Saturday, December 22, 2007

More use of "off" switch will minimize coal-plant impact

Dec. 22, 2007

More use of "off" switch will minimize coal-plant impact.

Our View

When it comes to states that have plenty of affordable electricity for their residents, Tennessee ranks right near the top.

When it comes to states that emit a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing greenhouse gases that cause global warming, Tennessee ranks pretty high there, too.

Naturally, the two are connected, and it's a quandary for Tennesseans who have enjoyed relatively inexpensive energy for decades. Much of the carbon dioxide is being emitted from the state's seven coal-burning power plants, scattered from Shelby County in the west to Sullivan County in the east. In the first 11 months of 2007, the plants emitted a total of 63.3 million pounds of CO2. Only 16 states produced more.

As the damaging effects of greenhouse gases become ever more apparent, calls for action are coming at every level — from the recent international climate conference in Bali to grass-roots environmental groups in your town. Tennessee's role in the discussion is just getting good, as the word "conservation" is being heard more than ever before.

Not that there aren't dissenters. Some still deny our environment is worsening because of human habits, despite overwhelming evidence. Others acknowledge the impact, but want to replace fossil fuels with nuclear power. Nuclear plants, which already produce a sizable portion of Tennessee's electricity, don't emit CO2. However, many oppose new nuclear plants because public-safety risks are considerable. The plants also consume vast quantities of water to cool the reactors, and our water supply is becoming an ever more precious commodity.

Further down the road, there may even be hope for coal-powered plants. The federal government is spending billions to develop clean-coal technology. A site has been chosen in Illinois for a plant that would extract hydrogen from coal to generate energy while trapping the carbon dioxide deep underground. Intriguing, though it's not a renewable energy resource.

Such concepts are far from reality in Tennessee, however, where a growing number of are instead urging consumers to cut back on energy use. This is the true front line in the battle to reduce global warming and air and water pollution. It is becoming a cliche, but each of us must consider our "carbon footprint," the amount of pollutants we put into the environment, in the form of discarded trash, wastewater, automobile use — and consumption of electricity.

Simply put, the less electricity we use, the less coal will be burned.

Sumner County schools set a good example, according to a recent Tennessean/USA Today report. The county is home to a TVA coal-burning plant, but the school district is moving to a geothermal system for much of its power. The district is also sponsoring community-education programs about energy efficiency in the home.

And around the region, universities are leading the way. Lipscomb in Nashville is renovating buildings to meet U.S Green Building Council standards, and Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro used an $8 tuition increase to fund a program aimed at cutting campus power consumption by 10 percent.

Someday, we may develop ways to deliver plentiful sources of safe, renewable energy: wind, solar and beyond. For now, conservation is the best way to keep carbon out of the atmosphere.

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