Archive for August, 2009

On the road for affordable energy

Team collage

It’s summer – a time of festivals, fairs, outdoor concerts and baseball. And in the summer of 2009, it’s also a time to focus on affordable energy.

As Americans gathered at public events throughout August, ACCCE sent outreach teams to eight states to talk to people with genuine concerns about energy prices. Our teams attended county and state fairs, participated in parades and met concerned business owners on Main Street.

Each team gave out materials with ACCCE’s message about ensuring that coal stays a part of the energy mix to keep electricity affordable. We gave out flyers, hats, t-shirts, pens, cards, stickers and bumper stickers. In three short weeks, we personally distributed our message nearly 95,000 times. During that time, we drove 41,000 miles, visited 264 cities, and attended 73 fairs, including four state fairs.

We collected the stories of families and small business owners like Denise, owner of the Tangle Salon in Terre Haute, Ind., who said, “We have to dry hair and nails, heat water, run the air conditioner or run the heater. Energy must be affordable or I would be in trouble.”

We visited and spoke at eight Kiwanis club meetings, as you can see in this video.

Reaching out to college students was an important part of our outreach. We visited 43 campuses and heard many stories like this one.

Sporting events were great places to meet folks and talk about keeping coal in America’s energy mix. We attended 44 sporting events, including major and minor league baseball games, preseason football games, NASCAR races, college football practices and even a surfing competition. Check out the reception we got

Finally, we have no doubt that the people of America understand the need and role for coal in America’s energy future – listen to the Americans we met in this video.

Carbon capture at work

It’s amazing, but we still hear things like carbon capture will never be a reality. But, with exciting new projects like AEP’s Mountaineer plant set to go online this week, we thought it would be a good time to remind readers that technology does exist.

The pilot facility at the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin takes about one percent of its flue gas for use in the carbon capture demonstration project. Using a chilled ammonia process developed by Alstom Power Inc., the test project captures 90 percent of those carbon emissions. The demonstration project began in March 2008 and will last for two years.

The Pleasant Prairie and Mountaineer projects prove that there has never been an environmental challenge facing the coal-based electricity sector for which technology has provided a solution—and that reducing CO2 will not be an exception to the rule.

Curious what CO2 looks like when it is captured from a working power plant? Check out our video from the Factuality Tour. Carbon capture from an existing power plant is a reality…and those are the facts.

Alstom CCS project

Alstom's carbon capture pilot project

Carbon capture at work
Carbon capture in action

Deconstructing the new Washington Post energy poll

I'll admit it; I love to read poll numbers. Maybe it is a sign of being a political junkie … but I’m always looking at polls. But it’s more than that. Whether it’s a study on best sports city in America, best place for pizza, or thoughts on our energy future, I am fascinated by understanding what people think … and why they think it.

So imagine my excitement to see a story in today's Washington Post had talking about how most American view President Obama’s energy initiative. Knowing that President Obama is a big supporter of clean coal technologies, I quickly put down my morning coffee and began reading. When I finished the article, I realized one thing was inexplicably missing: there were no questions asked about coal or clean coal technologies.

With all due respect to the Post, how in the world can you conduct a poll about the president’s energy initiatives—especially in the wake of climate change proposals—and not mention clean coal?

Coal is only America’s most abundant energy resource. And, with our economy struggling … it is also worth noting that coal is our most abundant energy resource (and we all know that low-cost energy means jobs … especially in the manufacturing sector).

I would like to add an addendum to today’s story…the last time we asked decision makers in the U.S. if coal was a fuel for America’s future; 69 percent agreed that “yes” it was.

For the record, I’m encouraged that energy policy questions and polls are becoming more prominent every day. How we go about providing affordable electricity, while keeping an eye on the environment, remains one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime. And for the record (and since the Washington Post didn’t ask), our 2008 national survey found that 72 percent Americans believe that new technologies would allow coal-based electricity plants to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions within the next 10-20 years.

But we can’t create solutions without taking into account all of our strengths and opportunities. And those include American coal and clean coal technologies.

Do you agree?

Affordable energy: critical to small businesses and local economies

Recently, team Indiana attended local Indiana Kiwanis club meetings where they talked to Kiwanians about the importance of affordable energy to families and businesses in the state.

Given that Kiwanis’ history is steeped in enriching communities–a mission that has spread to 8,000 clubs in 96 countries—it’s no surprise that the groups were eager to hear from our teams, even allowing them to take up the podium and run much of the meetings.

Just take a look:

At one such meeting, the team spoke with Kiwanis member Mary Eckhart who said we need affordable energy “in these hard times when families are really struggling just to pay their regular bills, if we have energy bills that continue to climb…it’s going to be very hard for them to be able to pay them and exist well in their families.”

Olivia Albright—one of three Americans we’re profiling in our new webisodes—knows all about the stresses that come with tough economic times and higher energy bills.
Olivia owns and operates a small business in Toledo, Ohio that depends on affordable electricity to run machines throughout the day (and sometimes into the night)—and leave her enough money to pay her staff.

Olivia has big dreams for her small business, and one of them is providing health insurance for her employees. As you’ll hear her say in her webisodes, she won’t be able to provide these benefits if her energy bills increase.

Low-cost energy truly is a thread that connects our families, business and economies. It’s my hope that this tie becomes clearer to you as you get to know Olivia, Fred, Venita and all the other Americans who are sharing their stories with us from across the country.

What they’re saying

With the congressional climate change bill moving through the Senate and the U.N Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen around the corner, we’ve been hearing a lot of different opinions from government officials, academics and journalists on issues concerning energy and the environment.

On the climate bill:

Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.), Grand Forks Herald (7/17) “We are a major energy producing state. And we have large deposits of coal, which is our country’s most abundant form of energy,” he says. “I’m not signing up to create a new financial market to trade carbon securities. In my judgment it is exactly the wrong way to address this issue.”

Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio), Lancaster Eagle Gazette (7/18) “We have coal; lots of it. And we shouldn’t be penalized in the form of higher electricity rates as a result.” Austria concludes that as the bill moves to the Senate: “It is my hope that they either will vastly improve the legislation, or refuse to pass the bill at all.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), E&E News, (7/22) “[The climate bill] penalizes parts of the country that rely primarily on coal and natural gas for their electricity while giving too much benefit to more energy efficient power companies.” Harkin believes that the bill’s provision distributing allowances to all utility sectors “50-50 between companies based on their historic emission levels and retail sales” only “helps people in areas where they have hydroelectric power, for example.”

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Bluefield Daily Telegraph (7/22) “Improperly drafted legislation could have had a major adverse effect on both our region’s coal industry and electricity rates in our area.”

Wall Street Journal editorial (8/12) “Although President Obama has assured that the pending energy legislation ‘won’t hurt the economy,’ it appears that “at least 10 Senate Democrats disagree. It is ‘better to call the whole thing off,’ rather than ‘opt to impose a huge carbon tax and drive jobs overseas,’ or ‘impose the tax along with a tariff, and kick off a trade war.’”

Economist Thomas Crocker, co-inventor of the cap-and-trade system, Wall Street Journal (8/13) “I’m skeptical that cap-and-trade is the most effective way to go about regulating carbon.”

Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Forbes (8/18) “There is no more devastating piece of legislation for rural America, for the Midwest, for agriculture, for farmers and for small business than this piece of legislation at a time like this economy — bar none. Electric rates will go up in Midwestern states like Kansas that depend on coal-fired plants because those utilities will have to pay for permission to emit greenhouse gases, as opposed to coastal states that generate electricity by hydroelectric power.”

On clean coal technology:


Local communities support new coal plants

Venita's Story | America's Power

When we were filming in and around Texarkana for our webisodes on affordable energy, we got to see firsthand how excited that community was about the new coal-generated Turk Plant that AEP is building there. There are a lot of jobs associated with that project – construction, operation and maintenance jobs at the plant itself as well as jobs in the community supporting workers at the Turk project. And as Venita told a group of students at the local community college in Hope, there was no incentive for AEP to build a project unless they could show the community that it was also good for the environment. That is true with every new coal project that is being built today.

I honestly think that some of the anti-coal groups would benefit from taking the time to talk more with local people in these communities to gain their perspective before they challenge these projects that not only are needed to meet growing energy demand, but also provide jobs in local communities where they are located.

U.S. families struggle to pay energy bills

Lately, we’ve been telling you the stories of real, everyday Americans, and how important affordable energy is to jobs and family budgets.

Now, USA Today is reporting that a record number of households are in danger of having their electricity shut off as the weakened economy makes it harder for Americans to pay their energy bills.

The article makes reference to an energy office in Rockville, Ill. that, in 2003, distributed federal funds to households who had their electricity turned off. In 2008, it jumped to 1,834 households – and it’s likely that the number will increase this year.

In a related story, the Wall Street Journal today reported that electricity consumers in Austin, Texas are feeling the wallet crunch, with average monthly energy bills coming in at $235. This has caused about eight percent of Austin residents to become delinquent on their payments.

As we’ve said before, we need to take steps to make sure that energy is affordable for all Americans. Energy costs weigh especially heavy on lower-income and minority families in the U.S., consuming as much as 20 percent of after-tax income from families that earn less than $50,000. This is something we can’t ignore as we wait for our economy to rebound.

One way we can keep energy costs down is by using electricity generated from coal. At one-third the cost of most other fuels, coal-generated electricity has helped hold down energy costs for decades.

But don’t take our word for it. Just listen to Fred Shelton, an energy efficiency consultant near St. Louis who says, “Coal generates the power we need at a price we can afford.”

Where do you recharge?

See Venita's Story | America's Power

Venita McCellon-Allen, one of three Americans we’re featuring in a series of webisodes about affordable energy, recently showed us where her family recharges—at an outlet in her kitchen. That’s where she and her family plug in cell phones, laptops, iPods, blenders and other essential tools that most of us use without much thought.

As our street teams found, Venita and her family are not alone. Just take a look at this footage from the Missouri team:

Did you notice how many people noted that their appliances are always plugged in?
We depend on a constant stream of energy, referred to as baseload power—the kind of always-on stuff that allows us to watch TV early in the morning and turn on emergency medical equipment late at night.

Here in the U.S., we get about half of that power from American coal because it’s an abundant, domestic source of always-on electricity.

Take a look at Venita’s webisode about the importance of reliable, affordable energy, and then visit the Power House to see how much your home relies on coal-based electricity.