May 21, 2016

Vertical wind turbines sound promising

Wind energy scientists in Finland are designing vertical wind turbines as an even more efficient mechanism than the traditional horizontal turbines. And quieter too.

Think of attic fans that spin simply by the wind and you'll get the idea. Watch for more on this promising source of wind energy. It appears that they'd also be excellent lightning rods.

May 19, 2016

Chesapeake Bay receives a "C"

Seriously, when is a C grade so worthy of bragging rights? Only when you had a D before.

And when did the bell curve grading system become so deformed that 53% is a C?

But the folks at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science declared that the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay improved in 2015, giving it a C (53%) in 2015, one of the three highest scores since 1986. Only 1992 and 2002 scored as high or higher, both years of major sustained droughts.

Thus, the recent May rains do not bode well for the bay. Many farmers, especially those in the Susquehanna basin, do not fence their cattle out of streams or use no-till methods.

May 7, 2016

Zika battle plan in Cayman Islands

According to Caribbean News Now, "The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), in partnership with the UK-based firm Oxitec, will be releasing genetically engineered male mosquitoes across Grand Cayman in a new initiative to try and suppress the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads a number of viruses, including Zika."

These are male mosquitos, so they do not bite, but they will breed with females carrying Zika and Chikungunya viruses. The first release is planned for the West End area of Grand Cayman only. Keep your fingers crossed that this trial is effective.

April 29, 2016

Will natural gas pipelines be overbuilt?

Overestimating the need for natural gas and the subsequent overbuilding of pipelines is a possibility, according to some experts in the field. NOT Dominion Power of course. That fear of not having sufficient natural gas for their power plants that are being converted from coal is what they are selling to regulatory entities. And to elected officials in Tidewater Virginia. 

What most folks do not realize is that natural gas pipelines are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and that agency does not have the same level of oversight as state regulatory commissions. The main factor that FERC looks at is whether a pipeline developer has been able to recruit enough companies to contract for capacity on that pipeline, not whether it is truly needed. If the pipeline is fully subscribed, it's a go. And who ultimately pays for that pipeline? You got it: the public.

Look for more on this topic from your local media. It will most likely not be on the front page.

April 18, 2016

Dominion Power is powerful, but confusing

In all their responses to not converting their aging York River power plant from coal to gas, company spokespersons simply say that is "not feasible." How they define that phrase is not clear.

Is it the cost? Proposals have not been made public as far as I know. No cost estimates that I have read about. Only that costs have vacillated over the last few years, especially after Dominion starting pushing for a James River power lines crossing.

Dominion folks claim that sufficient gas cannot get to that York River plant. But now I read that the plant currently runs only at times when demand is high. That seems to contradict their lack of gas argument.

According to a recent Daily Press article, "Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said the company has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for permission to keep the Yorktown coal units running until June 2017.

She said the company understands that the EPA will issue its permission on or shortly after its current exemption expires. The plant, which runs only at times when demand is high, is not currently generating power."

April 12, 2016

Solar Mickey Mouse?

Yes, it seems that sometime this spring, Walt Disney World Resort in California will have this incredible solar farm with 48,000 solar panels operational. Duke Energy Florida is constructing it.

Zika alert

The aedes aegypti mosquito has received a lot of PR in recent months. The female is the one that transmits Zika and other diseases, and she will bite during the day. After doing yardwork yesterday (wearing DEET to thwart chiggers), I researched what she looked like. Seriously? You think I can see these white markings? Before I swat her?

More important, this mosquito already lives in 30 states. And Virginia is one of them.

March 18, 2016

Atlantic Coast Pipeline gets support

Two recent Daily Press articles caught my eye.

The first one focused on 33 local lawmakers supporting a NEW pipeline, Dominion's 70-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would bring more natural gas to our area. They insist it is crucial to economic development.

The second one was more ominous. It seems that during the last two decades, more than 2000 accidents have occurred on gas transmission lines across the U.S., resulting in 46 deaths, 181 injuries and $1.8 billion in damages.

Decide for yourself if these two articles are saying the same thing. Perhaps our Tidewater lawmakers are thinking about the new jobs that will open up AFTER the pipeline is built, the ones for inspectors to oversee any accidents?

March 16, 2016

Offshore Virginia drilling off the table for now

There was a huge sigh of relief from environmentalists, marine life and fish yesterday when the big news about offshore drilling was announced. For the next five years, Virginia and the mid-Atlantic coast  will NOT see any test drilling for oil and gas. The Interior Department responded to more than one million public comments about concerns for human error in this component of the energy industry. The potential lease areas here were under threat since the initial plan was announced in early 2015 and the longtime moratorium lifted. No one could definitively explain if Virginia would even share in any of the revenue. So, for the time being, look for more progress in renewable forms of energy. Perhaps Dominion Virginia's "voluntary" renewable energy goals could see more of a commitment, rather than a promise.

March 11, 2016

Better news for the James River

The announcement of the settlement between the James River Association and Dominion Virginia Power was a somewhat brighter bit of news this week. Perhaps the recent protesters in Richmond made their point about the discharge of treated coal ash wastewater into the James River. Cleaner water standards will be implemented and fish near the Bremo power station's discharge area will be tested for arsenic and other heavy metals that are in coal ash.

But any threat to theses waters should not be taken lightly. Dominion insists that merely 2.2 million gallons of "treated" wastewater will end up in the James each day, far less than the 10.2 gallons daily that is in their permit. But how long will that be the case?

witnessed the sugar industry's wastewater discharge in Florida just two weeks ago and it was not a pretty thing. The line of demarcation as the wastewater from Lake Okeechobee entered the Caloosahatchee River and then San Pedro Bay was very visible. See for yourself what regulations really mean.

Coal industry subsidies in Virginia

Did you know? . . . that fewer than 3000 Virginians work in the coal industry, according to the Virginia Conservation Network. In 1988, more than 11,000 made a living from this fossil fuel. And yet $610 million of Virginia tax dollars have been poured into this declining industry over the last few decades. More than $37 million last year alone, an increase of $9 million over 2014.

Senate Bill 44 will extend these subsidies during the next five years, unless Governor McAuliffe vetoes the bill.

Subsidies for any industry means that government is picking winners and losers, with OUR money. Is it fair? Or would it be better to invest these dollars in re-training programs for those still struggling in this dirty industry. 

March 3, 2016

Reverse osmosis water plants

After spending a week on Exuma in the Bahamas using nothing but reverse osmosis water got me pondering why the United States has so few of these RO plants. James City County uses one of these plants to supplement our water supply. The largest such plant in the U.S. is a new one in Carlsbad, California. And many cruisers have small scale watermakers onboard. 

The one that began operating in 2004 on Exuma produces an average of 165,000 gallons of desalinated water daily, with the capacity of 400,000 gallons. Yes, this water is more expensive than natural well water. But wells near shorelines frequently have higher saline levels than desired.

February 29, 2016

A good day for the Chesapeake Bay

Latest news from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation:

We just heard that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the request of the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies to take up their case challenging the legality of the Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan known as the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. 

This is perhaps THE most historic day for the Bay, its thousands of rivers and streams, and the 17 million people that call this region home. Everyone who cares about clean water can breathe easier now that the Supreme Court has let stand the lower court decision that the Blueprint is perfectly legal under the federal Clean Water Act.

January 15, 2016

Coal ash WILL be dumped into the James River

. . . And into the Potomac too!

What kind of thinking allows this? Perhaps brains already affected by arsenic?

Virginia's State Water Control Board just approved the dumping of "treated" coal ash wastewater by two of Dominion Virginia Power's plants after the DEQ signed off on it. Obviously the word "Control" in their name did not give them a clue about their decision. And so more arsenic and other metals will join the chemicals already in these impaired waters. Look for some legal appeals by Riverkeeper groups of this decision.

But I will not be wading into the James nor allowing my grandsons to do so in the future. The Clean Water Act again did not serve as a deterrent.

December 9, 2015

Coal ash waste in the James River?

Please say it ain't so, but state approval of coal ash wastewater being dumped into the James River is a possibility in the near future. OK, so it will be TREATED wastewater, and not the stuff that spilled into North Carolina's Dan River last year. But my James River (because it is in MY backyard) is already brown whenever it rains and we don't need other sediments making it worse.

Dominion Virginia Power, have you not learned from Duke Energy's experience with the residues from coal burning power plants? That company's nine violations of the federal Clean Water Act resulted in $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging coal ash dump waters from five NC power plants.

Dominion has to do something with the coal ash now sitting in 11 ponds before they cap them. But disposal of this nasty coal ash should have been factored into their costs and plans years ago. It does not belong in our rivers, treated or not. At the very least, Virginia's DEQ must place limits on the amount of wastewater allowed.

About 40% of the coal ash produced every year is “recycled” in what EPA and industry call “beneficial re-use.” However, there are valid concerns around the safety of re-using coal ash, as it poses another route for human and environmental exposure. Coal ash is commonly reused in a number of ways. For example, it is used as structural fill or fill for abandoned mines; as a top layer on unpaved roads; as an ingredient in concrete, wallboard, and in school running tracks; as an agricultural soil additive; and as “cinders” to be spread on snowy roads.

December 7, 2015

Sturgeon in the path of James River crossing?

The James River Riverkeeper, Jamie Brunkow, is an expert on the lower James River. So when he recently pointed out that Dominion Power's planned transmission power lines might affect the sturgeons' spawning grounds, I took notice. 

This prehistoric looking fish saved John Smith and friends from starving in the early 1600s, but I haven't seen it on any local menus of late. Nor do I want to. Sturgeons are struggling to make a comeback and I'd like to see them succeed.

And so, Dominion, please reconsider closing the Yorktown Powerstation and leave the James River alone. Why Dominion considers converting the Yorktown plant from coal to gas as "not cost-effective" is a mystery to me and many other folks. The company simply dismisses the idea without adequately explaining their rationale or the cost. Installing 17 towers and power lines across the James is not a cheap venture either.

December 2, 2015

Rising waters threaten many locations

Tidewater Virginia is the second or third location in the US (depending on who is determining) that is threatened by rising waters. Most of us know that. And I can see how much closer the James River is to my home every walk I take along the shoreline.

We also know that Bangladesh and the Seychelles may be under water in a few decades. 17 percent of Bangladesh by 2050, affecting about 18 million residents.

But a New York Times article just pointed out a little known fact about the low-lying Marshall Islands, also threatened by rising waters. Under a 1986 compact, Marshall Islands residents (about 17,000) are free to emigrate to the US due to their long military ties to Washington.

November 18, 2015

Solar energy heating up in Virginia?

Please excuse the pun, but yesterday's full page ad by Dominion Energy in the Daily Press had me smiling. It seems that 900 acres on Virginia's Eastern Shore will be transformed into a mega solar energy farm in the coming months, the largest solar energy facility in Virginia so far. An 80-megawatt facility to power Amazon Web Services data centers in Northern Virginia! And expected to enter service by fall of 2016? This is indeed good news.

November 5, 2015

Clean Power Plan defended

Virginia, through the efforts of Attorney General Mark Herring, is defending the Clean Power Plan.

The plan requires states to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 32 percent during the next 15 years, compared to 2005 levels, and gives states flexibility in achieving those reductions. Virginia already has reduced carbon pollution from the power sector by 16 percent since 2008.

Fittingly, the American Lung Association in Virginia supported the move, saying the Clean Power Plan, when fully implemented, will save up to 6,600 premature deaths nationwide each year and up to 150,000 asthma attacks.

Thank you, Mark.

October 20, 2015

FYI: Coral reefs and sunscreen

No coral reefs here in Tidewater Virginia, but many residents of this area head off to Caribbean or Hawaii destinations when winter arrives. So a recent study about sunscreens should be of interest.

It seems that the chemical oxybenzone, found in more than 3500 popular sunscreens, is killing coral reefs. 80 percent of our reefs in the Caribbean are lost already. Degraded bleached out reefs might recover, but it takes a LONG time.

Anywhere from 6000 to 14,00 tons of sunscreen lotion wash off our bodies and into coral reef areas each year. And much of that sunscreen contains between one and ten percent oxybenzone. I just checked the Nutrigena products we use and see 6 percent oxybenzone.

So check EWG's Guide to sunscreens at to see the ones they highly recommend. You will probably not be familiar with most of these brands.

October 18, 2015

James River improving?

Recent headlines tout the improving grade of the James River's water quality, but the jump from C+ to B- in the James River Association's report card is a tad misleading. And their B- is a 61%. That is VERY generous grading.

Indeed, OVERALL water "quality" improved due to the eagle count, phosphorus reduction and wastewater upgrades. But a parent looking at this report card would see these numbers and question Jimmy's teacher:

56% in stream health
40% in agriculture pollution control
44% in sediment reduction
36% in storm water pollution controls
30% in vegetated buffer restoration
58% in underwater grasses

Look here to see the entire report card:

October 11, 2015

Tidewater groundwater faces a challenge in coming years

Here are a few handy facts and figures from today's DAILY PRESS article on local groundwater at

  • Quite a bit of our local drinking water from groundwater aquifers is 40,000 years old.
  • Virginia receives an average of 40 inches of rain each year, but less than one-half inch of it soaks into  our groundwater sediment.
  • Our groundwater has dropped as much as 200 feet during the last century in some areas in Virginia.
  • In James City County, current water consumption (in 2015) is 5.6 million gallons per DAY.
  • Virginia's DEQ may cut James City County's daily water withdrawal to 3.8 to 4 million gallons.
Prepare to conserve more water over the coming years.

Other eye-opening news is that the EPA tells us that $6.7 billion is needed for drinking water infrastructure needs in Virginia alone. $4.5 billion for pipeline improvements.

And $384 BILLION just to maintain the existing drinking water infrastructure in the entire country.


September 19, 2015

Dominion plans new online outage map

Is it just me? Or did anyone else see the humor in today's paper about Dominion Virginia Power's new online interactive power outage map? If my power is out, how can I access this map to report an outage? Aha, my phone of course! Unless I forgot to keep it charged.

September 2, 2015

James City County water bills

A few home owners may be shocked when they receive their next quarterly water bills, especially if they do not have a submeter for their lawn irrigation water.

As of July 1, 2015, Hampton Roads's former first tier cost of $2.85/thousand gallons decreased to $2.47/thousand gallons. But the next tier of usage jumps from $3.45 to $4.93 per thousand gallons.

Then there is a big hit if you exceed a limit: $11.59 per thousand gallons in tier three. That should discourage homeowners from defying the county irrigation schedule of three times weekly. 

But they do not seem to be enforcing their regs in many neighborhoods.

Ewwwww for algae blooms in the York River

Perhaps it is due to the lack of rain in the last few weeks, but the latest news from William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) about the York River and the one aerial photo I saw were troubling. It seems that the algae bloom there is one of the most intense and widespread in nearly ten years.

VIMS reports that water samples collected near the mouth of the York River on August 17 contained up to 200,000 algal cells per milliliter. 1,000 algal cells per milliliter is visible to the naked eye and considered dense enough to be called a bloom.

According to Science News Daily, "The current blooms are dominated by a single-celled protozoan called Alexandrium monilatum, an algal species known to release toxins harmful to other marine life, particularly larval shellfish and finfish. Since mid-August, VIMS has received sporadic and localized reports of small numbers of dead fish, oysters, and crabs from the lower York River and adjacent Bay waters associated with nearby blooms, although a direct cause/effect relationship has not been established for any of these events.

Aerial photography and water sampling by VIMS professor Wolfgang Vogelbein between August 17th and 27th confirmed the blooms' intensity in the lower York River, and revealed that they extended much farther up the York River and out into Chesapeake Bay than previously reported. The flyovers were facilitated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

"This is new and important information," says Vogelbein, "as we have never appreciated that Alexandrium extends so far into the mainstem of the Bay or so far up the York River." Bloom patches in the mainstem reach from the York River to the mouth of the Rappahannock River, across the Bay to within 3-4 miles of Cape Charles, and as far south as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The bloom patches are most dense on the western side of the Bay, with other areas experiencing less activity. "The main body of the bloom is several miles off shore," says Vogelbein, "and thus wasn't appreciated prior to the recent flyovers."

Alexandrium monilatum is one of several species of harmful algae that are of emerging concern in Chesapeake Bay. It was first conclusively detected in Bay waters in 2007, when Reece and colleagues used microscopy and DNA sequences to identify it as the dominant species of a bloom that persisted for several weeks in the York River. There are generic reports of Alexandrium in the Bay from the mid-1940s, and specific reports of A. monilatum in the mid-1960s, but none in the intervening decades.

The recent sampling and aerial photography show that the epicenter of the A. monilatum bloom is near the mouth of the York River. Smaller, less dense patches are visible within Mobjack Bay and its tributaries, the Back and Poquoson rivers, and near the mouth of the James and Elizabeth rivers.

Reports of algal blooms in the lower York River started around July 22nd. As in recent years, the initial summer blooms began with concentrations of the alga Cochlodinium polykrikoides, before shifting after 2-3 weeks into blooms dominated by A. monilatum. As of the last week of August, the A. monilatum bloom in the York River persists but has grown markedly less dense.

August 21, 2015

Hot July

Hot, hot, hot. We in Virginia already knew it, but NOAA just confirmed that . . . 

The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F above the 20th century average. As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880-2015 record, at 61.86°F, surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°.

And we witnessed it in Alaska where temps were in the mid to high 70s while we were there. Glaciers receding throughout the state, except for one.

It was a delight to see no plastic water bottles available for sale in Denali. Aramark has provided water refilling stations for tourists and backpackers at the visitor center to refill their reusable bottles. The one road into and out of Denali made a stiff drink more necessary than water. Sheer drop offs from a dirt road with no guard rails kept bears my second fear.

One more final comment on the green factor (or lack of) in Alaska. A lot of folks burn their trash at various times throughout the day. The forest fires still burning in Alaska are not the only source of air pollution. I suppose that they justify burning trash as we mainlanders did in the early 1950s. Alaska may be huge, but air is not an infinite landfill.

July 20, 2015

Wind energy offshore Virginia blown away?

Dominion Resources only received two bids for their two experimental wind turbines offshore Virginia Beach. Very disappointing, and one did not meet their specs. The other came in FAR above expected costs--a whopping $375 to $400 million.

So Dominion may install offshore turbines that are less technologically sophisticated. The original goal was to install about 300 wind turbines, with construction beginning in 2016. Alas, it will be delayed.

July 18, 2015

Sufficient water in Virginia?

If a major ProPublica investigative story is on target, we Tidewater Virginians should  question if we have sufficient and correctly measured underground and surface water for the future.

ProPublica claims that California and Arizona have been miscalculating their water supplies for decades. Hmmm. We already know that the recent drought in California prompted Governor Jerry Brown to curtail the public's water use, but what happens when the real amount of water remaining is revealed? Many already predict future "water wars." Who is watching here?

Our reservoirs are quite visible, but most of our water comes from aquifers that re-fill at a "glacial speed." Pun intended. In James City County, a majority of our system wells pump from the Chickahominy-Piney Point Aquifer (250-300 feet deep). Five other wells pump from the Potomac Aquifer (300-836 feet deep).

In October 2014, there was a bit of hoopla in local papers with headlines shouting "James City groundwater withdrawals could dry up," but I have not heard much conversation about that topic since. Counties contract with the state's DEQ about renewing their limits on withdrawing water. So the topic should resurface soon.

Click on to read ProPublica's story on the human threat to the Colorado River. 

July 10, 2015

Eagle count on the James River

Good news from the 2015 bald eagle count along the James River: 326 nesting pairs producing 313 young.

I see them flying over my back yard on their way to and from their nests.

June 30, 2015

United Airlines to cut their emissions

I might be able to travel by air without "green guilt" soon. Later this summer United Airlines will begin to phase in biofuel from animal manure. And that's no BS. Seriously, airlines have a big carbon footprint and they are looking to alternative, and cheaper, fuels.

Sadly, at this same time, big time farm animal lots continue to allow their cows and hogs to stand in streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. That's a big EWWWWW factor and a waste of potential airline fuel. You'd think that the two industries could develop a partnership.

Clean air too costly?

It seems that five justices on the US Supreme Court ruled against cleaner air yesterday by deeming it too expensive. The Clean Air Act declared that coal plants needed to follow regs that were "appropriate and necessary" but the Supreme Court accused the EPA of not undertaking sufficient cost-benefit analysis. Scalia only saw "a few dollars in health or environmental benefits." Really?

What about the particulates that used to cover our boat when we kept it in a York River Marina, but not in our current marina on the Rappahannock River? Those are the same particulates that asthmatics inhale? 

And Dominion now states that the court decision will not change their plans to close the two coal-burning power plants on the York River. That is good news indeed. But they still persist in their plan to install unsightly power lines across the James River, claiming that it would be too costly to submerge those lines under the river. Too costly to their bottom line!

June 24, 2015

Smaller dead zone predicted for the Chesapeake Bay

Due to less "stuff" flowing into it this spring from the Susquehanna, some University of Michigan researchers and NOAA are forecasting a slightly below-average, but still significant dead zone in the Chesapeake this summer. Over the last decade, the size of the dead zone hasn't changed that much anyway. But 1.37 cubic miles is nothing to overlook.

The size of the Chesapeake Bay's dead zone has been measured annually since 1950. Low-oxygen regions also form each summer in the lower portions of the bay's major tributaries and episodically in many smaller tributaries.

June 17, 2015

Cove Point LNG facility

Cove Point LNG terminal
I haven't read anything lately about the proposed expansion of the Cove Point liquified natural gas facility near Calvert Cliffs, Maryland. But every time we sail by, I expect to see signs of life. All was quiet there today.

The current facility, about 90 minutes from D.C., was built in the 1970s for importing natural gas. But Dominion Energy wants to build a natural gas export facility on the same land, at a cost of as much as $3.8 billion. The project includes an on-site 130 megawatt power plant, a 60-foot-tall permanent sound wall, and storage units.

The approval process for any exportation facility is quite lengthy, with federal, state and local permits required. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy granted conditional approval to Dominion Energy to export approximately 770 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from Cove Point.

Before construction can begin, however, Dominion needed approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In May, 2015, the Energy Departmen issued a final authorization for Dominion Cove Point LNG, LP to export domestically produced liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that do not have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. The Cove Point LNG Terminal in Calvert County, Maryland is authorized to export LNG up to the equivalent of 0.77 billion standard cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas for a period of 20 years.

In May 2013, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), now a declared presidential candidate, signed a law giving Calvert County the authority to grant a tax break to Dominion. Look for that to become a campaign issue.

June 16, 2015

Chesapeake Bay has sharks

Most folks are not aware of sharks sharing their Chesapeake Bay waters. But some five species are out there.

According to the Chesapeake Bay program experts, they are: 

Sandbar shark: the most common shark in the bay. It’s found in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Brazil.
Bull shark: a close cousin to the sandbar shark, but more aggressive. Many shark attacks are attributed to the bull shark, which ventures as far north as the Patuxent River, although the Chesapeake Bay Program says it’s not considered a “significant threat” to human safety.
Sand tiger shark: a common visitor to the lower bay in summer and fall, most often feeding along the bottom of the estuary and active at night. With its jagged teeth and size, it looks dangerous, but there have been no recorded attacks on humans.
Smooth dogfish: a common to abundant visitor to the bay, especially the lower part and as far north as the Patuxent. They usually travel in schools.
Spiny dogfish: commonly found in the lower bay south of the Potomac River in late fall through early spring. Like the smooth dogfish, it travels in schools, but is a slower swimmer and inhabits deeper waters. It’s found in temperate coastal waters and in all the world’s oceans.
Less common or infrequent visitors to the bay include the basking shark, the bonnethead, the smooth hammerhead and the Atlantic angel shark.