Thursday, January 28, 2016

Greensboro Has A River

Years ago Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow surprised County Commissioners and Greensboro City Council members on a joint trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee when he declared that everyone might as well get back on the bus as Greensboro had no river.

The group was in Chattanooga to look for ways to make downtown Greensboro as successful as downtown Chattanooga but as Yow correctly pointed out their plans couldn't be done without a river. Some tried to float the idea of building an artificial river along much the same route as the Downtown Greenway that has since been started but the river idea went down the tubes very quickly.

But since that time Greensboro has acquired a river. More on that in a bit.

Because I have an ongoing interest in renewable energy a reader sent me a link to 100% of power for Vermont city now renewable. That will never happen in Greensboro in my lifetime but I think it important to future generations that I make known some of the assets Greensboro currently owns that could be used to move our city into that direction.

Greensboro owns 3 well known city lakes, Higgins, Brandt and Townsend. All three of those lakes are man made and have dams that could be retrofitted to provide part of Greensboro's electric needs. I'm guessing the best way might be to build just 1 hydroelectric plant on Lake Townsend as Higgins and Brandt both flow into Townsend.

Those 3 bodies of water totaled together make up almost as big a body of water as Duke Energy's Belews Creek about a half hour northwest of Greensboro, which, by the way, is coal fired and not renewable.

Then there's the White Street Landfill which I've written about many times. Currently Donald Vaughan, husband of Mayor Nancy Barakat "Grasshopper" Vaughan, is paid $20,000 a month to make sure International Textile Group continues to have free access to over $1 Million Dollars a year in landfill gas that could be used to generate electricity.

And many months the City still has to pay to do flare offs even though getting out of paying to do flare offs was the reason City Council gave us for not charging ITG/Cone Mills in the first place.

Be careful, folks, the City Council is known for giving your assets and the assets of future generations, away cheap. As in free.

Speaking of landfill gas. The City used to dump semi solid waste (sewage sludge) from Greensboro sewage treatment plants at the White Street Landfill via a pipe that leads from the Osborne Treatment Plant. That's what caused the worst of the smell. Now Greensboro must pay to haul that mess away. In Washington, DC they convert their sewage sludge to electricity and fertilizer.

Such a system built in Greensboro could take on sewage sludge from other Triad cities that can't afford to build their own. (For a fee, of course) And provide high tech jobs to Greensboro. But instead we build downtown performing arts centers that.... Well, you know.

So what other assets does Greensboro have to provide renewable, low cost energy?

How about wood pellets? Are you aware that coal fired power plants can run on wood pellets and that wood is cleaner than coal? Are you aware that North Carolina is the nation's largest manufacturer and one of the lowest users of wood pellets? Are you aware that 99% of North Carolina's wood pellets are shipped to Europe where they replace coal in power plants and home heating systems? Are you aware that the wood being dumped at the White Street Landfill could more easily be converted to pellets than trees?

Did you know that the leaves that Councilman Tony Wilkins bitches about spending a $Million Dollars a year to pick up can be converted to pellets too. They produce about 60% of the energy of wood pellets.

Currently coal is cheaper than wood pellets but it won't always be that way. North Carolina has never had any coal. Virginia's coal is depleted. Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Alabama are quickly running out of coal. While there is a lot of coal left worldwide most of it is very far away. You need to know you have these assets so that when the day comes you will be ready. And Greensboro's leaders need to be looking towards the future.

I can tell you how to effortlessly remove nails and other foreign objects from scrap wood in preparation for making pellets but I won't mention it publicly as I don't want a city other than Greensboro to be the first to get the technology. But maybe if the price is right I'd sell to another city what I'm willing to give Greensboro for free. After all, it isn't like I haven't tried for years to push these dinosaurs we call elected leaders into the 20th century.

And no, that wasn't a typo or a mistake, I know what century the rest of us are living in.

The really sad part is, we have young men and women right here in Greensboro with the skills needed to build this stuff-- all someone needs do is let them. But no, they'll move to another city where their skills are appreciated.

Now granted, no one thing is going to solve our problems but then Duke Energy doesn't supply energy to all of its customers by using just one power plant. Duke owns lots of power plants which all work together to meet Duke Energy's customer's needs... most of the time.

But what about in the future when the coal is too far away and gas is too expensive because the current drop in gas prices stopped the need for expensive fracking. Anyone who knows energy knows that down markets eventually come back and bite... And this next bite could be very hard.

Greensboro isn't ready for the future, we're a long way from it. I pitched many of these same ideas to City Council in my 2013 series, Economic Development At The White Street Landfill but as usual no one listened. Perhaps they don't care. That's why it's important for you to make as many people aware of these assets as possible so that our leaders don't give them away unnoticed as someday your children and grandchildren might need them.

Oh, and that river I mentioned. Billy Yow wasn't lying when he said Greensboro didn't have a river. You see, a few years later during the big drought that pushed through the dam scam Greensboro bought a piece of the Haw River over on the Guilford/Alamance County lines and the skinny little man-made lake that goes with it. It used to be the Burlington water supply before Burlington built Lake Macintosh.

It's a small asset in terms of powering a city as large as Greensboro and is best used at least in the short term as an access for those paddling the river, but every little bit helps. Don't let them steal it and your children's futures away.