And So I Go: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Environmental Politically Correct Greeness? Reeaaally?

Posted on: November 19, 2010

The following is an article a friend found in his Carolina Alumni Review July/August 2010.  the article states that the University of North Carolina  Chapel Hill will be jumping onto the Environmental Politically Correct  bandwagon by discontinuing the use of coal on campus and  moving to “green”.  Fred wrote a letter refuting the claims in the article.  Well worth reading in these days of  the going “green” movement proponents whose claims have  no basis in fact.   My personal favorite  is the clams for  the electric cars that plug into a power source that uses oil to fuel its generators.  Folks electricity DOES NOT come out of the wall plug!  BB

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© 2010 UNC General Alumni Association

Carolina Alumni Review
July/August 2010

No Coal: University Seeks New Energy Source by 2020

“We will stop using coal on campus by 2020.”

The chancellor’s announcement on Tuesday was bold, considering questions remaining about supplies of alternative fuels and the cost and practicality of converting UNC’s coal-dependent cogeneration plant. But the Sierra Club and students who spurred the University to study a turn away from fossil fuels were on the sideline cheering.

And Carolina was basking in a leadership moment — Bruce Nilles, who oversees the Sierra Club’s national Beyond Coal campaign, said another 58 campuses that still burn coal have not taken this step.

“Universities must lead the transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 said. “Today, Carolina takes another big step in that direction.”

A student-faculty-staff Energy Task Force announced by Thorp in late January made quick work of the recommendation to commit to being coal-free within a decade.

The University has begun looking into burning wood pellets or torrefied wood — a product similar to charcoal — in the boiler of the cogeneration plant, which requires 50 percent solids to operate. Testing of wood products is expected to begin soon. The plant eventually could be re-engineered to burn natural gas. The ultimate fuel source is one of the unknowns.

Another is the source of wood products, also known as biomass. Those would have to come from forests, preferably in North Carolina, and there is a debate emerging over controls to ensure that burning wood doesn’t have adverse consequences for forest resources and wildlife.

While working toward conversion, the University intends to shift to acquiring as much of its coal as possible from deep mines that do not involve surface or mountaintop mining. Thorp made it clear that this would be a secondary priority behind the weaning off of coal. At the same time, UNC will study the potential to generate energy from solar thermal and solar photovoltaic systems.

Cogeneration is the simultaneous production of steam and electricity. UNC produces steam and power in a plant on the western edge of Chapel Hill. The University has burned coal to make power since the first electrical outlets were placed in Person Hall in 1890. Based on results from a 2008 greenhouse gas inventory, about 58 percent of UNC’s carbon dioxide equivalents came from burning coal.

The cogen plant today is considered one of the most efficient of its type, with a 70 percent efficiency rating, compared with other coal-burning plants in the state that are about 30 percent efficient.

“Carolina’s cogeneration facility is one of the cleanest-burning, most efficient coal plants in the country and has won national awards for efficiency from the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Tim Toben ’81, chair of the task force and chair of the N.C. Energy Policy Council. “But it still burns coal, and that must end to avoid contributing to the worst effects of global climate change. And unless you set a deadline for ending coal usage, you’re not going to get to it.”

Still, Nilles said, it’s time for the U.S. to recognize that energy sources that once seemed cheap “are in fact coming at a huge cost.” He cited the recent West Virginia coal mine disaster and the oil slick now threatening the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday’s announcement was laden with symbolism. It was held on the Rams Head Plaza, the grassy roof of a large parking deck that acts as a sophisticated stormwater runoff collection system. Thorp and others spoke in the shadow of an array of solar panels on the roof of Morrison dorm, which heat the building’s water.

Thorp said he expected Carolina’s decision to help guide other campuses. “We are in an unusual position because our cogeneration plant has a useful life of another 30 to 40 years,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy to make this transition. We have challenges in making sure biomass will work in our existing boilers and challenges on the supply side as well. But we are confident we can achieve our goal in 10 years.”

Much of the impetus for studying alternative energy came from a student group called Beyond Coal. A member of the group, Stewart Boss, a freshman form Bethesda, Md., said he expected the announcement to serve as encouragement for students engaged in similar efforts on other campuses.

In January, the Columbia University professor and NASA climate scientist James Hansen came to Chapel Hill to challenge UNC and other universities to eliminate the use of coal. Hansen, who was sponsored by the Sierra Club, was joined at the cogeneration plant by clean energy activists. That same week, The Daily Tar Heel began editorializing in favor of the University converting from coal to other sources.

Subject: Letter to Editor: Carolina Alumni Review July/August 2010
To: fhgdea@aol.com
Date: Monday, November 15, 2010, 7:32 PM

George Watts Hill Alumni Center | CB#9180, Stadium Drive | P.O. Box 660 | Chapel Hill, NC 27514-0660 | (919) 962-1208
© 2010 UNC General Alumni Association

Carolina Alumni Review
July/August 2010

I am writing in response to a piece in the July/August issue of The Carolina Alumni Review: “We will stop using  coal on campus by 2020.”

The article proclaims that the chancellor’s decision was bold . Politically correct, in step with the misguided and discredited global warming hysteria, but bold, not hardly.

The Sierra Club, James Hansen and environmental pressure groups are cheering this move and appear to be dictating  unsound and absurd policy to the Chancellor  . That’s fine but  I wonder how they will feel when the lights go off in Chapel Hill or feel the pain of increased tuition due to ballooning electricity costs..

David Berkett, a former Grid Control Engineer who has a lifetime’s experience in electricity supply throughout the UK, warned  that , ” A growing obsession with global warming and ‘ renewable ‘ sources threatens the satiability of our supply ” and he claimed that renewable energy expectations are nothing more than ” dangerous illusions ” which could hit consumers hard in the pocket.

Oh wait, hmm, let’s see wasn’t it candidate Obama that said that if Cap and Trade were passed , ” electricity bills would skyrocket ”

John Hofmeister, in his book Why We Hate Oil Companies, observes that ” It’s not that today’s ideas are bad; there’s nothing wrong with so-called clean, green, renewable energy.  The challenge is that there is not enough of that kind of energy and there won’t be for decades to come.  By emphasizing what is new and preaching hostility toward what is old, we fail to invest in what is needed.

“The laments of the fossil fuel suppliers are not just the shrieks for survival of the last dinosaurs.  They are genuine warnings that the death of their fuels is also the death of the U.S. economy, security, and quality of life. ”

“Let me make a potentially controversial point that may offend a lot of people:  There is no such thing as “clean energy” as we know energy today.  Anyone who claims a clean energy pathway is suspect.  They are not telling the whole story.  From coal to oil to natural gas to nuclear to wind to solar to biofuels to hydropower, geothermal, and hydrogen, we deceive ourselves by declaring specific forms of energy “clean”.  There are certainly relative differences in degree, but every form of energy known to humans requires destruction and/or modification of molecules, landscapes, water supplies, or wildlife.  Every form of energy has an impact on the environment.  Clean energy is a relative, not an absolute, term.”

Coal is not a dirty word as Hofmeister points out : ” Coal produces about half of our electricity; we can’t just turn it off.  In an electron society, we couldn’t run our hospitals, banks, companies, house-holds, governments, schools, and public safety without it.  For these reasons, it is naive and dangerous simply to argue for no more coal.”

In the From The Hill article it is stated that the life expectancy of the Cogeneration plant is 30 to 40 years.  Is it wise to take valuable educational funds away from students to invest in ‘other than coal’ technology when “ Carolina’s cogeneration facility is one of the cleanest-burning, most efficient coal plants in the country ” ?

According to Tim Toben  “But it still burns coal, and that must end to avoid contributing to the worst effects of global climate change”  Memo To Tim Toben : Compared to coal, wood ( biomass ) is a lot worse in the emissions of every major pollutant except for sulfur dioxide (SO2).  It is worse when it comes to emitting “evil” carbon dioxide, even according to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Question – Isn’t debating climate change a fantastic waste of time and human energy ?  There is no agreement on what it is or isn’t.  There is not set of measures accurate enough to be credible to present a clear and present danger.  There is no rebuttal for the argument that we have always had cycles of global warming and global cooling, and Earth has adjusted accordingly.

Finally, just how much of this re-engineering of the Cogeneration plant is the Sierra Club willing to fund? Also, will the students be passed the burden of funding, through tuition, the more expensive fuel source?  If so, shouldn’t all of the students be allowed to debate this issue and not just the Beyond Coal Group. This is a decision that UNC has made and taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the costs.  This is a “teachable moment” for students and administrators: When they push for costlier energy, they have the responsibility to bear those higher costs in the future cost and the concomitant criticism.

Fred Gregory  ’62

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