Pulitzer winning climate news.
facebook twitter subscribe





Donate to InsideClimate News through our secure page on Network for Good.




Guest Writer's articles

In Southeast, Extreme Heat Is a Growing Concern for Nuclear Power Operators

Last summer, a heat wave forced a TVA nuclear plant to run at 50% capacity for eight weeks, costing ratepayers $50 million, an investigation finds

By Alyson Kenward, Climate Central

Apr 14, 2011

On July 8, 2010, as the temperature in downtown Decatur, Alabama, climbed to a sweltering 98 degrees Fahrenheit, operators at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant a few miles outside of town realized they had only one option to avoid violating their environmental permit: turn down the reactors.

For days, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns the nuclear plant, had kept a watchful eye on the rising mercury, knowing that more heat outside could spell trouble inside the facility. When the Tennessee River, whose adjacent waters are used to cool the reactors, finally hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit and forced Browns Ferry to run at only half of its regular power output, the TVA hoped the hot spell would last just a few days.

Eight weeks of unrelenting heat later, the plant was still running at half its capacity, robbing the grid of power it desperately needed when electricity demand from air conditions and fans was at its peak.

The total cost of the lost power over that time? More than $50 million, all of which was paid for by TVA's customers in Tennessee. 

From Fiji to Botswana, Tourism Industry Aiming for a Lighter Carbon Footprint

Increasing numbers of eco-conscious travelers are forcing some tourist operators and resort owners to mitigate and adapt to the risks of climate change

By Lori Tripoli, SolveClimate News

Apr 12, 2011
Elephants in Botswana.

Increased tourism is threatening to exacerbate coastline erosion and loss of wetlands in poorer countries already suffering from global warming hazards. But a rising number of eco-conscious travelers are forcing some in the tourist industry to change their ways.

"Our typical client is well-educated and aware of climate change," said Derek de la Harpe, the corporate sustainability officer of Wilderness Safaris, a tourism outfit based in Botswana.

The luxury safari tour group operates 70 lodges and camps in Botswana and six other southern African countries. (Includes correction, 4/21/2011)

In Botswana, the sensitive Okavango Delta, one of the largest freshwater swamps in the world, faces unknown risks both from decades of rising temperatures as a result of global warming gases and the footprint of the 120,000 safari-goers who visit every year.

Largely in response to market demand, Wilderness Safaris has built two solar-powered camps there and is retrofitting sites that are large consumers of fossil fuel electricity, de la Harpe told SolveClimate News.

In popular ecotourism hotspots like Belize, where tourism accounts for 20 percent of the economy, the issue of greener tourism has become so prominent that a state policy is underway.

Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells Tainting Drinking Water Across U.S.

More than a million abandoned wells may be out there. But the task of finding, plugging and monitoring the old wells is daunting to cash-strapped states

By Nicholas Kusnetz, ProPublica

Apr 10, 2011
Old oil rig

In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence.

Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Ky. , and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.

In 2008, gas from an abandoned well leaked into a septic system in Pennsylvania and exploded when someone tried to light a candle in a bathroom, killing the person, according to a 2009 draft report by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. That report also documented at least two dozen other cases of gas seeping from old wells, including three where the drilling of new wells "communicated" with old wells, leaking gas into water supplies and forcing the evacuation of a home.

In February, methane from an old well made its way into the basement of a house in West Mifflin, Pa., triggering a small explosion. Two families were evacuated and have not yet returned home.

U.N. Climate Agenda Agreed, Roadmap Set for 2011

Many nations were unhappy that much of the April 3-8 Bangkok meeting was taken up arguing over the agenda, with the U.S. saying the delay dampened the mood

By David Fogarty, Reuters

Apr 8, 2011
Bangkok Climate Talks

Rich and poor nations overcame deep divisions on Friday to cut a deal that maps out U.N. climate negotiations for 2011, building on last December's agreement in Mexico and hardening the focus on tougher issues.

The deal in Bangkok came after nearly four days of talks that some developing nations said were needed to "recalibrate" U.N. climate negotiations after last year's Cancun agreements.

They wanted an agenda that tackled the fate of the Kyoto Protocol on fighting global warming and rich countries' pledges to cut emissions, and clarified sources of cash for poorer nations rather than just building on what was agreed at Cancun.

But many rich nations said some developing nations were simply trying to row back on what was agreed in Cancun and this undermined negotiations this year that culminate in the South African city of Durban from late November.

Many nations were unhappy that much of the April 3-8 meeting was taken up arguing over the agenda, with the United States saying the delay dampened the mood, while some developing nations had misgivings about the end result. All expressed an urgency to press ahead with negotiations.

Minn. Lawmakers Seek to Switch Troubled 'Clean Coal' Project to Natural Gas

Lawmakers who support the 'clean coal' project are trying to toss it a lifeline, by building a gas plant on the site and retaining all of its perks

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Apr 5, 2011
Conceptual drawing of the Mesaba Energy Project

HIBBING, MINN.—When a former high school hockey star proposed to develop a $2 billion "clean coal" power plant outside this northeastern Minnesota city, the news couldn't have come at a better time.

The region had just lost 1,400 jobs from a major taconite plant shutdown, the worst economic news to hit the Iron Range in two decades. The prospect of replacing those jobs was celebrated by citizens, politicians and newspaper editorials with the enthusiasm of a March tournament bid.

A decade later, after having spent nearly $41 million in taxpayer money, the Mesaba Energy Project still has yet to secure key environmental permits; it hasn't found a buyer for the electricity it wants to produce, and without a power-purchase agreement, it can't find investors to fund construction.

The project's backers are now changing their approach, seeking approval from the state's legislature to shelve the "clean coal" component — temporarily, they say — and move forward instead with a conventional natural gas power plant.

That has opponents changing their cries from "boondoggle" to "bait-and-switch" and some speculating whether the apparent change in strategy might be a Hail Mary attempt to salvage something from the long controversial energy project.

In Spain, Solar Lobby and 3 Big Utilities Battle Over PV Subsidy Cuts

Spain's solar trade industry argues that PV projects have been sacrificed to keep profits from coal and gas plants high

Tim Webb, Guardian

Apr 3, 2011
Solar power in Spain

Spain had one of the world's most ambitious — and generous — plans to boost the amount of electricity it generates from the sun. That dream, for the solar industry at least, has turned sour.

Just days before Christmas, the government slashed the level of subsidies that all new and existing photovoltaic (PV) solar projects will receive. But even the powerful utility companies, who opposed the solar industry, are now warning that the fallout could be long-lasting and reach far beyond the energy sector.

The row has pitted the renewable lobby against Spain's three biggest utilities — Iberdrola, Endesa and Gas Natural — which have been urging the government to take action to stem the wave of subsidised renewable projects being built, particularly solar ones.

Carlos Salle, Iberdrola's director for regulation, told the Guardian that divisions between the renewable lobby and the rest of the energy industry are even deeper in Spain than elsewhere as a result. "We have more controversy here in Spain with renewables against non-renewables ... this is an aspect of our system — it provokes problems."

Another Madrid-based businessman, from one of Spain's leading companies, was franker, likening relations, only half-jokingly, as a "war." The Asociación de la Industria Fotovoltaica (Asif), Spain's solar industry body, accuses politicians of telling lies, exaggerating the costs of generating electricity using solar PV to justify the cut in subsidies.

It is more than just bragging rights between rival generators at stake.

Green Building Leaders Press Industry to Halve CO2 of Building Materials

Advocates are challenging the global building sector to cut the carbon footprint of concrete and other products by 30% by 2014, and 50% by 2030

By Robert Gluck

Mar 31, 2011
A cement mixer

Edward Mazria, the American architect behind the influential 2030 Challenge to zero out fossil fuel use from all buildings, is turning to a new target: carbon-heavy construction materials.

The "2030 Challenge for Products," unveiled in February, challenges the global building community to cut the carbon footprint of concrete and other building materials by 50 percent by 2030, with an interim target of 30 percent beyond the average by 2014.

Executives eager to get their newly "green" products to market faster are embracing the effort.

"Moving these products into the marketplace has been difficult," said Jeff Davis, an executive at  Houston, Texas-based U.S. Concrete, a maker of ready-mix concrete that has developed a product with a 30 percent lower carbon dioxide footprint.

"Hopefully, the 2030 Challenge for Products will accelerate this process, challenging designers and specifiers to accept the advancements in concrete technology."

Poor Data Hampers EPA Coal Cleanup in Iowa's Most Polluted Town

Despite new, stricter pollution rules by EPA, the coal industry in Muscatine may get a pass from the agency until new data or models are produced

By B. Adam Burke, Midwest Energy News

Mar 31, 2011
Muscatine Coal Plant

An Iowa town with the worst air quality in the state is again under EPA scrutiny after years of maintaining allowable air pollution levels.

But plans to clean up emissions from burning coal won't be adopted for several years, leaving residents in a haze of regulation and red tape.

Last month, the EPA declared Iowa's pollution-fighting plans "substantially inadequate" for maintaining fine particulate matter standards in Muscatine, an industrial town on the Mississippi River.

The state has 18 months to craft new plans for EPA approval, and then local industry will have another two years to install equipment or decrease production and reduce emissions. Not meeting pollution standards can lead to withheld federal funding and, eventually, a federal implementation plan that comes directly from the EPA instead of the state.

U.S. Drops to 3rd in Clean-Energy Investment: Pew

China's fast rise in clean energy is 'not about labor costs' but 'about policy,' says Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Mar 29, 2011
Solar PV module lamination

The United States fell one spot to third place in clean-energy investment last year as the lack of a national energy policy hurt purchases in wind and solar power and other technologies, a report said on Tuesday.

China came in first and Germany second, according to the report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race" by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent, nonprofit group.

In the previous year the United States had fallen from the top spot to second place, behind China.

A comprehensive energy bill died in the Senate last July. Washington also has failed to pass national mandates for utilities to produce minimum amounts of clean power that environmentalists and some analysts say would boost confidence for alternative energy companies to invest in the country.

Southern's Nuclear Expansion Wins Enviro Review

The NRC has issued its final environmental impact statement on Southern's two Georgia reactors. But a U.S. nuclear revival is not yet in the clear

By Tom Doggett, Reuters

Mar 27, 2011
Vogtle Plant Construction

Southern Co passed environmental review for two nuclear reactors it wants to build at its Vogtle nuclear station in Georgia, U.S. regulators said on Friday, but that doesn't mean U.S. nuclear energy is in the clear after the crisis in Japan.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final environmental impact statement on Southern's reactors, but the NRC must still vote on issuing the license.

Some U.S. lawmakers have been calling for a delay in approving new U.S. nuclear power plants in response to the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power station.

NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko recently told Congress there were no plans to change the agency's schedule because of the problems in Japan.

Jaczko has said the five members of the commission would likely vote during the fourth quarter of this year on Southern's license to build the two reactors.