Coker hosts sustainable energy forum

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Renewable energy, biomass, climate change, agricultural biodiversity, fracking, and environmental justice were the topics of discussion at a special forum held April 20 at Coker College.

Coker professor Mal Hyman presided over the event, and opened the evening by addressing climate change and national security.

Dr Imtiaz Haque

“We’ve always had climate change, but now we’ve filled the atmosphere with more greenhouse gases than the Earth has seen in the last 400,000 years. The United Nations has undertaken six massive studies, including more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries, from a range of disciplines, to look at these questions. Those studies parallel the studies done by our CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office, EPA, NOAA, and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. All of these studies predict more floods, famine, fire, blizzards, mass migration, disease, resource

wars, and competition over the Arctic Ocean,” said Hyman, further citing a 2003 Pentagon Quadrennial report that declared climate change a greater threat to national security than terrorism.

Guest speaker Dr. Hector Flores, president of Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, addressed the need for agricultural biodiversity, noting that as water supplies dwindle in some areas and heat increases, it will become necessary for farmers to expand or change the types of crops they raise. Flores said that while there are over 391,000 plant species on Earth, over 75 percent of the world’s food comes from 12 plant species and 5 animal species. Rice, maize and wheat currently provide over half the world’s calories from plants.

Prof. Mal Hyman

Flores cited the staggering diversity of maize and potato varietals grown in his native Peru, noting that in the Central Andean region alone, there are over 2,800 distinct types of potatoes. In Andean culture, said Flores, men handle the physical labor side of farming and women pass down the knowledge of which seeds will thrive in which weather conditions. By maintaining such a vast and versatile library of food options, the Andean people safeguard their food supplies against the caprices of nature.

Engineer Dr. Imtiaz Haque spoke about the cutting edge wind turbine research being done in Charleston at the SCE&G Innovation Center – a $98 million facility built to test and improve drive trains of wind turbines up to 15mw. Haque said one of these turbines will be capable of providing electricity to 6,000 homes.

Dr. Haque said engineers are working to enhance the power nacelles of giant offshore wind turbines to make them more reliable and durable. Also at the Charleston facility, a power grid simulator has been built so utilities can test the effectiveness and efficiency of wind energy before actively loading it onto their consumer and commercial power grid.

Coker College honor student Alina Tashjian spoke on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking – a process that uses millions of gallons of fresh water mixed with sand and chemicals to blast open shale rock and reach deposits of natural gas. Tashjian said that chemicals used in fracking can find their way into the water table and contaminate wells and drinking water for nearby communities. She cited the example of Pavilion, Wyoming, a farming community of 200 people, where natural gas companies had sunk 250 fracking wells. The EPA found 14 contaminants in the Pavilion well water, including methane, diesel fuel, heavy metals, and levels of benzene fifty times above levels considered safe for humans.

Dr. Jim Fredrick, a Clemson biologist, discussed the use of biomass (wood pellets, switchgrass, vetiver) to fuel boilers like the $75 million biomass boiler at Sonoco’s Hartsville headquarters. Fredrick said that wood pellet fuel production is impacted by home building slowdowns, since much of the sawdust that comprises the compressed pellets comes from sawmills. He suggested that using resilient and drought-resistant grasses like vetiver and switchgrass can provide an efficient, environmentally friendly alternative to fuel biomass boilers, and noted that Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center has long advocated this idea.

Dr. Elise Fox of the Savannah River National Laboratory talked about the growth of solar energy in South Carolina, noting that residential and commercial solar interconnections have increased by 500 percent since 2015, jumping from 5mw to 25mw total production. Fox said utility scale installations are also on the rise, growing by over 300 percent since 2015, from 3mw to over 10mw of production.

Job growth related to solar energy systems has doubled expectations, with over 450 full time positions added between November of 2015 and June of 2016. An additional 400 jobs were expected to be added by the end of 2016, mostly as installers and electricians. Currently, five counties account for 66 percent of all residential and commercial installations (Richland, Charleston, Lexington, Greenville, and Berkeley), but counties like Darlington – which recently adopted a comprehensive renewable energy ordinance – are part of a statewide trend toward green energy systems.

Reverend Leo Woodbury, a community activist from Kingdom Living Church in Florence, spoke on the topic of environmental justice, citing the social responsibility of every citizen to safeguard the ecology for future generations. Woodbury invited everyone to join him for a free bus trip to Washington, D.C., for the April 29 “People’s Climate Movement.” Buses will depart from the Walmart on Irby Street in Florence at 10 p.m. on April 28 and will return after the march the following day. For more information on this trip, call (843) 603-4481

Author: Duane Childers

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