Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Precipitation on Planet Earth

Precipitation, rainfall and snowfall, affect the amount of surface water and groundwater available for drinking, irrigation, and industry. The shortfall in the Colorado River is a reminder that precipitation is the source of river flows and can determine what types of animals and plants (including crops and people) can survive in a particular place. 

As average temperatures at the Earth’s surface rise, more evaporation occurs, which, in turn, should increase overall precipitation. Therefore, a warming climate is expected to increase precipitation in many areas. We are just beginning to see the precipitation impacts of changes in the climate; and as precipitation patterns vary across the planet the effects of climate change will too. By shifting the wind patterns and ocean currents that drive the world’s climate system, climate change will also cause some areas to experience decreased precipitation and some areas to experience increased precipitation.

Precipitation has been measured across the globe at various locations for centuries, beginning with simple and then more complex surface gauges. My weather station still uses a very simple rain gauge. As the record at individual locations and over regions lengthened, long-term means were calculated and seasonal and inter-annual variations at those locations were examined.

Over oceans, precipitation information was originally limited to islands and ships. Before the advent of satellites, global rainfall was tracked using the gauges over land and estimates of precipitation based on shipboard weather observations (e.g., Jaeger 1983). With satellite-based precipitation estimates available in the latter part of the twentieth century, efforts were made to provide analyses of monthly precipitation estimates combining the best observations over the entire globe with techniques to produce a consistent record during the period. 

Adler et al in their article published in 2017 found that “No overall significant trend is noted in the global precipitation mean value, unlike that for surface temperature and atmospheric water vapor. However, there is a pattern of positive and negative trends across the planet with increases over tropical oceans and decreases over some middle latitude regions.”

Adler, R.F., Gu, G., Sapiano, M. et al. Global Precipitation: Means, Variations and Trends During the Satellite Era (1979–2014). Surv Geophys 38, 679–699 (2017).

The U.S. EPA says: “On average, total annual precipitation has increased over land areas in the United States and worldwide. Since 1901, global precipitation has increased at an average rate of 0.04 inches per decade, while precipitation in the contiguous 48 states has increased at a rate of 0.20 inches per decade.”

from EPA

However, they note that “Data from the early 20th century are somewhat less precise because there were fewer stations collecting measurements at the time. To ensure that overall trends are reliable, the data have been adjusted where possible to account for any biases that might be introduced by factors such as station relocation or changes in measurement instruments. Hawaii and U.S. territories are not included, due to limitations in available data.”

The global number (an increase of 0.04 inches per decade) is a result of attempting to adjust the limited hand records of historic data. Until more satellite data is available I will stick with Adler et al and believe that until now there has been no statistically significant trend in the global precipitation. However, we are just beginning to see the impacts of climate change, and I did move to Virginia from California to make sure I have water.

from EPA

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Invasive Water Chestnut


An invasive species of plant has arrived in our Potomac River Watershed. It was first observed by John Odenkirk a biologist with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources who discovered the beginnings of the current outbreak in Pohick Bay in 2014. With the help of Dr. Nancy Rybicki formerly of the U.S. Geological Survey and now teaching at George Mason University, the plant was identified as a native of East Asia . This is not the same type of Water Chestnut (Eurasian) that blanketed much of the Potomac in the 1950s. This is a new species of water chestnut. The new plant has leaves with the same serrated pattern, but the underside of this new species is red. This species has pink flowers and the seed pods which form this time of year have two hooks on them.

Once water chestnut shows up in a water body, it spreads to cover large areas chocking out all other life. If allowed to flower and reproduce, can spread far and wide carried by Canadian geese, other wild life and the flow of the rivers and streams. This plant forms dense floating mats that cover the water surface, blocking sunlight and killing aquatic grasses and vegetation. Dr. Nancy Rybicki as been trying to alert owners of ponds and other water bodies that have been impacted encouraging them to take action before the Water Chestnut blankets the region.

Across Northern Virginia, this invasive water chestnut has spread to 81 known locations. Dr. Rybicki believes it can still be stopped before it takes hold, but we need to act before it spreads to the Potomac River. The Virginia Noxious Weed Advisory Committee nominated the water chestnut to be designated as a Tier 2 weed in 2019 and it remained mired in the bureaucracy during the pandemic. Since that time it spread from a handful to 54 locations in 2020 to 81 this year. The Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the proposal. 

It is spreading in stormwater ponds, farm ponds, golf water hazards, and ponds in parks. Once it flowers with a pink flower it produces its 2 horned fruit with barbs that attach to wildlife, but are sharp enough to puncture a shoe. The water chestnut is an aquatic annual herb. It sprouts from seeds in spring and the plants die off in winter after a hard frost, but the seeds can lie dormant for several years and be washed from a spill way down river.

If this new water chestnut is allowed to establish itself in ponds around Virginia it could spread into the tidal waters, and we will face an epic control challenge that would both undo past decades of successful eradication of invasive species and undermine all our efforts in restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Once established, a colony can smother an entire pond or lake. The dense mats can block the passage of oxygen in the atmosphere to the water below and create oxygen-starved expanses where aquatic life is wiped out. The plant’s long tendrils also impede boat navigation.

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District recently obtained about $300,000 from Fairfax County’s Environmental Improvement Program to fund a staff position to oversee eradication in at least 30 ponds countywide. That amount also covers the cost of contractors to do the work to hand remove the Water Chestnut.

If added to the Noxious Weed list, the Virginia Department of Agriculture could use its own resources to suppress populations or reduce its spread. The classification also would prohibit the movement and sale of those plants into or within the state without a permit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Data Centers Reshaping Virginia’s Grid

Every four years Virginia Energy develops a comprehensive Virginia Energy Plan. Governor Glenn Youngkin’s vision for the 2022 Plan is to develop a data-driven roadmap that will provide energy policy recommendations that aim to balance the current and future needs of all Virginians, environmental goals, economic competitiveness, consumer choice and technology innovation. To give your input for the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan, interested individuals and organizations can provide comments in the following ways:

Data Centers are having an outsized impact on the electric grid in Virginia. You cannot develop an energy plan without control over the number of data centers that will be allowed in Virginia. Virginia will not be able to plan for the future reliability of the power supply and compliance with the Virginia Clean Economy Act if the power companies are forced to deliver an unlimited amount of power. Data Centers need to be permitted by Virginia Energy because they impact the cost and reliability of the Virginia electric grid. Without state permitting the counties (most notably Loudoun and Prince William) have the ability to derail any energy plan for the Commonwealth. Virginia Energy needs to develop a plan for the optimal number of data centers as part of their comprehensive Virginia Energy Plan and enforce it.

In 2020, electricity sales in Virginia were 115,585 Gigawatt hours with a total summer capacity of 22 gigawatts for the electric utilities. The electricity used in Virginia in 2020 was 30% more than the power used in 2010. Most electricity use sectors in Virginia are not and have not been growing, nor is their electric demand. Commercial and industrial demand for electricity in Virginia have both been falling for several years, and the University of Virginia expects this trend to continue for some time. Residential electricity sales are growing very slowly due to slower population growth and improved energy efficiency in homes.

The one growing sector of electricity demand in Virginia is data centers, and, wow, is that growing. In 2018 power demand for data centers was just over 1 gigawatt of power, by 2022 that had reached 2 gigawatt of power and is projected to reach 3 gigawatts by 2025 with projects already under way. The current power usage by data centers is equal to the power usage of 1.5 million houses which is almost half of all Virginia households. Virginia is the data center capital of the nation (and the world) resulting in electricity use growing faster here than other states.

According to the University of Virginia Energy Transformation Initiative, “Electricity demand in Virginia can be expected to grow fairly rapidly between now and 2035. It will likely continue to grow even more quickly between 2035 and 2050 as the state accelerates its efforts to eliminate carbon emissions from the economy. Most of the shorter-term growth comes from increased sales to data centers in Virginia. In the longer-run, electric vehicles will become an increasingly important contributor to growth in electricity sales.”

In their forecasts, the University of Virginia’s mid-range estimate for electricity demand to increase 30% (32,800 Gigawatt hours, GWh) by 2035. This increase does not include any increased electric vehicle sales but rather is entirely due to increased power use by data centers. This level of energy demand requires the building of more electrical generation and transmission within the Commonwealth just to supply the additional power to data centers. The building of new power generation plants cost more per kilowatt hour than the power produced by the legacy generation we have and will result in the electric bills increasing for all Virginians. Ironically, data centers pay less per kilowatt hour than residential users.

A larger grid requires more transmission, more generation and storage to ensure reliability from renewable sources. Data centers require power 24/7 even when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine, requiring greater and greater amounts of backup power supply and storage. Along with additional power generation Virginia will need additional transmission lines crossing northern Virginia ruining views and neighborhoods.

Zoning and land use have always been left up to the counties. It is clear that there is no limit to the desirability of data centers to county supervisors and landowner. The counties have been blinded by the windfall profits to the landowners and the prospect of increased tax revenue. They are proposing to more than double the number of data centers and this massive change in use will bring great wealth to the landowners- land that is worth $25,000-$50,000 would magically be worth up to $1,000,000 an acre to be used for data centers, but these windfall profits come at the cost of degradation of our land and water resources and increased power and water costs for all Virginians.

Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project will have 176 wind turbines that are set to be fully operational in late 2026 and produce up to 14.7 megawatts of power apiece, producing in total up to 2.6 Gigawatts of power. Earlier this year, Sarah Vogelsong in the Virginia Mercury News reported: “The project is both a key component of Dominion’s plans to decarbonize its fleet by midcentury in line with the Virginia Clean Economy Act and, with an estimated price tag of $9.65 billion, the most expensive endeavor the utility has undertaken to date. According to the SCC the average residential customer, defined as someone who uses 1,000 kilowatts of power every month, would see their monthly bill initially rise by $14.21 by the time the project enters operation in2027.”

Though this project was intended as a key component in the plans to decarbonize our grid we can use the costs to look at what data centers cost us. If we use the SCC estimate of the monthly increase in electrical bills, then 3 gigawatt of data centers will cost the average Virginian residential customer an additional $16.40 per month in additional electrical costs on top of the costs we will have to pay to decarbonize our grid under the Virginia Clean Economy Act. More data centers more cost for all Virginians.

Data Centers need to be permitted by Virginia Energy because they impact the cost and reliability of the Virginia electric grid. Without state permitting the counties (most notably Loudoun and Prince William) have the ability to derail any energy plan for the Commonwealth. Virginia Energy needs to develop a plan for the optimal number of data centers as part of their comprehensive Virginia Energy Plan and enforce it.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

How the Chesapeake Bay Dead Zone is looking in 2022

The “Dead Zone” of the Chesapeake Bay refers to a volume of hypoxic water that is characterized by dissolved oxygen concentrations less than 2 mg/L, which is too low for aquatic organisms such as fish and blue crabs to thrive. Within the hypoxic area life of the bay dies and a “Dead Zone” forms. The Chesapeake Bay experiences hypoxic conditions every year, with the severity varying from year to year, depending on nutrient and freshwater flows into the bay, wind, and temperature.

At the end of June, the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, United States Geological Survey, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan scientists released their consensus prediction for another smaller than average 2022 Dead Zone. According to the scientists, hypoxia in 2022 started relatively late in the season, similar to 2020 which had a relatively small dead zone. It was not until the beginning of June that hypoxia started to spread in the mainstem of the Bay. The volume of hypoxic water, the size of the dead zone, has stayed relatively low compared to the historical volume.

Although different types of nutrients contribute to the annual dead zone, scientist say it is the amount of nitrogen that enters the Bay during spring that is a key driver in how hypoxic conditions can vary from year-to-year. “The amount of nitrogen pollution entering the Bay during spring 2022 was 22% lower than the long-term average and included 102 million pounds of nitrogen recorded at nine river input monitoring stations and 5.7 million pounds from treated wastewater. There was 5% less water flowing into the Bay when compared to the long-term average."

Each year the Maryland Department of Natural Resources measures the actual dissolved oxygen in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay main stem and the size of the Dead Zone. While the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Anchor QEA and collaborators at UMCES, operate a real-time three-dimensional hypoxia forecast model using measured inputs that predicts daily dissolved oxygen concentrations throughout the Bay ( using the National Weather Service wind monitoring data.

from VMIS
The peak of oxygen depletion occurs in July or August when water temperatures are highest and the days are longest accelerating the growth of phytoplankton that ultimately consumes all the dissolved oxygen. The dead zone is typically gone by late fall. Cooler air temperatures at that time of year chill the surface waters, while the deeper water remains warm and allows more mixing of the layers during storms. Cooler water also will hold more oxygen. The size and shape of the dead zone is variable from month to month during the summer. So far it is still looking like a promising year.

At the end of the season the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Anchor QEA and collaborators at UMCES compile all the collected data to report the actual results. The actual 2021 Chesapeake Bay Dead Zone report from VIMS says: “… calm winds and slightly warmer temperature in May 2021 compared to 2020 resulted in hypoxia starting earlier this year. As summer arrived, moderate winds allowed hypoxia to increase through mid-July, resulting in a maximum size of the dead zone similar to the average historical size. ... In 2021, hypoxia decreased in early August, but a period of calm winds in late August allowed the amount of hypoxia to increase again. However, hypoxia decreased abruptly at the beginning of September as the remnants of Hurricane Ida stirred Bay waters. Stronger winds prevailed following Ida, but unusually warm fall temperatures and high precipitation counteracted some of the normal autumnal reduction in hypoxia, contributing to hypoxia ending in the mainstem of the Bay considerably later than in previous years. Overall, the duration of hypoxia in summer 2021 was relatively long, but the other metrics of severity were closer to typical mid-range values.”

Read the full 2021 Report here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A Suggestion for Possum Point

Coal was used to power the Possum Point power plant from 1948-2003 when they switched to natural gas. There is a whole lot of coal ash in Prince William County at Possum Point-millions of tons of the stuff. It is all sitting on a peninsula where Quantico Creek meets the Potomac River in eastern Prince William County. 

In 2015 right after the release of the EPA rule for disposal of coal ash, Dominion Virginia Power announced that they intended to close all of the ash ponds at its Virginia power stations including those in Dumfries at Possum Point in general compliance with rules. That did not go smoothly. There was a desire to have a more stringent regulation in Virginia by many of the Public and environmental groups. The cost to address the coal ash problem goes into the rate base for electricity.

Dominion Energy is now proposing to build and permit a double lined landfill at Possum Point to “dispose” of the coal ash. Dominion has proposed to bury the millions of pounds of coal ash in a new onsite landfill. This proposal is both cheaper and faster than the other alternatives- recycling the coal ash into concrete or moving the coal ash to another landfill.  Virginians will ultimately pay for any solution through increased electric rates for the disposal of the coal ash.

 Moving waste from one site to another just creates another location for potential contamination from coal ash. The existing coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking on water for decades. Trace contaminants and metals (and potentially hexavalent chromium) in the coal ash have already leached into the groundwater, soils, Quantico Creek and Potomac. Creating a landfill on site would require continual monitoring and maintenance. This is probably best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote cap and leave it location. Though Dominion is proposing a landfill with two liners, all physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring and maintaining the systems.

Possum Point is downstream from nearby drinking water supplies and is unlikely to impact local residents beyond what has already taken place over the decades. Supervisor Baily and the Riverkeepers appear to object to building a landfill on the existing industrial site and prefer moving the coal ash elsewhere. They are wrong. The coal ash should not leave Possum Point. I am concerned about the residual metals in the coal ash.

Chromium is a metallic element found in rocks (including coal), soils, plants, and animals and is known to be present at Possum Point. Cr(III) is relatively non-hazardous to humans and is in fact an essential nutrient. Chromium III in coal is not considered a serious health risk. However, during commercial coal combustion when coal is burned to generate steam for turbines that produce electricity, the trace contaminants are left behind. Ash is created from the incombustible inorganic components in coal. That ash can contain not only hexavalent chromium, but also arsenic, selenium, lead, copper, antimony, and thallium. These are the contaminants likely present in the coal ash, soils and groundwater at Possum Point.

EPA does not regulate hexavalent chromium at this time, and Dominion Energy has not tested for hexavalent chromium at Possum Point. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for hexavalent chromium in California was lowered to 0.01 ppb in drinking water in 2014. Hexavalent chromium in drinking water is not regulated in Virginia, only total chromium, but may someday be if we have our own “Hinkley” (the town in the movie and book Erin Brockovich).

Based on the planned expansion of Possum Point Road in the Draft Comprehensive Plan for Prince William County, I believe that Supervisor Baily and others harbor the thought of developing the “waterfront property” that is the Possum Point power station at some time in the future. That would be most unwise. Aside from the fact that sea level is rising and Possum Point sinking and it would be insanity to build in an area that will be under water increasingly; Dominion can never sell this land. They must always maintain ownership as a reason I cite Love Cannel.

In the 1920s a failed canal project was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite. In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company, then the owners and operators of the property, covered the dump with feet of earth and under the threat of the city exercising eminent domain sold it to the school district for one dollar.  Hooker tried initially to restrict use to a park, but ended up with a restriction to use the property as a school. That did not work. The school district sold the land to a developer to build houses.  Check out the story of Love Canal here.

Dominion Energy needs to go into the development business. I suggest data centers and solar panels for the site. Northern Virginia has become the data center capital of the world. Prince William County already home to a significant number of data centers and with the majority of the 2,400 acres in the existing Data Center Overlay district owned by data center development companies or directly by data center operators, the County Board of Supervisors is considering doubling that available land.

Possum Point is land only suitable for industrial use. Period. I believe the best and safest solution for the coal ash is to recycle by encapsulating it in concrete on-site and this was the option favored by the Southern Environmental Law Center, too. For Possum Point the best option is for Dominion Energy to maintain ownership and control of the land in perpetuity. Closing the coal ash on site requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance and “cleaning up” the site requires monitoring as well as ensuring that the use of the land is protective of people.  All physical barriers fail over time and no cleanup can restore land to pristine condition.  

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Erosion of California Cliffs


from Swirad and Young

The majority of California's coastline is lined with cliffs with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. However,  the erosion of the cliffs threatens highways, railways, wastewater facilities, commercial structures, pubic  structures, and residential structures. Large cliff failures occur episodically and have historically have seemed random, making cliff-retreat forecasts a major challenge. Cliff failures in recent decades have caused fatalities and significant infrastructure damage. I recall watching a house I regularly passed on Route 1 up north slide into the Ocean on the evening news.

There are some areas of the California coast that experience high magnitude cliff failures, repeatedly.  Daly City, Portuguese Bend, and San Onofre are such examples. (Hapke et al., 2009Young et al., 2009Young, 2015Young, 2018). Large-scale quantitative studies of California cliff erosion and failure have been done with Adam Young and Zuzanna Swirad building on their and others previous work. The goal is to someday be able to accurately predict which areas are likely to collapse in the future. 

Despite the general understanding of what drives coastal change (waves, rainfall), scientists are unable to predict cliff erosion at specific locations and times. Because of the wide range of causes and types of erosion, and highly variable geologic, oceanographic, and climatic settings; land planners and local officials could not know which areas were unsafe. Young found no significant correlation between cliff erosion rates and environmental factors such as rainfall, groundwater, waves, and relative sea level change. However, the highest cliff face retreat rates occurred at locations with what he described as weak rocks.

The current study was proceeded by several earlier studies. Hapke et al. (2009) measured cliff top retreat by comparing 1920s–1930s topographic maps and 1998/2002 LiDAR datasets for 353 km of cliffs spread throughout the state (20% of the California coast). This study found generally higher retreat rates in northern and central California (on average) compared to southern California.

Young (2018) used 1998 and 2009–2011 LiDAR datasets to measure cliff erosion and cliff face and top retreat rates for 595 km of the southern and central California coastline (35% of the California coast), and found higher retreat rates for cliffs fronted by sandy beaches than those without a beach.

Swirad and Young  used the  2009–2011 and 2016 LiDAR datasets to measure cliff erosion for a 595 km portion of the coast followed by a study of a different 866 km (53%) of the California coastline. They identified landslide volume frequency relationships, and quantified state- and county-averaged cliff face retreat rates. The new results were compared to the previous study  and yielded similar statistical results of cliff face retreat. These statistics help account for episodic erosional events, and help improve model predictions.

For the current study using LiDAR, Swirad and Young were able to measure both the cliff top change and changes within the cliff face. The goal is to be able to predict collapse. The research has found it difficult to isolate events that happen seasonally or annually and have tended in their model building towards a statistical approach.   Swirad and Young created a one-meter digital elevation models and evaluated the cliff erosion and retreat between 2009-2011 and 2016 in five-meter segments along 866 kilometers of California’s coast. “Because we found statistical agreement with the previous time period, 1998 and 2009-2010, we may be more confident that the statistical approach is the way to do it,” Swirad said. Erosion was detected along more than half of the cliffs.

The limited time frame for the data sets is a weakness of the studies. It is too narrow a time period for developing a predictive model for geologic events. A new statewide data collection began last year. This will provide a third time span to see if the statistical results remain consistent with those from the earlier periods and could provide additional support for the statistical modeling approach. 

This study was funded by the California Ocean Protection Council and California Department of Parks and Recreation and using data collected for previous research funded by California Sea Grant. The data e is available on the website California Coastal Cliff Erosion Viewer. Users Though the website is designed for coastal planning and development decision-makers, anyone can browse any cliff in the state to see its past rate of erosion and related retreat statistics. You can read the current study here.

Zuzanna M. Swirad, Adam P. Young, Spatial and temporal trends in California coastal cliff retreat, Geomorphology, Volume 412, 2022, 108318, ISSN 0169-555X,

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Methane from Man Made Sources

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas- 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year period. While it does occur naturally, major human-generated sources include landfills, refineries, oil and gas fields, natural gas infrastructure, dairies and wastewater treatment plants.

Concentrations of methane now exceed 1875 parts per billion, about 2.5 times as much as was in the atmosphere in the 1850s. Methane emissions come from diverse sources and sectors of the economy, unevenly dispersed across the landscape and not well tracked. Methane is also released from the natural biological process of enteric fermentation which is fermentation that takes place in the digestive systems of animals. In particular, ruminant animals that have two stomachs and eat grasses (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels) produce and release methane from the microbial fermentation that breaks down the grass and hay into soluble products that can be utilized by the animal. Also, when natural gas and other petroleum products are used as a fuel incomplete combustion releases traces of methane.

Atmospheric methane (CH4) is the second-most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2); the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that it was responsible for about 20% of global anthropogenic direct radiative forcing from 2000 to 2010” begins a paper by Maryann R. Sargent et al-Majority of US urban natural gas emissions unaccounted for in inventories.

Globally wetlands contributed 30% of global methane emissions, with oil, gas, and coal activities accounting for 20%. Agriculture, including enteric fermentation (cow belching), manure management, and rice cultivation, made up 24% of emissions, and landfill gas contributed 11%. 

Landfill gas is generated during the natural process of bacterial decomposition of organic material contained in the trash buried in the landfill. Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contains varying amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, sulfur, and other contaminants.

The report highlights five areas where landfill methane emissions can be reduced:

  • Preventing food waste from being generated along the entire supply chain
  • Diverting organic waste from landfills by separating compostable waste. The limited success of recycling programs is a discouraging example of the potential for this solution.
  • Rehabilitating old dump sites to install gas capture systems
  • Changing landfill design and operation to enhance gas capture systems and minimize the release of methane
  • Monitoring and quantifying emissions at landfills and composting facilities to pinpoint emissions sources and validate implemented abatement strategies

RMI, Carbon Mapper, and Integrated Global Greenhouse Gas Information System (IG3IS) released a report recently identifying the potential greenhouse gas reductions achievable through addressing methane emissions from municipal solid waste. Some of the flyover flights have identified landfills as point sources, not however Prince William County Landfill.

PW Landfill has operated for almost 40 years and has more than 7 million tons of trash buried at the landfill. That trash currently generates nearly 3,000 standard cubic feet per minute of landfill gas. In the late 1990’s NEO Prince William (Fortistar) installed a landfill gas collection system and a 1.9 Mega Watt generator tied into the electrical grid. This first stage of the renewable energy development program became operational in November 1998. The landfill electrical generation plant was expanded in November 2013. The facility, still operated by Fortistar, now generates a total of 6.7 MW of electricity. This is enough power for approximately 5,000 homes. NOVEC buys the renewable energy produced at the landfill and resells it to their customers.

Even with the expanded electrical generation there is still excess landfill gas available. So, the county built a pipeline from the landfill to the county animal shelter on Bristow Road with connections to several buildings along the way to provide landfill gas to heat the Fleet Maintenance Building and provide fuel to the Animal Shelter incinerator. A connection to the School bus garage was added in 2014 and other buildings are under consideration. This has allowed the County to replace propane with landfill gas which is a “Renewable Fuel Resource,” and reduce the energy footprint of our county.


For More Information read:

R B Jackson, M Saunois, P Bousquet , J G Canadell, B Poulter, A R Stavert , P Bergamaschi, Y Niwa , A Segers and A Tsuruta: Increasing anthropogenic methane emissions arise equally from agricultural and fossil fuel sources, Environ. Res. Lett. 15 (2020) 071002

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Poor Communities get help Accessing Federal Funds

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative. The initial funding for the effort will be $5 million and will give poor and small rural communities access to a wide range of assistance in accessing a wide array of federal programs.

The USDA-led network brings together twenty federal agencies and regional commissions to help rural communities create economic opportunity by accessing resources and funding that match their unique needs and priorities. These monies were invisible to and unavailable to these communities. It takes trained experts to access federal programs designed to help communities. So, the federal government had to create a program to help access other federal programs. 

EPA and USDA experts will work directly with local officials to draft detailed proposals including needs assessments and project lists required by state governments under the federal programs. This need for technical expertise has effectively shut out these communities from accessing financial assistance for their water and wastewater projects.

The new initiative will be piloted in 11 communities across the country where residents lack basic wastewater management that is essential to protecting their health and the environment. Around 2 million Americans lack access to running water and/or a flush toilet. This number includes the estimated 560,000 homeless population in our cities and communities that many see daily, but there are over 1,400,000 mostly rural Americans who are housed but lack running water and basic indoor plumbing. Many more live with wastewater infrastructure that is ineffective and puts people’s health at risk. 

Access to sanitation is the most serious water access concern in the rural South- rural Mississippi, Alabama and the Delta region. A septic system that can function in this type of black soil with a shallow water table can cost $30,000 or more to build and is called an AOSS- alternative on-site sewage system. Though very effective, these systems also require regular service to remain functioning. Instead, some residents use PVC pipes to remove wastewater away from homes, sometimes right into their back yards, a practice known as “straight-piping.”

Straight-piped systems, failing septic systems, and wastewater lagoons generate considerable public health impacts, including the resurgence of water-borne illnesses believed to have been eradicated in the United States. The poor do not have the resources to maintain water and septic systems. This is where funding from the infrastructure bill should go. Helping the invisible and housed poor.  

The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will help communities access financing and technical assistance to improve wastewater infrastructure. EPA and USDA are launching the initiative in:

  • Lowndes County, Alabama.  The  White Hall community has inadequate wastewater infrastructure. Local challenges include failing septic systems, straight pipes and inadequate centralized sewer capacity.
  • Greene County, Alabama. Local challenges include failing septic systems and the use of straight pipes, resulting in raw sewage on the ground, surface water, and seepage into ground water. The rural nature of the county, geology (black belt soils) and economic conditions, has made centralized wastewater systems a challenge.

Access to adequate wastewater infrastructure is a basic human right, but for too many of my constituents, generations of disinvestment have led to broken and failing wastewater systems that put the health of our communities at risk,” said U.S. Representative Terri Sewell (AL-07).

This joint initiative between the EPA and USDA will be instrumental in our fight to improve wastewater infrastructure for our most underserved communities and is part of the Rural Partners Network that introduces a new way of doing business: a collaboration among federal agencies meant to improve access to government resources, staffing and tools.

The Rural Partners Network puts federal staff on the ground to support designated, economically challenged communities. Known as “Community Liaisons,” these federal employees provide local leaders with the expertise to navigate federal programs. Community Liaisons help build relationships and identify additional resources to get the job done. In addition, the federal agencies designate key points of contact who focus specifically on rural strategies, improving visibility and attention to rural issues. It is hoped as their work progresses, the lessons learned will inform future federal rural policy development and investment strategies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Dominion Adds Batteries to the Grid

from Dominion Energy

Last week Dominion Energy announced that it energized an independent battery systems totaling 12 megawatts at the Scott Solar facility in Powhatan County. "Battery storage is an integral component to the clean energy transition in Virginia, supporting grid reliability for our customers during periods of high demand and by helping to fill gaps due to the inherent intermittency of solar and wind power," said Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia. "These battery systems will help us better understand how best to deploy utility scale batteries across our service territory to support our goal of net zero emissions by 2050."

Energy storage is key to grid reliability, continued solar and wind expansion, and achieving net zero emissions and more battery energy storage projects are under development by Dominion Energy. The company has two other battery storage pilot projects in its portfolio – a 2-megawatt battery in New Kent County that was commissioned in late February and a 2-megawatt battery in Hanover County that is scheduled to become operational later this year. All three projects were approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) in February 2020. 

The 12-megawatt battery at the Scott site can power 3,000 homes for up to four hours. The batteries are set up to charge and discharge daily. They are not designed as backup power, but are designed as supplemental power during periods of short, high-demand. These pilot projects will allow Dominion Energy to learn how to balance a grid using batteries and intermittent net zero generation.