Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown of its 5,500-mile pipeline Friday after a ransomware attack brought attention to the vulnerability of the energy infrastructure on which the country relies. The New York Times reported Sunday that it was unclear when the pipeline, which carries nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, would reopen. This is not the first time the public’s attention has been turned to the things that can go wrong with the energy supply. In 2016, BirminghamWatch’s Hank Black wrote about the pipelines that run through the state and the Southeast:
By Hank Black, September 23, 2016
The Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Shelby County was a wake-up call for the public and the government about just how critical oil and gas pipelines are to America’s energy supply needs, and how such an incident could impact the environment.
The Cahaba River Society said the spill “very narrowly missed” entering the river, less than a mile away. CRS field director Randy Haddock, PhD, said pipeline safety isn’t top-of-mind until a significant incident occurs. “As the acute phase of this event ends, we expect to start having conversations” among advocacy groups, industry, government, and others about how to prevent or limit damage when another incident occurs, Haddock said. Some experts say the 50-year average age of the nation’s pipelines is cause for concern.
Alabama has 6,748 miles of interstate pipeline, plus more than 57,000 miles of smaller main and service lines that distribute product from a transmission pipeline. By comparison, Mississippi has 10,450 miles of interstate pipe, and Arkansas has 7,212 miles. Read more.
Conservation groups have filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, claiming that Alabama Power has imposed “unjust” charges on customers using solar power.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, along with Birmingham law firm Ragsdale, LLC, filed the petition this month on behalf of environmental advocacy group GASP and four Alabama Power customers with solar installations. The petition calls on FERC to compel the Alabama Public Service Commission to enforce federal laws protecting solar customers from unfair treatment by their utility. Read more.
This story was written as part of a collaboration among InsideClimate News and nine media outlets in the Southeast.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin promised in December to pivot toward prioritizing sustainability during the remaining two years of his term in office, moving toward fulfilling a pledge he made during his 2017 campaign.
“We’ve got a whole lot more environmental justice and sustainability issues to address within the next two years,” he said, “but we’ve laid the groundwork and foundation to address these environmental issues in our city.”
But for some, Woodfin’s administration — and Birmingham’s municipal government as a whole — has been frustratingly inert when it comes to environmental issues.
“The bottom line is, the city doesn’t have a strategy for addressing sustainability or environmental justice or climate change or anything related to those issues,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, a Birmingham-based nonprofit focused on environmental justice advocacy. “The mayor campaigned on all of those issues, and several of the councilors talk about them from the daïs, but they don’t ever actually do anything about them.”
Birmingham’s lack of a clear sustainability plan has placed the city at a disadvantage compared to other cities nationwide. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s 2019 city clean energy scorecard, for instance, ranked Birmingham as 72nd among 75 major cities in terms of sustainability efforts, saying the city “has substantial room to improve across the board” and should push toward codifying goals for clean and renewable energy “to jump-start its efforts.” Read more.
Reporters from Southeastern newsrooms hold leaders in their communities accountable for reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change-related emergencies. Read more.
President Trump imposed a stiff tariff on cheap solar cells and panels imported from China and other countries, a move industry experts said may decimate the growth of solar energy in Alabama and stunt it elsewhere in the country.
The tariff starts at 30 percent for the first year.
“That level would squash Alabama business for us and similar businesses that operate in Alabama to provide turnkey solar systems to residential and small commercial customers,” said Larry Bradford, of north Alabama’s Southern Solar Systems.
About $5.6 billion in projects in just four Sunbelt states – Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas – could be jeopardized by a tariff, according to E&E News, which follows energy and environmental matters.
The tariff could have been worse, though. It drops by 5 percent each of the four succeeding years. It also exempts a substantial portion of initial imports each year.
Alabama is particularly vulnerable to the added cost of a tariff, experts in the field say, because policies of investor-owned utility Alabama Power Co. already limit solar energy penetration in a variety of ways that make solar installations more expensive here. Read more.