February 19, 2014

Wind farm offshore Virginia?

Will we really see the proposed offshore wind farm off Virginia Beach? I haven't seen much news about it for quite some time. Our continental shelf is waiting.

But Oregon may beat us to the punch, and floating turbines no less?

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced an important step forward for the first offshore wind project proposed for federal waters off the West Coast. DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has given the green light for Principle Power, Inc. to submit a formal plan to build a 30-megawatt pilot project in a 15 square mile lease area, using floating wind turbine technology offshore Coos Bay, Oregon.

The project is designed to generate electricity from five floating "WindFloat" units, each equipped with a 6-megawatt offshore wind turbine. The facility, sited in about 1,400 feet of water, would be the first offshore wind project proposed in federal waters off the West Coast and the first in the nation to use a floating structure to support offshore wind generation in the Outer Continental Shelf.

The West Coast holds an offshore capability of more than 800 gigawatts of wind energy potential, equivalent to more than three quarters of the nation’s entire power generation capacity. The total U.S. deepwater wind energy resource potential is estimated to be nearly 2,000 gigawatts. 

February 18, 2014

Sludge good for lawns?

I posted a piece on lawn fertilizers a few years ago that touted the benefits of treated sewage sludge on lawns. HRSD (see last posting) used to produce a dandy product called Nutri-Green that was available in our area. Some neighbors even claimed that it deterred deer from visiting their property. That I could applaud too.

But HRSD stopped producing Nutri-Green for the general public a few years ago. It is still available to farmers. It was more economical to privatize the operation versus HRSD building a new compost facility. They still believe that composting the treated "stuff" is the sustainable way to go.

So McGill Environmental now produces a similar product called Soil Builder that several local garden centers carry. Let me know if you like it.

Where does all the sewage go?

To paraphrase the recently deceased Pete Seeger, who was more interested in "flowers," where does all the sewage go? Here is the straight poop.

Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), a utility or political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia that treats the region's sewage, has thirteen sewage treatment plants, nine in Hampton Roads and four on the Middle Peninsula. Three are in our immediate area (Williamsburg, York County and Newport News).

HRSD, created by public referendum in 1940 to eliminate sewage pollution in the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay, currently serves 17 cities and counties in southeast Virginia. This utility maintains 500 miles of pipes and 104 pumping stations to serve 1.6 million people over 3100 square miles. Some of those pipes are quite old.

Do we trust these pipes to convey 249 million gallons of "stuff" to be treated daily in 9 major treatment plants in greater Hampton Roads and 4 smaller ones on the Middle Peninsula? EPA folks, worried about past leaks, are requiring localities to inspect, repair or replace these pipes. James City County inspected their system over the past few years, and some of theirs are relatively new. 

But during heavy rains, sewage overflows frequently occur. 40 times in our area in 2012 and 14 in 2013. Stormwater, you see, mingles with our flushed stuff and heads to the treatment plants. That meant 23 million gallons of nasty stuff  entered our waterways in 2012 alone. That was the reason for those Department of Health warnings to not swim off some local beaches after heavy rainfalls. That is also the rationale behind HRSD's initiative for a regional approach to dealing with sewage overflows at a projected cost of $2.18 billion. That could be a saving of $1 billion over going the individual route.

To also meet EPA requirements, HRSD must also upgrade the wireless system used to monitor and operate the 500 miles of pipes within their system and install a "Smart Sewer Tower" telecommunications facility at the Williamsburg Treatment Plant. They are proposing a 138’ tall monopole.

But where does all that treated water go? Two distinct categories of water are the end result. Drinkable potable water, after treatment to levels determined safe for human consumption, could come out of your faucets and is often used to meet other demands, such as irrigation, carwashing, and heating and cooling factories.  Nonpotable water, after treatment by HRSD to meet regulatory standards (but not drinkable) is released back into our local waterways.  But, with a retrofit to a dual piping system, this reclaimed nonpotable water could be used to flush toilets, in fire hydrants, or irrigate lawns and gold courses. We have seen signs on many Florida and California golf courses that state "irrigated by reclaimed water."

Grass and plants do not need potable water to survive and in fact, certain plants such as Bermuda grass can survive on brackish water alone.  This is a terrific water conservation method that we will see more often as droughts continue in our country.

February 13, 2014

How can 21 attorneys general be so wrong?

Why are 21 attorneys general in the U.S. trying to derail efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?

Mostly Midwest AGs, but Florida? C'mon. You especially should understand the value of clean water. What if your farmers were allowing runoff from your farmland, poultry and pig pens, grazing lands and tons of fertilizer to end up in your waters?

Stand your ground, indeed!

Yikes, Caribbean islands, take notice for earthquakes and tsunamis

Another headline today got my attention: new study suggests that a mega-tsunami could devastate coastlines from Florida to Brazil following a volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands. Chesapeake Bay Area residents, take note.

And what about the Caribbean islands? Two hundred foot waves are not a good thing for them. Years ago, we saw shells deposited on the highest elevated land in Eleuthera after a freak wave of 100 feet (just prior to "The Perfect Storm" off Gloucester, Massachusetts).

Marigot Bay in St. Lucia
We visited St. Lucia last week and learned about a Christmas Eve mega-storm that wiped out many of their roads, bridges and homes. A few lives were lost as well during the heavy rains. Yet I do not remember the American media covering it. Perhaps Jim Cantore missed it, but we hear little about the Caribbean islands unless it's hurricane season.

Twenty five percent of St. Lucians live in poverty.  So how could this poor country pay for needed repairs? Dollars came from many countries, I learned, but especially from Taiwan. 

St. Lucia maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan (Republic of China) from 1984 to 1997; switched to China (People's Republic of China) from 1997 to 2006; then re-established diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2006, much to the chagrin of China. This tug of war of chumminess has been going on for the last few decades, depending on the ruling party of St. Lucia. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, so is not thrilled with shifting alliances by the St. Lucia government of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and does not recognize "double recognition."

Over the last few decades, St. Lucia has received multiple grants from both Taiwan and China to finance roadwork, stadium, psychiatric hospital, meat packing plants, economic development projects, etc. A recent grant will light playing fields, construct "Community Access Centres” and develop a Block-Making facility at a St. Lucia correctional facility. Taiwan is also helping St. Lucians propagate new strains of fruits and vegetables, develop livestock, upgrade their fishing industry and create information technology learning centers to combat poverty.

These loans and grants of billions of dollars are common practice in all Caribbean nations, with much of the work done by Chinese labor.  We noticed miles of new roads and much appreciated guard rails in Dominica last year that were funded by China. I wondered then about the rationale behind foreign aid. It is not all humanitarian.

Was China improving Dominica's infrastructure for Chinese tourists? During the last ten years, only a few Chinese shops and restaurants opened on St. Lucia, and the predicted influx of Chinese tourists has not occurred there. We did see quite a few small Chinese grocery stores in Belize last June. Yeah, yeah, we do travel a lot. MANY islands on our bucket list yet!

I was concerned in 2008 during a visit to Dominica about a vacancy for U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines). Who was watching out for American interests in these islands?President Obama finally filled the post in May 2012 with Larry Leon Palmer. And his Department of State website implies that he is doing his job. But one man? And so many islands? 

I also wonder how these poor islands are going to repay these huge debts. The average public debt for Caribbean nations now amounts to about 84 percent of GDP, with five countries (Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts-Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda) experiencing debt-to-GDP ratios of close to 100% and higher. 

How will these countries repay these debts if and when the lending countries demand it? Some are loans extended under Venezuelan oil arrangements. China's loans are concessional with little if any interest charged and there is no indication that China or Venezuela will write-off these loans.  What happens if they default? I am not an expert in foreign aid, but I can only imagine this scenario--especially in the case of that tsunami.