Before anyone should praise the dynamic changes at Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) on developing our area’s energy future, we should know the facts and the objectives. Americans, better than anyone in the 9/11 post-media hullabaloo, should know the dangers of launching headlong idealistically and naively into a major undertaking. Rhetoric should not precede careful scrutiny of the facts and possible repercussions of enormous developments. Acceptance of a new direction (such as, how we get our energy) by the public should follow a full and honest airing of the case.
Presently, we get 25% of our energy in Rochester from the Russell Station, which means that those who are fighting against wind power in their area are probably doing so while living with energies supplied by a very polluting energy source. Buffalo (actually at the old Bethlehem Steel plant site in Lackawanna) turns towards the future with clean, renewable energy by wind power, but Rochester languishes in an attempt to resuscitate an old, dirty form of energy. Russell Station has been sited in “Lethal Legacy – A comprehensive Look at America’s Dirtiest Power Plants” (Oct. 2003, by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group) as the “the 12th least efficient plant nationwide in terms of SO2 (sulfur dioxide0 rate.”
The changes at Russell Station as described by RG&E News (RG&E PROPOSES REDEVELOPMENT OF RUSSELL STATION POWER PLANT SITE -Major Investment Essential to Meeting Region’s Future Power Needs ) include this paragraph: “The submittal to the NYISO includes conceptual design information and licensing and construction schedules for a 300-mw fluidized bed combustion plant (a clean coal technology) and a 300-mw natural gas combined cycle plant. Both technologies are suitable for the Russell Station site”. This is the extent to which the Rochester-area public has been informed about the changes at the plant. What does it mean? Has anything else been offered as a possible energy source for our area?
Our present Governor Spitzer and former Attorney General planed to sue, a lawsuit under the clean air initiative in 1999, the station for longstanding violations. And, major environmental groups like Environmental Advocates of New York and 14 other environmental organizations across the state have called on the governor “to declare a moratorium on siting new conventional coal plants in New York.” So, it is with extreme skepticism that we simply accept that the major new 500 million “repowering” of Russell Station, using ‘clean coal technologies” is the best way to solve our future energy needs.
Except for an article last month—“RG&E to pump $500 million into Greece plant” - April 20, MSNBC.com—there has not been much play in our local media about a major development in our area’s energy supply—coal. The sad thing is that for all that we personally do to curb Global Warming, what goes on quietly in the background and out of public attention will probably have a far more significant affect in our area’s release of green house gases than anything we do. In a recent New York Times article, in the May 29th business section no less, “Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process”, it looks like the coal lobbyists are winning. Without much fanfare and a hubristic disregard for the newly charge sentiments of environmentalists around the county during Earth Day, we will continue to heat up our atmosphere.
So, I heartily endorse this editorial by the Democrat and Chronicle on June 3rd, that there should be a full airing of RG&E’s updating of the Russell Station coal-burning facility that is one of the most polluting in the state: “Be sure on outreach - RG&E upgrade should get good airing before the public”.
And, what better venue than the Democrat and Chronicle under the auspices of a good environmental reporter, to fully investigate and present to the Rochester-area public a full disclosure of what the upgrade at Russell Station will mean for our future energy needs? Without a major investigation of this issue by the major media, it is going to be very difficult for environmental groups and the public to have any kind of opinion of what is going on. According to the RG&E news release “the next step in the process of approving the 500 million-dollar-new plant on the Russell Station site will be a determination by the NYISO Comprehensive Reliability Plan that the project will, if completed, satisfy the reliability needs. Due by August, 2007” But, the next step should be a public debate on this issue and whether we should be burning coal at all.
Here are questions that must be asked and the public should decide on:
1. What is ‘clean-coal’ technology and what evidence is there that this technology works on a large scale?
2. Do the anticipated changes at Russell Station mean that it will continue to pollute at the rate it has until the ‘repowering’ has gone into effect in 2014?
3. What will be the levels of SO2 [sulfur dioxide], mercury, and carbon dioxide when the new systems is installed? What agency will monitor these levels and how much pollutions could be avoided if we used renewable energy sources like wind and solar?
4. Has there been any attempt by our city or county governments to research and present renewable energy sources, so the public can compare costs and pollution levels?