Good news for those who oppose new coal-fired power plants

The Houston Chronicle reported on January 2:

Stingy credit markets and high regulatory hurdles have spurred Houston-based Dynegy to step back from new coal-fired power plant projects by ending a joint venture with LS Power Associates.

Dynegy will keep the right to expand its 27 existing coal, natural gas and oil-fired plants in 13 states, and it retains stakes in a pair of Texas and Arkansas coal projects.

But Dynegy will pay New York-based LS Power $19 million as part of the split and let it take full ownership of new projects under consideration in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Nevada.

Shares of Dynegy closed up 38 cents, or 19 percent, to $2.38 on Friday.

Dynegy Chairman and CEO Bruce Williamson said the power plant development landscape has changed since the company entered into the joint venture with LS in the fall of 2006. Funding new projects is much more difficult given the worldwide credit crunch and the possibility of new climate change legislation under the Obama administration.

"In light of these market circumstances, Dynegy has elected to focus development activities and investments around our own portfolio where we control the option to develop and can manage the costs being incurred more closely," Williamson said in a statement.

Dynegy's move appears to be good news for those who oppose new coal-fired power plants, such as one near Waterloo, Iowa. Here is the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier's take on the story:

The future of a proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo became a little cloudier Friday when Texas-based Dynegy Inc. announced that it and New Jersey-based LS Power Associates were dissolving their joint venture to develop that plant and others in several states.

The move transfers to LS Power full ownership and developmental rights associated with various "greenfield" projects in several states, including the 750-megawatt Elk Run Energy Station proposed for construction northeast of Waterloo.

[...]

Separation from Dynegy puts the Elk Run plans in doubt, said Don Shatzer, a member of Community Energy Solutions, which opposes the Elk Run Energy project.

"LS Power has no experience developing/operating coal plants and so is unlikely to proceed (without) a new partner," Shatzer said in an e-mail note.

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign, shares Shatzer's opinion, according to The Houston Chronicle.

This sounds quite promising, although neither the Houston Chronicle nor the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier were able to get a comment from LS Power on whether it will continue to pursue these projects.

Dynegy's move vindicates the actions of all those who worked hard to prevent the Waterloo plant from being built (more details on that are at Bleeding Heartland).

Grass-roots activists and environmental groups won some small victories, which were not themselves enough to kill the Waterloo project. However, the setbacks delayed the process until "external credit and regulatory factors that make development much more uncertain" prompted Dynegy to walk away.

Lesson for environmental activists: it is worth exercising every legal option to put up obstacles to a bad project.

Lesson for corporations involved in other coal projects (such as Alliant, which wants to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown): Dynegy's stock shot up 19 percent in one day after they pulled out of the joint venture with LS Power. Abandoning new coal projects would not only be good for public health and the environment, it could boost your stock price.

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Give to good causes, but not via telemarketers

What would charitable organizations and other non-profits do without the holiday season? Many groups bring in more donations during December than during any other month of the year. Without holiday giving, meeting basic expenses would be a challenge. If you get a mailing from a group you support, I encourage you to give what you can afford.

Responding to telephone solicitations isn't such a good idea, as Lee Rood reported in the Sunday Des Moines Register:

The vast majority of donations raised by phone or mail by professional fundraisers in Iowa winds up in the hands of professional fundraising companies, a Des Moines Register investigation found.

The Register's examination of more than 80 professional fundraisers serving more than 500 charities - often for little-known nonprofits but sometimes for well-known charities - also shows:

- The median percentage of proceeds that wind up with a charity is about 24 percent, according to reports to Iowa's attorney general by fundraisers that made disclosures in 2007. Just five charities received more than 75 percent of the proceeds from fundraising campaigns.
[...]
- About a half-dozen fundraising companies continue to do business in Iowa even though they have been subject to cease-and-desist orders, hefty fines and multiple court actions for breaking solicitation rules or financial disclosure laws, or for deceiving would-be donors. (See related article on this page.)

- Many of the charities that benefit from the fundraising are poorly rated by watchdog groups or give a tiny fraction to the individuals or groups that solicitors claim donations will benefit.

[...] documents filed with the state show Aria Communications, a St. Cloud, Minn., company that boasts it has an overall return of 77 percent to charities, actually charged two nonprofits more money last year than it managed to raise.

Aria raised $27,678 for the Sierra Club, but charged the California-based nonprofit $30,159 in fees and expenses, according to information the company filed at the Iowa attorney general's office.

The whole article and related sidebar are worth reading. If you want to support a group such as the Sierra Club, find the organization's address on the web or in the phone book and mail a check. That way your full donation will go to a good cause, instead of paying mostly for telemarketer fees.

Here's a link to the Charity Navigator website in case you want to look up a group before you donate.

Speaking of telemarketers, a funny story appeared in the Register a few days ago:

Gov. Chet Culver told Iowa school administrators a story on Monday about an experience he had with the New York Times early in his political career.

Culver, who ran for Iowa secretary of state in 1998, said shortly after he announced his candidacy, he received a telephone call from Bob Smith with the New York Times.

Culver said he was surprised a reporter from the newspaper was calling him when he hadn't yet done an interview with The Des Moines Register or other media outlets in the state.

Culver said he asked Smith if he could call him back, and the man said yes. The governor said he was relieved because it would give him more time to prepare for an interview. He asked Smith what he wanted to talk to him about.

"This is regarding your Sunday subscription to the New York Times," Smith told him.

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Emperor "Clean Coal" has no clothes

A Siegel has a great diary up on a new television advertising campaign launched by the "Reality Coalition" today to convey this message: "In reality, there's no such thing as clean coal." I love the use of humor in the ad:

After the jump, I've posted the whole press release issued by the Reality Coalition. You can sign up to join their effort by clicking here.

My only concern about this message is that it suggests greenhouse-gas emissions are the only thing that makes coal "dirty." Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems. This fine particulate matter, also known as particulate matter 2.5, "is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard" than larger soot particles known as particulate matter 10.

Even if greenhouse gases and all other pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants could be controlled, coal mining itself would still create adverse environmental impacts. Making coal "clean" would require a lot more than capturing the carbon emissions.

Quibbles aside, I think this commercial is outstanding and look forward to more from the Reality Coalition.

I hope that future advertising will directly combat the coal industry's claim that we need new coal plants to meet future demand for electricity. In April, Iowa regulators approved Alliant's application to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown, and later explained that they did so because they think renewable energy sources will not be sufficient to meet Iowa's base-load electricity needs in the future.

The environmental movement needs to convince not only the public but also policy-makers from Barack Obama down to state-level regulators that Al Gore's vision of ending our reliance on carbon-based fuels is realistic.

UPDATE: Thanks to MyDD commenter mrlloy, who posted the link to a recent report from Greenpeace called The True Cost of Coal. It contains much more information about health and environmental hazards associated with mining and burning coal.

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Where Was the Environmental Movement at Live Earth?

We have so much to be excited about Live Earth - above all, it brought the message of a climate in crisis to more than 2 billion people worldwide - and that's something that even Ann Curry's excruciatingly stupid interviews with Al Gore and Michael Bloomberg couldn't stop.

Thanks to Al Gore, Alicia Keys, and Madonna, there are many more people today who know that the planet is in danger than yesterday, and know there are simple things they can do about it: change their lightbulbs, "stop driving so many big-ass cars" (Chris Rock), and even tell our political leaders to take action.  

The world is a vastly better place for it.

But there was one big thing missing from the concerts: the environmental movement.

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Hitchens: Karl Rove an Atheist

Cross posted at Democratic Courage blog.

According to ex-liberal neo-con Bush administration buddy Christopher Hitchens, Karl Rove is an atheist. Here's an excerpt from his interview with  New York magazine's Boris Kachka:

Has anyone in the Bush administration confided in you about being an atheist?
Well, I don't talk that much to them--maybe people think I do. I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesn't shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, "I'm not fortunate enough to be a person of faith."

What must Bush make of that?
I think it's false to say that the president acts as if he believes he has God's instructions. Compared to Jimmy Carter, he's nowhere. He's a Methodist, having joined his wife's church in the end. He also claims that Jesus got him off the demon drink. He doesn't believe it. His wife said, "If you don't stop, I'm leaving and I'm taking the kids." You can say that you got help from Jesus if you want, but that's just a polite way of putting it in Texas.

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