While petcoke company seeks delay, residents want action

Chicago residents protest petroleum coke storage piles in April. (Photo by Bob Simpson via Creative Commons)

Chicago residents protest petroleum coke storage piles in April. (Photo by Bob Simpson via Creative Commons)

Marcy Juarez, a hospice worker living on Chicago’s Southeast side, says she still can’t open the windows on hot days, because of gritty black dust that blows in.

Her children have urged her to sell the house, but she’s lived there for 35 years, recently remodeled, loves the community and can’t imagine leaving.

Mari Barboza and her family still feel they can’t enjoy a barbecue outside, since the afternoon last summer when a cloud of black dust ruined the food at her mother’s 60th birthday party.

Other residents of Chicago’s Southeast side likewise say their homes, cars and patio furniture are still frequently coated in black grime, as one woman exhibited on a wipe soiled with thick black residue at a community meeting July 28.

They say their lives continue to be seriously impacted by the piles of petroleum coke (petcoke) that the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX Terminals is storing in the community, despite KCBX’s moves to comply with rules that the city health department issued in March.

Now KCBX is requesting variances from the health department rules, and in its request filed June 9 the company threatened to sue if it doesn’t get the exemptions.

In Illinois, residents demand answers about coal plant’s future

The E.D. Edwards power plant near Bartonville, Illinois. (Photo courtesy Illinois Sierra Club)

The E.D. Edwards power plant near Bartonville, Illinois. (Photo courtesy Illinois Sierra Club)

When Houston-based Dynegy Inc. bought the E.D. Edwards coal plant near Peoria, Illinois last year, Gary Hall was among many local residents who were not happy.

Ameren essentially paid Dynegy to take over the financially flailing plants. Given trends affecting coal plants nationwide, including pending EPA carbon rules and competition from cheap natural gas, many environmentalists and energy experts think the E.D. Edwards plant and other aging coal plants may close in coming years.

“This company comes in from Texas, buys plants like this so they can sell the stuff that’s in it and get out,” said Hall, a retired Caterpillar worker and member of UAW Local 974. “It’s like an old car, you get more money from the parts then selling the car. But what’s going to happen is those poor people, our brothers and sisters who work in there will end up with no jobs.”

Racing pro is head of the pack in race to shift carbon culture

Leilani Munter and her PrairieGold Solar car. Photo by Kari Lydersen

Leilani Munter and her PrairieGold Solar car. Photo by Kari Lydersen

The air smells of burning rubber, and the sound of roaring engines is deafening. Homages to petroleum are everywhere: rows of semi-trucks and trailers, stacks of thick smooth tires and the stars of the show – bright sleek race cars emblazoned with the names of sponsors like Rope, Soap ‘N Dope, an oilfield supply company. Just outside the Chicagoland Speedway, thousands of automobiles are parked amongst bales of hay on grassy fields.

This is the arena where lifelong environmentalist Leilani Munter preaches her gospel of renewable energy and the goal of a carbon-free economy.

Talk about Risky Business: Midwest climate threats

Julie Falk via Creative Commons.

Julie Falk via Creative Commons.

Potentially dire financial and health consequences from climate change are predicted in a report released June 24 by the Risky Business Project.

The effect of rising temperatures on agriculture and energy demand will be particularly drastic in the Midwest, the report predicts. And the way Midwestern farmers, utilities and other industries respond will be crucial.

The Risky Business Project’s co-chairs and risk committee include former Treasury Secretaries Hank Paulson, George Shultz and Robert Rubin; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

The project quantifies potential risks in three sectors – energy, agriculture and coastal property – for specific regions including the Midwest. While the Midwest is safe from rising seas, other impacts from climate change could have extensive financial ripple effects.

Midwest-born ‘Toxic Avenger’ speaks out in the Marcellus

Illinois native Sandra Steingraber has taken her fracking fight to New York. Photo by Dale Willman.

Illinois native Sandra Steingraber has taken her fracking fight to New York. Photo by Dale Willman.

High-profile environmental activist, biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber – whom Rolling Stone dubbed the “Toxic Avenger” – gained her love of science and ecology in the Midwest, growing up in central Illinois and studying English and biology in Illinois before earning a biology doctorate at the University of Michigan.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated Steingraber to “leave the lab,” as she says, and become an environmental activist and watchdog, as well as an author and poet. She survived bladder cancer — which she suspects was linked to water pollution — and gained international acclaim for her book Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, overlaying cancer data and federal toxic release statistics.

In 2011 Steingraber won the prestigious Heinz Award. By then she was living in upstate New York, where high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas had exploded on the scene. Steingraber used the $100,000 prize to start the grassroots organization New Yorkers Against Fracking, a movement that soon spread to other states and launched her as an international leader on the issue.

Steingraber has spoken out against the controversial fracking regulations in her home state of Illinois, and traveled to Europe to meet with people dealing with drilling in their communities.

She spent a few days in late June at Carnegie Mellon University with a delegation of reporters convened by the Society of Environmental Journalists. The group heard from industry sources, academics, scientists, landowners and activists about the ways fracking has played out in the Marcellus shale, and what the future may hold.

For paper mills and cogeneration, everything old is new again

The Flambeau River Papers mill in Park Falls, Wisconsin, uses combined heat and power to cut energy costs. (Photo by Wisconsin DNR via Creative Commons)

The Flambeau River Papers mill in Park Falls, Wisconsin, uses combined heat and power to cut energy costs. (Photo by Wisconsin DNR via Creative Commons)

The hulking pulp and paper mills built many decades ago in Wisconsin, Michigan and other Midwestern states have had their share of environmental impacts.

But the mills were decades ahead of the game in adopting technology now seen as an effective tool to fight greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. That would be the use of combined heat and power (CHP, also known as cogeneration), promoted by President Obama with a 2012 executive order and lauded by environmental and energy efficiency advocates.

Like any industry that generates electricity onsite, paper and pulp mills can take the heat from their generators to create steam that can be used to generate more electricity. More importantly, the heat can also be used directly for mills’ industrial processes, including for drying pulp.

“We were doing this before people were using the term ‘sustainability,’” said Jerry Schwartz, senior director of energy and environmental policy for the American Forest & Paper Association, a trade group. “A lot of it made economic sense.”

Q&A: The free enterprise case for climate action

Bob Inglis. (Photo by Canada 2020 via Creative Commons)

Bob Inglis. (Photo by Canada 2020 via Creative Commons)

Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis served two six-year stints in the House of Representatives, with a spell doing real estate law in between.

As Congress was considering the Waxman-Markey bill that would have instituted a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions, Inglis proposed an alternate approach – a “revenue-neutral” tax on carbon that would be paired with cuts in other taxes.

His acknowledgement of climate change and other moderate positions alienated him from Tea Party-aligned factions, and he lost in the 2010 Republican primary. In 2011 he spent a semester as a Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, and launched the Energy & Enterprise Initiative (E&EI), a non-profit organization based at George Mason University aimed at promoting his carbon plan.

During a recent Chicago visit, Inglis talked with Midwest Energy News.

Combined heat and power is a boon for Midwest steel mills

Bill Satek surveys combined heat and power operations for U.S. Steel. (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Bill Satek surveys combined heat and power operations for U.S. Steel. (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

PORTAGE, Indiana — “Feel this pipe,” says Bill Satek, laying a hand on a thick curved pipe inside Portside Energy’s plant on the grounds of the U.S. Steel Midwest mill on the shore of Lake Michigan. The metal is cool. A few feet away is a pipe that looks identical but is almost painfully hot to the touch.

“That’s the beauty of Portside,” says Satek. “That’s what makes this project awesome.”

The difference in temperature represents a significant savings in natural gas used to power the steel mill’s operations, cutting costs for U.S. Steel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is part of a larger combined heat and power (CHP) operation that Portside Energy runs on contract for U.S. Steel, harnessing waste heat and using top-notch efficiency measures to provide electricity, steam and hot water for the mill.

Retiring plants placed on life support to preserve reliability

The Presque Isle power plant in Marquette, Michigan, receives a subsidy to continue operating amid grid concerns. (Photo by Adam Shoop via Creative Commons)

The Presque Isle power plant in Marquette, Michigan, receives a subsidy to continue operating amid grid concerns. (Photo by Adam Shoop via Creative Commons)

Scores of coal-fired power plants have been retired and taken off-line in recent years, and coal plant retirements are likely to continue or accelerate as deadlines for federal pollution regulations loom and states respond to the recently-proposed EPA carbon reduction plan.

Clean energy advocates and environmentalists typically cheer the closing of coal plants. But sometimes power plants – whether coal, natural gas or nuclear – are crucial to providing stability on the grid, even if their electricity is not needed to meet demand.

Hence regional transmission organizations (RTOs), the entities which oversee the grid and electricity markets for different regions, have the power to order a plant to keep running even if it is not financially viable.

Q&A: Why combined heat and power is a ‘no-brainer’

Koda Energy, a combined heat and power plant in Shakopee, Minnesota, runs on biomass. (Craig Lassig for Midwest Energy News)

Koda Energy, a combined heat and power plant in Shakopee, Minnesota, runs on biomass. (Craig Lassig for Midwest Energy News)

Sean Casten and his father, Tom Casten, could be called the country’s family dynasty of combined heat and power.

CHP, also known as cogeneration, is the under-appreciated practice of capturing and using waste heat from power generation to make clean electricity and steam, greatly increasing efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sean Casten is president and CEO of Recycled Energy Development LLC (RED), an Illinois firm that constructs and runs CHP operations for industrial partners. RED’s chairman is Tom Casten, who has more than three decades under his belt in waste energy recovery.

RED’s most prominent current project is transforming the 125 MW utility complex at Kodak’s Eastman Business Park in Rochester, New York, which provides power and heat to more than 40 tenants and owners. RED is turning the century-old coal-fired station, which already includes co-generation with waste heat, into a highly efficient gas-fired CHP plant.