The U.K. is shuttering its coal plants to meet emissions standards, but an absence of short-term replacement power could lead to a disconnect.
A leak of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear plant has been officially classified as a ‘serious incident.’
Yosemite Wilderness encompasses nearly 95 percent (704,624 acres) of Yosemite National Park.
[ Shedding Light in the Night: How Solar Energy and Mobile Charging Improves Quality of Life in India ]
In this installment of Digital Diversity, Gwen Kidera – Project Associate at S3IDF (Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund) – explains how their non-profit organisation provides underserved communities with Integrated Energy Centre carts (IECs) equipped with reliable solar powered lamps and mobile charging stations. Access to light and mobile technology improves the quality of life in these communities by allowing them to continue working after dark.
Digital Diversity is a series of blog posts from kiwanja.net featuring the many ways mobile phones and other appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. This article was curated by Gabrielle LePore, our Media and Research Assistant. You can follow Gabrielle on Twitter at @GabrielleLePore and kiwanja.net at @kiwanja
By Gwen Kidera
Solar lights switch on in the tents of nomadic North Indian residents as the sun sets over the Thanisandra slum in Bangalore, India. Men pick up their tools to carve drums, which serve as the community’s primary source of livelihood, and women crouch to cook supper as the smell of firewood permeates the thick night air.
Wahida, a resident in the camp, returns from the community-owned cart with a rented and freshly charged solar lamp. She hangs it in the centre of her tent above the heads of her six children and her husband who busily works on the ornate drum on his lap. She relaxes because the light allows her husband to work into the night carving drums that are sold to earn additional income, and her children keep safe from pests that would otherwise creep into the poorly lit area. Reliable and safe lighting was a luxury beyond the reach of most residents before the community-owned and operated Integrated Energy Centre (IEC) arrived.
In March 2013, SELCO Solar Pvt. Ltd. (SELCO India), an organisation whose mission is to improve the quality of life in underdeveloped communities through sustainable methods, worked with S3IDF to establish a waterproof and durable solar-powered IEC cart to provide lamps and mobile charging to 30 of approximately 80 households in Thanisandra. The nomadic community, which has been moving as a unit across the country for generations, can take the cart with them wherever they go, ensuring many years of reliable lighting. Once they pay off the initial capital costs of the cart, they can own it and lend the lamps to community members without cost.
Before the IEC, families spent a large portion of their earnings on black market kerosene which posed health hazards such as increased risk of burns and the release of unhealthy fumes. Now, families spend less than US$2.50 a month for up to eight hours of solar light each evening. In addition to the cart, SELCO India and S3IDF are exploring ways to connect the community’s drum production to viable markets, thereby increasing residents’ incomes.
The centre in Thanisandra is just one of 18 IECs under development across the state of Karnataka. Each centre is created based on a needs assessment and tailored to meet the community’s specific circumstances. Although the centres vary in services and business models, at heart they are all solar-powered community centres that provide the underserved with resources to which they otherwise would not have.
IECs are built within communities which are off the grid and lack access to electricity. They not only provide much needed energy but they also have the ability to supply useful products, such as solar lanterns, small appliances and tools, mobile charging, larger productive-use technologies – grain mixers and grinders – community TVs, cooling/heating systems, as well as resources for education, health, awareness and livelihood training.
IECs offer educational services including audio-visual aids to books, and computers to DVD players, and other basic literacy programs. The IECs can also improve public health by providing solar charging points for ultrasound devices, vaccine boxes and refrigeration for medicines. Other resources include ticket booking and printing, Internet services for obtaining identity cards and sending bill payments, and access to agricultural and trade-related information. As if that weren’t enough, IECS also offer community members the opportunity to enroll in vocational training programs, including classes on computers, sewing and fruit drying.
The people who benefit from the IECs run them, and they are designed to be operationally sustainable with revenue generated by the IECs covering all maintenance and operating costs.
The implementation of the IEC cart in Thanisandra improved the quality of life of the entire community. “Now we can easily make 20-30 more drums after dark, and I can even finish my quilting without letting my housework suffer”, Wahida explains. “It feels different since it’s the first time we have had the luxury to work like this.”
Wahida is hopeful for her future and that of her family and community. She would like to see an increase in demand for their drums, which could become a reality with SELCO India and S3IDF’s help.
When asked how the solar lights have changed her circumstances, she smiled and proudly stated, “With the light, even our tent starts looking like a palace, it makes us feel like our dreams can come true.”
Gwen began exploring the field of social entrepreneurship in 2009 while in South Africa on a field study program through the Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern University. She assisted in giving business development support to local entrepreneurs from the townships around Cape Town over the course of two trips. She went on to study microfinance in Belize and work with a group of students to determine the effectiveness of a microfinance institute’s training programs and causes of default among Haitian borrowers in the Dominican Republic. She spent a summer working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and in 2011 worked in Meru, Kenya for the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foundation where she taught health and art classes, advised a women’s textile company, researched malnutrition at the local hospital, and arranged school feeding programs.
In 2013, Gwen became a Project Associate at the S3IDF, a nonprofit organisation based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members of the organisation work to reduce poverty in developing countries by supporting small scale enterprises that meet basic infrastructure needs and providing opportunities for economic advancement. She is an avid traveler and enjoys documenting her trips and getting to know the local culture through photography and blogging.
This post originally appeared at Newswatch. Digital Diversity is produced by Ken Banks, innovator, mentor, anthropologist, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Founder of kiwanja.net, FrontlineSMS and Means of Exchange. He shares exciting stories in Digital Diversity about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. You can follow him on Twitter @kiwanja
In Alaska, Jewell will visit with Native leaders, conservation groups. She’ll take trips to several of Alaska’s wild and threatened places. This includes an overnight camping trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area we’re fighting to protect.
Many towns are at the forefront of controversy over fracking, touching off court battles with bans and moratoriums that sometimes conflict with state policy.
Healing War Wounds through Conservation
Alyssa Restaino, Associate Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations, National Audubon Society
former Marine and current restoration ecologist, I was inspired by the story of
local hero Dick Young,” says Benjamin Haberthur. “He was a World War II
Marine veteran turned conservationist who was able to overcome all he saw on
Iwo Jima to become a leader in the fight to save our region’s natural areas.
He embodied the belief that a country worth protecting is worth preserving.”
with his time in the Marine Corps Reserves, Benjamin Haberthur earned his
Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from California State
University, Monterey Bay. “But my resolve to protect and restore our
American ecosystems was really solidified after witnessing firsthand the
environmental devastation wrought by the Hussein regime. They ditched and
drained thousands of acres of Iraq’s marshlands during the war.”
returned from Iraq in 2003. He was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, two
Marine Corps Reserve Medals, and a Presidential Unit Citation (among other
honors). “I returned to school, anxious to get on with my life, and
I discovered, while exploring the coastal areas of California, nature provided
a peaceful and calming alternative to the stresses of my former military life.”
saw that his personal experience with nature could become a broader experience
shared by fellow vets who may be struggling with symptoms of Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was then that he came upon the idea of
developing a Veterans Conservation Corps in the Chicago Area. His two
primary conservation targets are located at a 1,131 acre forest preserve located
in Batavia, Illinois, named in honor of veteran Dick Young.
Young Forest Preserve, invasive weeds will be removed to restore hemi-marsh
conditions preferred by native wildlife, including turtles, birds and
plants. A 1.6 acre prairie pothole on the western side of the preserve
will be restored to resettlement conditions, which will include the planting of
native wetland species. On the eastern side of the preserve, red and burr
oak tree will be planted in an ongoing reforestation effort. One of
Benjamin’s primary methods for accomplishing this work will be to employ the
use of local veterans and volunteers.
of the essence when working with vets,” Benjamin said. “Our community has a
high rate of untreated PTSD which can easily lead to depression, alcoholism or
suicide. It is my hope through this Toyota & Audubon fellowship to court
such individuals to illustrate the healing power of nature, and possibly
inspire them to take advantage of their GI Bill benefits and return to school
with an eye towards conservation.”
about the work of EarthShare member National Audubon Society (Combined Federal Campaign number 12068) at www.Audubon.org.
Was lack of government regulation at fault?
It’s a common complaint these days: government regulations have gotten out of hand (see here and here), they’re stifling the American economy, “killing economic growth.” Generalities like those are hard to refute, or prove for that matter. So let’s take a look at specific regulations which were designed to protect the public from injection wells used to dispose of fracking wastes … but because they weren’t comprehensive, when it came to earthquakes, they were no better than, well, no regulation.
In 2011, from March to November, nine small earthquakes were reported in and around Youngstown, Ohio. That’s more than one earthquake per month. All were of 2.7 magnitude (Mw) or less. Given that prior to 2011, no earthquakes centered in the area had been recorded, something unusual seemed to be going on. Some speculated that maybe the proximity of the quakes to a deep injection well — a Class II well used to dispose of fracking waste water [pdf] (there are 144,000 [pdf] Class II wells in the United States) — might be the culprit. After all, all nine quakes had occurred within a one-mile radius of the well [pdf] and injection wells in Texas and Arkansas had been linked to similar bouts of seismicity. (There’s also that USGS study from last year that reported a significant uptick in the number of minor earthquakes in the United States in recent years.)
Only after a tenth event occurred in the area, on December 24, did the state take action. Less than a week after that magnitude 2.7 quake, Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources requested that injections cease at Northstar 1, the only operational disposal well in the area [pdf]. Within 24 hours of the shutdown, a 3.9 quake hit. (See related story: “Scientists Say Oil Industry Likely Caused Largest Oklahoma Earthquake.”)
With only one other quake larger than magnitude 2 occurring since Northstar 1’s shutdown — a magnitude 2.1 on January 13, 2012 — seismically, Youngstown has been as quiet as a dormouse since. Nevertheless, there were cautionary statements against jumping to conclusions before all the evidence was in.
“There has been no conclusive link established between our well and the earthquakes. Proximity alone does not prove causation. Making assumptions and judgments before all the necessary data is collected and reviewed is simply irresponsible and unfair.” —From D&L Energy, injection well operator
And James Zehringer, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, stated that
“our research doesn’t point to a clear and direct correlation to drilling at this site and seismic activity.”
New Peer-Reviewed Paper Offers Evidence of Link
A paper by Won-Young Kim of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory appearing last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth has now provided that link in the form of a detailed seismicity study of the area. The results are pretty conclusive. (See related post: “Tracing Links Between Fracking and Earthquakes.”)
- While a total of only 12 earthquakes were large enough to be recorded in real time between March 2011 and January 2013, Kim’s detailed analysis uncovered a total of 109 quakes (magnitude 0.4-3.9). Keep in mind that Youngstown is a location, Kim points out, “where there were no known earthquakes in the past.”
- The period of earthquake activity tracked the operational life of the Northstar 1 well (the only one of five disposal wells drilled in the area that came online during this period). The quake activity:
- Began 13 days after the start of injection of fracking wastes,
- Dropped off when disposal activity lessened (e.g., during holidays), and
- Decreased in strength before ceasing altogether about a month after the well operations ceased.
And, perhaps most important, the seismic activity beneath Northstar 1 can be tied to the existence of a previously unknown fault line. While being close to a fault isn’t the only condition that must be met for earthquakes to occur, it is the most important [pdf]. (See related story: “Fracking Wastewater Disposal Linked to Remotely Triggered Quakes.”)
So How Did This Happen?
For the most part this is a case, as best as I can tell, of “no harm, no foul.” All those tremors and shakes were no doubt alarming for the folks in and around Youngstown, but it appears that any resulting damage was minor, and there were no injuries let alone fatalities. We can all be thankful for that.
Still, the possibility exists that this could have been worse.
The good news is that, in the words of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources [pdf], “Future earthquakes [like the ones at Youngstown] can be avoided.”
So why weren’t they avoided in Youngstown then? Apparently because no one realized that a fault line ran beneath the site of the Northstar 1 injection well. Ironically, the data needed to make that determination was already available, collected by Battelle Memorial Institute during drilling of the well as part of a “piggyback” program [pdf] to map Ohio’s subsurface geology in areas where little data exists. However, because of a shortfall of funds, the data were never analyzed (until the quakes began). And, because providing the data was not required by either Ohio or federal regulations, the data were not provided to either Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources or the Environmental Protection Agency.
As NRDC’s Briana Mordick explains in this blog post, because of Northstar 1’s Class II status as an injection well, the EPA does not require its owners to include seismic activity in their selection of a site for those wells. States, however, may promulgate stricter regulations that do if they chose to. Suffice it to say, Ohio was not such a state.
Had Ohio required the sharing of such geophysical data collected during well development, the regulators might have nixed the well before any of this started, and sited it elsewhere. Taking a step to correct this oversight, Ohio changed its permitting process [pdf] for Class II deep injection wells with the aim of avoiding future problems with induced seismicity. As currently written, though, the changes have led to questions about whether the new rules are strong enough to make a difference. And of course whether they’re new and improved or just new, they pertain to Ohio and not the nation.
And that, my friends, is why we need government oversight and regulation where public welfare is at stake — to make sure that companies check off all the boxes, even the seismic ones.
Headline was changed to make clear that deep injection wells used to dispose of fracking fluids — not fracking — have been linked to the earthquakes.
For the past couple of months, we’ve brought you updates from Montana, where Wilderness Society interns Lily Clarke and Greta Hoffman are conducting collaborative research with the University of Montana on the effects of fire and restoration on forest ecosystems for ecologist Travis
Vermont’s nuclear power era is almost over. Entergy Corporation will shutter Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in 2014, ending nuclear power production in the Green Mountain State. Tuesday’s announcement ended years of controversy and legal wrangling over the plant’s future; in the end, the millions of dollars needed to run the facility simply no longer made economic sense.
Three-fourths of all the electricity generated (though not used) in Vermont was from nuclear power as recently as 2011, a higher percentage than any other state, acccording to U.S. Depearment of Energy Information statistics. But the New Orleans, Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation said the plant will now complete its current fuel cycle and begin a safe shutdown in the fourth quarter of 2014.
“This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us,” said Leo Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement.
High Nuclear Costs, Cheap Natural Gas
The small facility’s high cost, along with competition from lower-priced natural gas, contributed to the closure of the 605-megawatt, single unit, boiling water reactor, according to Entergy.
The plant is expected to operate around break-even during 2013, Entergy reported. But rather than face declining revenues in coming years, the company will now boost cash flow by some $150 to $200 million through 2017 by shuttering the plant.
Christoper Recchia, commissioner of Vermont’s Public Service Department, an executive branch organization that represents the public’s interest in matters of energy, said the Yankee decision wasn’t entirely a surprise. “We always knew that the size of it and the age of it would be challenges economically, and that clearly drove business decisions,” said Recchia, whose organization supported the closure of Vermont Yankee.
“That’s certainly not the main reason that we wanted the plant closed,” he added, noting that Vermont has adopted a goal of 90 percent renewable energy by the year 2050. (Read Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan.)
The latest reactor closure announcement is the fifth this year: San Onofre’s two reactors in California, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, and Crystal River 3 in Florida are also being retired. As the United States’ fleet of reactors ages, more operators are finding that the expense of maintenance and repairs, particularly in the wake of heightened caution following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster, isn’t worth the returns. (See related story: “Latest Radioactive Leak at Fukushima: How Is It Different?”)
Sixty-five commercially operating nuclear power plants are currently in action across 31 U.S. States, according to the EIA, and produce about 20 percent of U.S. electricity. (See related: “First ‘Small Modular’ Nuclear Reactors Planned for Tennessee.”)
The federal government will take possession of Yankee Power’s spent fuel and remove it from the site as part of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-defined decommissioning process that also includes removing residual radioactivity at the site and restoring it for new possible new uses. That process will take decades, and Entergy will retain ownership of the Vernon, Vermont land on which the plant is sited along the banks of the Connecticut River.
Vermont Yankee currently employs some 630 workers, most of whom will be kept on during near-term operations and gradually phased out as the plant winds down towards 2014.
Minimal Power Supply Impact
Vermont Yankee has frequently made news in the past. For some four decades after its 1972 opening, the plant provided about one thirdr of the total electricity consumed in Vermont. It was owned and operated by Vermont electric utilities, and regulated by the state, until a 2002 sale to Entergy. Afterward, Vermont Yankee’s capacity was expanded and the corporation was granted permission to store radioactive waste on site.
But Vermont’s power supply sources shifted, and today Recchia said the closure won’t impact in-state power use at all. “In Vermont, we actually don’t use any of the power from Yankee anymore. It’s a big power plant, the biggest one in Vermont, but we get no electricity from it at all,” he said, noting that Yankee electricity is shipped elsewhere on the New England grid. (Take quiz: “What Do You Know About Nuclear Power?”)
In a 2012 study, ISO New England, the grid operator for six New England states, determined that the region’s electric grid would remain stable and reliable without Vermont Yankee because local electric companies had upgraded infrastructure across the region. However, the closure will likely make the region more dependent on natural gas for power needs.
While the closure won’t affect Vermont’s current power source mix, the desire to close Yankee is tied to the state’s goal of a 90 percent renewable energy supply by 2050. “We’re well on our way,” Recchia said. “We’re moving pretty quickly on solar, wind, and hydro. We get aboutone third of our electric power from [public utility] Hydro-Québec.” Recchia did note that one utility has purchased a small amount of nuclear power from Seabrook Station in New Hampshire, so there is still some nuclear power being used in the state.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who became a vocal opponent of the plant, told the press in Montpelier today of the closure, “This is the right decision for Vermont and it’s the right decision for Vermont’s clean energy future.”
Operational problems in recent years contributed to the plant’s woes. In 2007 one of Yankee Power’s cooling towers collapsed, leaving a visible, gaping hole and increasing questions about the facility’s reliability. During 2010 and 2011 Vermont’s Department of Health reported traces of radioactive tritium in the Connecticut River and sourced them to the plant, though Entergy said its own tests found levels below detectable minimums. In 2011, Vermont’s Department of Health also reported that fish were found with detectable levels of strontium-90 a few miles upstream from the plant. The governor ordered weekly river water sampling that summer—that same year Entergy committed $92 million to refueling the plant for another cycle of power generation. (See related pictures: “Ten Oldest U.S. Nuclear Plants: Post-Japan Risks”)
While many Vermonters did back the plant, opposition eventually reached such levels that the state legislature attempted to shut down the plant entirely, refusing to certify Yankee for continued operation after March 2012, when its original license was set to expire. Entergy subsequently spent an estimated $5 million to win a 2012 U.S. District Court decision that Vermont could not close the plant, because it fell under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which had already granted a renewal through 2032. Just two weeks ago, Vermont lost its appeal to that decision of Judge J. Garvan Murtha.
But now Vermont’s only nuclear power plant is operating on borrowed time. Neighboring New England states New Hampshire and Massachusetts have one functional nuclear power plant apiece; Seabrook Station in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Pilgrim Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Recchia said he didn’t have poll numbers or hard data on whether most Vermonters wanted the plant closed or not, but he felt the decision would be received positively by most. “I know a majority of Vermonters support the 90 percent renewable goal, so we were moving in another direction, and this was an older, out of date plant that doesn’t meet our needs anymore,” he said.