates will dramatically increase.”

Maybe we don’t pay enough for electricity here in Missouri. We love our right to pollute in order to keep our costs low. Certainly, the burden will be on the poorer segments of society. I’m certain that there will be no executives volunteering to cut their salary in order to keep the increased cost of electricity lower for the poorer segments of society !! I do worry that “enormously wealthy individuals and vastly powerful corporations are digging in their heels and allowing themselves to be willfully blinded to reality, all in the name of milking the last few dollars out of a dying economy based on fossil fuels”.

Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Generating Station

Missouri’s Callaway
Nuclear Generating Station

Jim Jura, CEO Associated Electric Cooperative notes that “Coal generation has been a significant factor in providing our members with reliable electricity at low rates.” He also complains that the EPAs new rules do not credit electric cooperatives for the 750 megawatts of renewable energy from wind farms nor the millions of dollars spent on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand. Yes, Missouri does have a serious problem with the new EPA regulations.

In 2013, coal supplied 83% of Missouri’s net electricity generation. The state had one nuclear power plant, the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, which contributes 9% of the state’s net electricity generation. And renewable energy resources accounted for only about 3% of Missouri’s net electricity with most of this coming from conventional hydroelectric power and wind. Honestly, I’ve no idea where the other 5% comes from as that was not identified at the US Energy Information Administration’s website !! So while I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in Sen Claire McCaskill’s (D) lack of a visionary energy perspective as well, I do think she does make an important point – Missouri won’t be able to make such extreme modifications to our energy delivery systems in only 5 years, and maybe not even in 15 years.

I am grateful for our electricity. I miss it when we don’t have it. Our lives are built around access to certain conveniences. I certainly don’t prefer having to use the gas powered generator that we are reduced to when we have an extended power outage usually because of some storm. Thankfully these don’t happen too often. Gas powered generators are noisy and I don’t think gas is the “cleanest” kind of energy.

Electricity Cost

It’s not that I really want my electric bill to cost us more. Currently we pay $372 + each month for our local electricity consumption. No one (including us) really wants to pay more for anything. I’ve been grateful to see gasoline prices falling (yes falling, which seems like a novel idea at the moment) over the last year or two. However, I must admit that my environmentalist heart is in conflict with my frugal heart at the moment on this whole issue. We can’t forever deny the atmospheric challenges that are affecting our weather, will likely affect our food crops and often affect the quality of air that people breathe leading to suffering and diseases.

So I see this Clean Power Plan as something similar to Obamacare – not the perfect solution, not the complete answer to one of the more vexing, complex and difficult to solve problems of our time but it’s a beginning, an attempt to right the balance that sustains life on this planet. I fear sometimes that we are already too late but throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing certainly can’t help. Pretending there isn’t a serious imbalance in our environmental qualities, or being in such a state of denial that we think there really isn’t a “problem” at all, won’t help us arrive at cleaner sources of energy generation.

My partner says we need a new kind of energy. Yes, that is what we really need now !! And that happy circumstance is not in our view finders currently.

Current Energy Choices

In this blog I try to be a voice that is reasonable and practical about the complexity of our environmental choices. As I write this morning, I am gazing at a thorny thicket which is blocking the forward progress of humanity. How do we keep the environmental quality of this planet at the level of human sustainability ? The way is not clear. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need an entirely different perspective on how to supply our energy needs. Not simple resistance, not blind denial, not optimistic sugar plums. I don’t personally have a creative vision of something that will solve this problem for us. But I do hope there are some humans out there who will yet find that opening into a brighter future. I believe there is no issue of more importance in our modern times than the resources we choose to supply our energy requirements and the ways in which our human behaviors affect the planet’s climate. There are so many ways that both of these are going to directly affect the quality of life for humans going into the future.

Even as far back as 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover (a visionary with the gift of great insight and clear thinking) had this to say –

“The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume. In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”

“Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.”

Unfortunately, current energy strategies are at present based on unsustainable thinking. When it comes to public policies and strategic planning, a complete rethinking must take place in order to step away from self-destructing behavior. While it is understandable for us to focus on novel ways of obtaining energy (wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear power sources), it has long been recognized that simply reducing demand is cost effective and can help sustain us in the short term at least. Realistically there will be inefficiencies in our attempts at converting to alternate energy sources. Our dependence on complex systems means that we will need time to find a way. Using less energy in general, recycling most of the resources we do use (hopefully approaching even as high as 90-95% recycled) will keep enough material in the cycle to also help keep restocking demands from as yet untapped resources low.

Conserve Energy

~ Information Resources
(please note that this week you may not find ALL of the information resources below quoted or used in my blog but these are all good sources of information on this topic which I have located while doing my own research that may help you to form opinions and perspectives for your own self about this important issue. ~ Deborah Hart Yemm)

On New EPA Rule—McCaskill Leads Colleagues in Pursuing Commonsense Adjustments to Protect Consumers – posted on Sen McCaskill’s website Dec 10, 2014 – http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/on-new-epa-rulemccaskill-leads-colleagues-in_pursuing-commonsense-adjustments-to-protect-consumers

How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide posted Aug 5, 2015 by Brad Plumer at Vox – http://www.vox.com/2015/8/4/9096903/clean-power-plan-explained

Clean Power Plan puts children ahead of polluters posted July 14, 2015 at Clean Air Missouri from the Columbia Daily Tribune – http://www.cleanairmissouri.org/clean-power-plan-puts-children-ahead-of-polluters/

Affordable Electricity Rural America’s Economic Lifeline – http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Affordable-Electricity-Rural-Americas-Economic-Lifeline.pdf

Clean Power Plan posted at the EPA website – http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan posted Aug 3, 2015 by Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator – https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/08/6-things-clean-power-plan/

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels “Dumbest Experiment In History” posted Mar 30, 2015 by Steve Hanley at Gas2.org – http://gas2.org/2015/03/30/musk-burning-fossil-fuels-dumbest-experiment-ever/

Sustainable Cities and Military Installations pg 238 as edited by Igor Linkov and published Nov 12, 2013 is posted at Google Books – https://goo.gl/5RXRae

Missouri State Profile and Energy Estimates – posted at the US Energy Information Administration website – http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MO

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Not Good News for Recycling

Bales of Plastics Bottles

A recent article in The Guardian reflects what we have been feeling for reasons of our own within our business. We are not in the first tier of the recycling process. We have been there in the past – actually bringing in bales of minimally sorted plastic bottles and paying our employees to carefully remove the resins that shouldn’t be co-mingled with the #2 HDPE resin that is our predominant feedstock (we can tolerate some #4 LDPE and #5 PP because our process is “forgiving” enough to handle that much variety). At that time, we actually were paying them more in “bounties” than their base rate without the inducement.

It has seemed to us that recycling in general, while happily still continuing to be utilized in many communities (ours included) to reduce transfer costs and the space required in limited landfills, is no longer given very much “public” attention. This has psychological impacts on the individuals who are creating waste. They may feel that their personal effort isn’t really significant or that the “problem” has already been solved without their input. Neither of these perspectives is valid. Waste and the accumulation of it are still an issue we should all be concerned about. Recently the Environmental Protection Agency announced that as of 2013 overall recycling rates were 34.3% of the waste stream and had contracted for the second year in a row.

The article notes – “Falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened Chinese economy are combining to make the global business of recycling less profitable than ever.” The article goes on to say – “Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise.” This is not good news after so much effort has gone into changing a lot of individual behaviors with curbside programs. In the world as it exists today most enterprises that consistently lose money do eventually fail. David Steiner, Waste Management’s chief executive, stated this directly – “We want to help our customers, but we are a for-profit business. We won’t stay in the industry if we can’t make a profit”. According to Waste Management, and confirmed by other recyclers as well, “more than 2,000 municipalities nationwide are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.”

And it isn’t only municipalities struggling, Waste Management’s recycling division posted a loss of nearly $16 million in the first quarter of the year. The company has shut nearly one in 10 of its biggest recycling facilities. According to Steiner, “An even larger percentage of its plants may go dark in the next 12 months”. Even though environmentalists and conservation advocates question whether the industry is overstating a cyclical slump, a perfect storm of falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened economy in China have conspired to devastate prices for American recyclables worldwide. Chinese companies have also become pickier about the quality of American materials they purchase.

WM Curbside Recycling Bin

I remember when we had to do a lot of the work of recycling ourselves BEFORE we ever took our recyclables to the collection center. Everything needed to be sorted and I always made sure it was clean as well. Although our local center does still ask for some pre-sorting by citizens bringing in their recyclables, many centers and especially curbside programs don’t require any sorting at all (but I guarantee you that to make use of it all – it has to be sorted – before it is further processed). We pay a “bag fee” on transfer station non-recyclable trash. Maybe the collection centers for recyclables need to start charging a much lower fee for those items – perhaps half of what the landfilled materials cost to dispose of.

Contamination of the recyclable stream has always been a problem. Glass is a problem in automated sorting facilities because it often breaks and ends up rendering valuable bales of paper or plastic unsaleable. And the reality is – uninformed and untrained curbside program users often contaminate their recyclables with garbage – even if some of the items were placed there with optimistic good intentions that they had a residual value.

And there is an interesting market impact due to changes in the packaging of consumer products. Patty Moore, head of California-based Moore Recycling Associates, notes that “. . . what’s different now is that the material mix has changed”. The once-profitable old newspapers, thick plastic bottles and aluminium cans that could be easily baled and reused make up a far lower percentage of the recyclable stream, replaced by lighter weight alternatives like vacuum-packed bags for coffee and foods like tuna fish. Tin cans and plastic water bottles have become thinner. Many items such as soup and other liquids come in aseptic cartons now. Even the plastic milk jugs we depend on for Yemm & Hart’s Origins product are frequently replaced with that type of packaging.

Horizon Milk Cartons

And in the midst of all the bad news, there is this bright spot – an increase in cardboard turned in for recycling. More people are buying items through online merchants (we certainly do as stores are a long way from home and time consuming to shop at). Because of this trend, cardboard has doubled its volume in the recyclable stream. Also businesses that eventually process sorted plastic bottles continue growing and a processor that feeds an Indiana paper mill churning out 100% recycled cardboard has just recently added capacity with two new facilities coming on line.

Everyone should care about these issues. Anyone can make a more diligent effort to do a good job of recycling ONLY materials that can be utilized and keeping their garbage contamination out of the recyclables system. Like droughts or floods, the current economic situation could change at any time – oil prices could rise (though I’m not wishing for that out of terrible self-interest). The US dollar could weaken and I’m not proficient enough at economics to say whether that would be a good or bad thing for most of us. And one could put some hope in China’s tendency to plan far far ahead for the common good of their own people. Unfortunately, the United States of America does not tend to look beyond the next fickle election cycle and our politicians are unlikely to ever care very much about “trash”.

The danger is that we could lose the momentum built up over several decades with a short-term, profit-driven/loss-adverse mindset or even worse – apathy. The reality is that money still makes the world go round . . . environmentally we would be better off if quality of life and human welfare and protecting the world that sustains us were the values that determined decisions about what should be done and why. I don’t see such a sea change in perspective coming any time soon, not even in my lifetime, and yet I never say never and I don’t give up hope easily.

~ Information Resources

Why the US recycling industry is feeling down in the dumps by Aaron C Davis posted on 06/27/15 and reprinted in The Guardian online from The Washington Post – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/27/recycling-unprofitable-oil-china-dollar

Aseptic packaging details at “FAQs” for Pacific Foods – http://www.pacificfoods.com/about-pages/faqs

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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