LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Missouri residents deserve clean energy

Friday, March 22, 2013 | 10:51 a.m. CDT

In Missouri, about 9 percent of the population has asthma, including my daughter, who, when she was 15, nearly died from an asthma attack. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the number of child asthma cases in the U.S. has doubled since 1980 and that direct contributors to this increase are coal-fired power plants.

While nationally the electricity use is about 40 percent coal, in Missouri 80 percent of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. All of the coal burned here comes from outside of Missouri.

Unsurprisingly, St. Louis has the 10th worst soot pollution in the nation. We must do something to address how our over-reliance on imported coal affects the health of our children. And actually, citizens did; in 2008 we voted overwhelmingly for the Renewable Energy Standard. The Renewable Energy Standard requires 15 percent of our electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2021.

The standard would encourage development of new renewable energy projects within Missouri, reduce our disproportionate reliance on coal and create a cleaner environment for our children.

But House Bill 44, now moving through the legislature, would allow old, large hydropower facilities outside of Missouri to count toward the standard. This legislation would do away with any incentive to create new homegrown clean energy projects like wind farms and solar development within Missouri. Missouri residents deserve better than what House Bill 44 provides — we deserve new clean energy that makes the air we breathe cleaner too.

Arthur T. Klein is a Columbia resident.

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Mark Foecking March 23, 2013 | 5:17 a.m.

It is likely that your daughters asthma is triggered by allergens in the environment, of which Missouri is replete with naturally. If it improves in the winter that's a good sign that it's allergic and not caused by man-made pollutants.

A far more important contributor to urban soot is diesel exhaust, because it is emitted at ground level, where any soot from power plants is dispersed from tall stacks. Also, power plants can control their combustion far better than diesel engines can. If we are worried about cleaning the air in our cities, then diesel soot is what we should be going after.

As far as the RPS, the issue that will hold up any large scale adoption of wind and solar is cost, especially if subsidies are reduced or eliminated in the future. There is a clause that states if a project(s) will increase the cost of electricity by 3 percent or more, than the standard does not have to be met. If we can use out of state hydropower to displace some of our coal use, that's better than not doing anything because the cost is too high.

No one is stopping anyone from installing wind and solar on their house. I'd recommend anyone who advocates a large scale switch to do so. It'll never happen unless you do it yourself.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 23, 2013 | 7:19 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

It's still early in the morning, but your post has made my day. I have some comments:

1- The exhaust from diesel engines contains long-chain hydrocarbons, some of them suspected carcinogens (based on animal studies). So let's do away with those engines! Fine, what do we use to power over-the-road truck transportation, railroad locomotives, ships and barge tows?

2- A growing number of folks in the technical community do not see ANY other way to create sufficient electrical power in the SHORT TERM without building additional nuclear reactors, which produce neither particulates nor greenhouse gas. Yes, we are well aware of the problem of disposing of radioactive waste.

3- Operationally it would work like this: As each reactor comes on line an equivalent megawattage of coal-fired generating capacity would be shut down. When the useful life of those nuclear plants ended in the future they too - hopefully - would be shut down. IN OTHER WORDS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A "BRIDGE," WITH THE NUCLEAR PLANTS AS THAT BRIDGE. Nuclear technology is already a developed technology.

4- That approach is logical, which virtually guarantees it won't "fly," but somebody had better start worrying about where we will derive enough electrical power during the transition to renewable sources.

France derives 75-80% of its electricity from nuclear generation. When was the last nuclear "disaster" in France?
Germany WAS planning to use a nuclear "bridge" in transition to renewables, but for political purposes has dropped that plan in favor of a "bridge" using electrical power purchased from France. And how will the French be producing that power? Please re-read the previous paragraph. :)

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 24, 2013 | 6:30 a.m.

@Ellis - I've said for a long time that nuclear is the way to go as far as replacing coal. Economics, of course, favors natural gas, and with the current glut and low price of NG, that's what utilities are looking at. However, the carbon rate (in kg CO2/mwh) of nuclear is about 1/10 that of NG - in fact, it's comparable to wind in a life cycle assessment.

A lot of new diesel engines are far better at not creating soot, because they inject fuel under much higher pressure and burn it more completely. However, the heavy engines used in trucks and buses aren't usually so advanced, and they also tend to last a long time. So the urban soot problem really isn't going away as long as we use these engines.

I think Germany will wind up keeping some of its reactors around. One of the consequences of moving to a high percentage of renewable energy is they will become more dependent on Russian natural gas for backup, and Russia has a history of cutting people off that it disagrees with politically. Unless some of the shale deposits in eastern Germany and Poland can be developed, they'll be at the mercy of Moscow for a long time.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 24, 2013 | 9:34 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

I agree with you 100%.

I attempt to follow current German politics, and what's driving the nuclear situation in Germany is POLITICS: Frau Merkel and the Christian Democrats are losing elections at city and state levels (individual German states) to either the Green Party or parties like the Pirate Party, which present themselves as being "green." Christian Democrats are worried about the results of the next national elections.

Too bad, since the original Christian Democrat energy proposal had a nice-looking "bridge," at least on paper.

Of course that situation doesn't happen in any other "advanced" countries. :)

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