Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coal at the Crossroads: As Renewables Boom, California Struggles to Quit Coal




SAN FRANCISCO (NET Radio) - Editor’s Note: This Signature Story was reported by QUEST Northern California and is the second in a four-part series, “Coal at the Crossroads” exploring coal in the U.S. This series is produced in collaboration with QUEST Northern California (KQED San Francisco) and its partner public broadcasting stations. For more QUEST Nebraska stories visit netnebraska.org/quest.

Massive coal-fired power plants aren't something you'll find within California's borders. To find the source of the state's coal power, you have to go to places like northern New Mexico, where the San Juan Generating Station is located.

"We currently have unit four offline, but units one, two and three are operating at full load," said Pat Themig, Vice President of Generation for PNM, the New Mexico utility that runs the plant.

"If you see the line where the stack is, everything going behind that is scrubber," he said, pointing past a towering smokestack.

Those scrubbers remove pollutants from the air emissions. But PNM has struggled to meet air quality standards and last month, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the plant to install new pollution control equipment. Those costs are generally passed on to the power plant owners, which, in this case, are utilities in Arizona, New Mexico and California. The San Juan Generating Station supplies power to several California cities and the Southern California Public Power Authority.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coal at the Crossroads: Mercury Rises on Coal Costs



LINCOLN, NE (NET Radio)
Editor’s Note: This Signature Story was reported by QUEST Northern California and is the second in a four-part series, “Coal at the Crossroads” exploring coal in the U.S. This series is produced in collaboration with QUEST Northern California (KQED San Francisco) and its partner public broadcasting stations. For more QUEST Nebraska stories visit netnebraska.org/quest.

Bluestem Lake near Lincoln, Nebraska is five miles north of a coal-fired power plant. It is also one of 85 bodies of water in the state under a consumption advisory because of fish found to have elevated levels of mercury in their tissues. Half of the airborne mercury pollution in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants. After years of study and debate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to announce new limits on mercury from coal plants in November. Ken Winston of the Nebraska Sierra Club believes the agency is doing the right thing.

"When you burn coal, mercury goes up into the atmosphere," Winston said. "It comes down in the form of rain. Fish eat it. People eat the fish. It can be very damaging and have a long term negative impact on the development of children. So it's something we need to get out of the environment as much as possible."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Move Over, Cows: 4-H Takes On Robotics



DES MOINES, IOWA (NET Radio) - 4-H kids still raise livestock and compete for blue ribbons at state fairs.

But in Iowa, at least, robots are moving in.

A 4-H-sponsored robotics challenge at the Iowa State Fair this year drew 13 teams, more than double from last year. Some teams were turned away.

"This is definitely a really quickly growing segment of 4H: robotics and science, engineering and technology in general," said Holly Bignall, who works in Iowa State University Extension's science, engineering and technology division. She runs the robotics competition.

"It appeals to urban youth," Bignall said, "and we're definitely trying to reach more urban youth, that's where most of Iowa youth are."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Researchers Seek Better Approach To Healing Wounds





OMAHA, NE (NET Radio)
- On a warm summer day in Lincoln, an easy game of catch can be a good way to enjoy the day. That's what Leigh Gramke and a friend did recently. A pretty normal thing for Gramke, who's been playing softball most of her life.

"T-ball when I was in kindergarten, first grade, I don't know, a long time ago," she said. "I was good at it."

Good enough that she played one season of college softball. Now, though, playing catch is about the only thing she can do with the sport she loves. It all changed last December.

"I was coming home after a night and just lost control of my car and went into a creek, and the car caught on fire," she said. "A couple just happened to be following me, and saw my lights disappear, and pulled me out of the vehicle and saved my life."