Commentary

“SolarBees” a bust: Who could have seen this coming?

Solar beeIn case you missed it, officials in the McCrory administration’s Department of Polluter Protection (aka the Department of Environmental Quality) have finally given up on the harebrained “SolarBee” scheme for cleaning up Jordan Lake. As you will recall, the “Solar Bees” are solar powered water mixers that were supposed to clean the lake’s water by stirring it up rather than, as has long been recommended by experts, keeping pollutants out of it in the first place.

In response, the good people at the N.C. League of Conservation Voters issued the following statement last night:

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced today it would discontinue the Jordan Lake SolarBee project. North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Director of Governmental Affairs Dan Crawford released the following statement regarding the confirmation of the inevitable failure of the McCrory administration’s $1.3 million experiment:

“For two years Governor McCrory has been wasting taxpayer money on an experiment he was told would fail. Hundreds of thousands of people depend on Jordan Lake for their drinking water and it’s time for Gov. McCrory and legislative Republicans to stop wasting time, stop wasting money and start cleaning our water. Everyone knows water runs downhill and it’s always best to address a problem at its source, so maybe Gov. McCrory will start taking advice from people instead of polluters and reinstate the Jordan Lake Rules. Considering he has an abysmal record of choosing cronyism over common sense, I’m not holding my breath.”
 
Background:

 

Commentary, News

Sierra Club calls for an end to failed “solar bee” project in Jordan Lake

As Chris Fitzsimon explained at some length earlier this month, the silly experiment by state environmental officials to clean up the Triangle’s Jordan Lake with over-sized eggbeaters known as “solar bees” has been the disastrous flop that anyone paying attention could have foreseen:

Solar bee“It is now indisputable that the mixers still in place aren’t doing anything about the algae problem, which makes sense when you think about it. As Mary McLean Asbill of the Southern Environmental Law Center told ABC11 News, “The pollution needs to be stopped before entering the lake. It is absurd to think you can remove the pollution from the lake without doing anything to stem the flow of it into the lake.”

It is absurd indeed, but that’s exactly what legislative leaders said would happen when they approved the no-bid contract with the company that makes the giant mixers that are supposed to miraculously stir the lake clean.

And their failure has cost more than just the several millions of dollars of taxpayer money that were wasted. The folly of the SolarBees means that the pollution in Jordan Lake has not been addressed and it’s the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Now, environmental advocates are renewing their call to end the wasteful and destructive experiment. Yesterday, the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club called on the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission to demand action from the McCrory administration. This is the conclusion to the group’s letter:

“In light of the implications for water quality and taxpayers, we urge the ERC to, at a minimum, require DEQ to provide a status update on the report, along with the new timetable for review by the EMC and delivery to the legislature. We would also encourage the ERC to require DEQ to provide an explanation of any changes made to the originally published report.

Even without a formal presentation, the ERC would appear to now have adequate water quality monitoring data and in-depth analysis to show the ineffectiveness of the water mixers. We respectfully request the ERC to recommend that the NCGA end the SolarBee pilot project and allow full implementation of the Jordan Lake Rules. We also request that any taxpayer funds allocated to DEQ for the demonstration project be reallocated to the Jordan Lake nutrient management strategy developed by the Environmental Management Commission.

The ERC has an important role in protecting Jordan Lake as a safe drinking water source and ensuring that strategies to maintain Jordan Lake water quality are based on science. Thank you for your attention to this important water quality issue.”

Let’s hope that lawmakers are paying attention and that environmental advocates keep pressing their demands.

Commentary

Yet another report indicates that “solar bees” are a flop

More bad news for conservative politicians and bureaucrats doing everything in their power to avoid/delay the costly but essential clean-up of the Triangle’s Jordan Lake: yet another study has found the much-heralded plan to improve water quality with big eggbeaters known as “solar bees” to have been a big, fat failure.

This is from the newest report from the Department of Environmental Quality, “Survey of In Situ Strategies for Mitigation of Water Quality Impairments in North Carolina”:

“After reviewing the available scientific evidence, no single in situ technology or combination of technologies appears to be feasible for restoring North Carolina’s large waterbodies, including the piedmont reservoirs and estuaries subject to nutrient management strategies. A comprehensive, adaptive, and science-based approach to reducing nutrient inputs to the watershed remains the most viable option for recovering these waterbodies from impairment. Based on available information, in situ strategies may be able to serve some adjunct role to watershed controls, but the dearth of trials for such technologies at large scales makes this possibility virtually hypothetical at this point.”

That’s a fancy, executive summary way of saying the eggbeaters don’t work. Here’s more from later in the report:

“Monitoring data from this study indicates no significant change in water quality from areas where the machines are placed in impaired areas versus control sites, or from historical versus project area data (Division of Water Resources, 2015). Utilization of this measure in NC reservoirs does not appear to be effective as they do not have the ability to overcome the normal productivity of high nutrient systems. These create aesthetic issues as they float on the surface of the water, and are continually visible. They have the potential to create other user conflicts such as hazards to boating due to the density and amount of machines required to circulate large open waterbodies (sic).”

As you will recall, a report last fall already reported similar results.

The bottom line, as Mary MacLean Asbill of the Southern Environmental law Center told ABC 11’s Jon Camp:

“The report indicates that there has no progress in cleaning up Jordon Lake. There’s been no reduction in the nutrients which is the problem the SolarBees were purported to address. The pollution needs to be stopped before entering the lake. It is absurd to think you can remove the pollution from the lake without doing anything to stem the flow of it into the lake. The measures need to be taken in the beginning rather than the end.”

Hopefully, state lawmakers and the McCrory administration will now, finally, get off their duffs and get to work halting the pollution that’s flowing into the lake. Sadly, however, more stalling and excuse making for polluters seems just as likely.

Commentary

Report: State just spinning its wheels with “solar bees” in Jordan Lake

Here’s some shocking news: the big eggbeaters that North Carolina’s political leaders had touted as an alternative to the costly and time consuming (but proven) pollution control methods that had been planned at one time to clean up the Triangle’s Jordan Lake are, in a word, a “bust.”

This is from the Department of Environmental Quality’s preliminary report after a year of solar powered water churning:

“There were no statistically significant differences in pH and Chl a values at all three project treatment versus control site comparisons during SolarBee deployment, with the exception of significantly higher Chl a concentrations at the Haw River project site compared to its control site. Morgan Creek project area sites had the same or lower percent exceedances for both pH and Chl a than their control sites in New Hope Creek, but all were above water quality impairment criteria. The Haw River project area site had higher percent exceedances for both pH and Chl a than its control site. These preliminary results indicate that nutrient related water quality conditions did not significantly improve in areas of the lake where SolarBees were deployed.”

Who would have guessed?

No word yet on whether the report will cause state officials to reconsider their harebrained delaying tactic toward what needs to be done. If the response of conservative politicians to any number of far more dire environmental problems plaguing the state and the world are any indication, there’s reason for concern.

Commentary

State budget bill is packed with bad news for the environment

North Carolina environmental advocates are having trouble listing all the bad new laws and money decisions crammed into the 400-plus page budget agreement. As the good people at the League of Conservation Voters reported in an update this afternoon, the budget agreement includes provisions:

  • Allowing the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (REITC) to expire. For every $1 in tax credit allotted to our renewable energy industry, it has generated $1.54 in new state and local revenue. That means more money is coming into our coffers, creating jobs and drawing in a total economic impact of $4.7 billion. Allowing the REITC to expire will likely damage North Carolina’s ability to attract new businesses and investors, especially for our state’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties that have received more than $1.9 billion in direct investment thanks to REITC.
  • Earmarking $500,000 for shale gas exploration (aka “fracking”). The irony of allowing a “subsidy” for solar to expire but include half a million dollars in handouts to an industry that already has the funds and the competitive advantage shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Regardless, this is a terrible use of state revenue dollars.
  • Creating loopholes for repeat violators and reducing penalties for those who break state sediment and erosion control laws. While we were pleased to see the Sedimentation Control Commission remain intact, this overseeing body won’t be able to actually enforce any of the rules and protect us and our natural resources from pollution with these gaping holes.
  • Extending funding for the botched SolarBee project to the tune of $1.5 million and delaying the implementation of the Jordan Lake Rules for at least three more years. This simply allows the pollution load to grow and grow, making future clean up efforts even more difficult and costly.

The LCV list doesn’t include the decision to expand controversial terminal groins that will liteally change the shape of the state’s coastline or, undoubtedly, numerous other provisions that will only come to light days after the new budget is law.

In other words, the news from Jones Street is bad and getting worse.