The blessings and the curses of weekly newspapers

Several years ago I edited The Wrightsville Headlight in neighboring Johnson County. I spent a year there meeting and working with some of the nicest people I will ever know.

The upside of a weekly paper is that when you print something readers like, you have a whole week for people to say nice things about the paper. When you run a story about an issue which divides people, there is always an opportunity for a week’s worth of phone calls and passionate discussion.

One serious downside of weeklies is that readers must wait a week to see any corrections or clarifications in print.

This week’s edition of The Sandersville Progress didn’t get some important facts clear about a pending settlement concerning the construction permit for Plant Washington or the Greenhouse Gas Rule (GHG, or carbon pollution rule).

The paper’s coverage did not include or state clearly:

  1. P4G (Power4Georgians) does not have a final permit, and the amended permit must stand for public comments before it can be final. This will take weeks to complete.

2. The carbon pollution rule (also called Green House Gas or GHG rule), was announced on Friday, April 13.  Plant Washington needed a final and complete permit before April 13th to be considered exempt from the rule.  In addition, P4G must commence construction before April 13, 2013 in order to avoid this additional pollution control rule. The clock is running now on this project.

3. If Plant Washington fails to meet the exemption criteria announced by the EPA, it will have to meet the new carbon pollution rules.

4. “Commence construction” requires more than moving some dirt around. It might be demonstrated by a contract for a boiler for the facility. For a facility of this size experts estimate the cost to be about $400M, with additional cancellation penalties ranging from $20M-$80M. There is no indication that P4G has done any of the engineering work required to order a boiler. There is also no indication that P4G has lined up the financing that would allow it to enter such a significant contractual commitment.

5. No company has built a new coal plant to meet the new Mercury and Air Toxins rules which were finalized earlier this year. Dean Alford, the project developer, has never built a coal plant.

6.The remaining four co-ops in P4G do not have any Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) in place for customers to purchase electricity generated by Plant Washington.

  7. Dean Alford said that the PPAs will be used to help acquire financing loans for the project in addition to the bonds it expects the county to issue. Therefore, there is no indication that P4G has the necessary financing in place for the project.

I understand that the Progress works with limited staff and that the publisher, Trib Publication, has no online capacity to run corrections or clarifications promptly.

Whether the paper is crystal clear or not, thre are people who rely on it heavily for their local news (and we have a high population of people here who do not use the internet at all). It will be another week before we all see high school sports pictures, read Shirley Friedman’s column, or find out that in fact Plant Washington isn’t “full steam ahead.”

In fact, it seems to be sputtering.

Cobb EMC abandons coal and chooses solar power generated in Washington County!

What a week for clean air and water in Georgia! We started the week with the cancellation of the proposed coal plant Ben Hill near Fitzgerald, and Plant Washington will have to comply with stricter standards for mercury and other toxic air emissions IF it is ever constructed.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the Greenhouse Gas rule (carbon pollution rule, or GHG), making Plant Washington’s fate even less certain. Because Power4Georgians does not yet have a final permit for construction, hasn’t made final design or engineering determinations, and has yet to secure financing for the multi-billion dollar facility, it appears Plant Washington is subject to the GHG rule. That means Plant Washington will be even more expensive and much less practical to finance, construct, operate, or return any investment to the four remaining co-op owner-members.

What options does our community have for affordable electricity? Cobb EMC, which dropped Plant Washington in January, has just inked an agreement to buy 10MW of power generated from the clean and abundant sunshine we have right here in Washington County!

Cobb EMC leaders did the math on Plant Washington and accepted the fact that it just wasn’t a cost effective investment for their co-op owner-members. After putting out requests for new power contracts, they decided in favor of clean, abundant, and job creating renewable power.

Renewable energy puts people to work. Washington County residents are already working at MAGE solar panels in Laurens County, where 350 people will be employed. Another Lauren County facility using wood waste will employ 55 people. Elbert County citizens are already working at some of the 200 jobs announced for a wind turbine company in their county.

Washington EMC Directors, elected officials, and business leaders, your former partner in Power4Georgians has done its homework and found that solar is affordable and reliable after all. It is time you did your homework too.

WEMC has a 10MW contract expiring in 2014. Give us a sound business plan that supports dirty outdated coal as the best option for our community, when solar is available just down the road.

Huge energy spill can’t be contained

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.
April 6, 2012

The headline for a solar energy spill could read, “Sunscreen manufacturers reap huge profits”

From where I stand

Standing-The legally protectible stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the controversy before the court to obtain judicial relief.

Lois Oakley, an administrative law judge presiding over a courtroom in Atlanta, over 200 miles from the Ogeechee River in Eastern Georgia, told citizens living on the river that they have no standing to bring a case concerning the state’s largest fish kill in history. Huh? They live on the river and they have no protectible stake or interest in the river? If they don’t, then who does?

Never mind that the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) inspected King America Finishing and failed, over the course of five years, to find unpermitted dumping. Never mind that the state then tucked its tail between its legs, and instead of levying a penalty that could have reached $91M, it signed off on a consent agreement with King Finishing for $1M. And, to add insult to injury, the agreement doesn’t even require that the paltry $1M be spent directly on protecting the Ogeechee.

As stunning as the judge’s ruling is, what is more stunning is the absolute failure of the state to regulate dumping in the river. Children have been swimming in these cast-off chemicals. Taxpaying citizens have eaten fish soaked in the stuff. And until the dumping got so out of hand that at least 38,000 fish, along with alligators and other wildlife died, the EPD didn’t even know it was going on.

So, if the people who live on the river, depend on the river for their livelihood, love paddling and fishing in it, or have invested in the river for generations (my family has owned a farm on the river since 1789), don’t have standing, then who does?

The Ogeechee fish kill is a heartbreaking example of the state’s lack of interest in protecting our natural resources and wildlife. More importantly, it is a slap on the face to all taxpayers, especially those of us who consider the Ogeechee to be “our” river,  to watch the state continue to discount those of use who stand on its banks.

more information:
Ogeechee Riverkeeper
GreenLaw
Don Stack 

You may own us, but we won’t let you in

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.
February 24, 2012 

The sun was shining brightly on the sign at my electric co-op yesterday.
It needs to shine brightly on operations and decisions made there.
The owner members must request, in writing, permission to attend
any part of a board meeting.
It is the same as owning your own company
(because the customers are the owners)
but being told you can’t come to the Executive Committee meetings.

 

Flannery O’Connor could have written this

Today the team I play on stepped our game up to a higher level. We started together to stop Plant Washington, a coal plant supported locally by the Tarbuttons (Southerners know to how things happen in a “one family county.”). The more my friends and neighbors, along with our partners, learned about our respective electric co-op’s  governance and business relationships, the more tangled the story line became.

This story is set in a rural community blanketed with tall trees, a black water river, and, because it is the rural South, a swamp. Another chapter was published today, and this one has a picture that outlines the characters and the plot.

The plot picked up again this morning. Some of the characters left early on in the story. Others held on into the fourth year since the story outline was announced in Sandersville. One of the lead characters, Dwight Brown, awaits trial on 35 indictments which include racketeering, theft, making false statements, and witness intimidation. At least one forensic audit is in the near future which may reveal yet more intrigue.

The story isn’t over, but this much is certain: it hasn’t played out like the writers announced in late January 2008. Flannery O’Connor loved a good plot twist too.

 

Senate Bill 269: Georgia’s rivers and streams for sale to lowest bidder

One would think that if an elected official, like Jesse Stone of Senate District 23, had an opportunity to introduce legislation that would create stronger safeguards for the already polluted rivers in his district, he would. But in fact, as a co-sponsor of SB 269, he hasn’t.

The Ogeechee River, which experienced the largest fish kill in our state’s history last year, meanders through Stone’s district. Reedy Creek and Brier Creek also pass through the district, and both were recently polluted with spills (the Reedy Creek spill happened over New Year’s weekend).  Stone sits on the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, so he certainly has access to and influence on a committee that should be attuned to clean air and water issues.


SB 269
, which Stone co-sponsored, as written now, would allow the director of the Environmental Protection Division (sometimes referred to as the Environmental Pollution Division among citizens) to negotiate a settlement with a polluter (both private companies and local governments) rather than imposing a stiff fine or penalty. SB 269 would allow the EPD director to notify “any person” (i.e. the polluter) and offer to negoiate an agreement    In short, the polluter and the EPD director can ignore penalties and just settle on some type of corrective action.

The director may also extend the period of time for clean up in six month increments with no limit on the number of extensions allowed.

So who has Jesse Stone’s ear? Of local interest were Stone’s campaign contributors Ben Tarbutton, Jr and Hugh Tarbutton, both donating $500.00. Hugh Tarbutton chairs the Washington County Industrial Development Authority. (The Tarbuttons have been advocates for coal fired Plant Washington, organized by Power4Georgians since it was announced over four years ago.)  Ben Turnipspeed, an engineer who has worked for the cities of Sandersville, Davisboro, Deepstep, and Louisville, donated $200.00 to Stone’s campaign.

The citizens of Georgia know that the EPD failed completely and absolutely to conduct proper inspections at King America Finishing during a five year period when the company dumped unpermitted fire retardant chemicals into the river. The EPD tucked its tail between its legs and entered into a $1M consent agreement with King Finishing, when the penalty could have been as high as $91M. And now Stone supports giving the EPD even more freedom to negoiate way our natural resources?

Right now I don’t have a lot of confidence in the inspection and oversight conducted by the EPD, or its ability and willingness to pursue companies and local governments responsible for spills and dumping which endanger the drink water supplies of both municipal water systems and home and farms depending on well water in the aquifer. Drinking water alone is a reason to have and uphold the highest regulations and penalties possible. Add the damage to wildlife, recreational areas, and businesses connected to the rivers, and the damage is even greater. Georgia can’t afford to have dirty water.

I called Stone’s office and left a message that will leave no doubt in his mind how disappointed I am in this bill and his support of it. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. Citizens across the state are contacting Rules Committee members Jack Hill, Buddy Carter, and Johnny Grant by phone and email to urge them to VOTE NO on SB 269. These three senators know and value the rivers in our state. We are counting on them to stand up for clean water for all Georgians. Apparently we can’t count on Jesse Stone to do that.

Moving from one site to another

Rural and Progressive is in the process of moving from blogpsot to ruralandprogressive.org. Please bear with me while I get everything in place. I hope you will comment and be engaged in addition to sharing the posts.

Got ideas on how this can be a really great site? Let me know.

Katherine