The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: ben pounds journalist

Spherical tokamak plasma turbulenceSupercomputer simulation of plasma turbulence in a spherical tokamak, which is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion.  Image courtesy of Walter Guttenfelder, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Filippo Scotti, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via DOE.

Fusion research, natural gas, solar power and battery improvements at heart of TVA’s plans to wean itself off coal

OAK RIDGE — The Tennessee Valley Authority is phasing out coal and announcing developments tied to other energy sources at two plants that sit on either side of Oak Ridge.

One of the options includes a fusion test site. Scientists have long pursued fusion energy, though the technology remains in infancy and has yet to generate electricity anywhere.

The TVA coal plant on Edgemoor Road in the Claxton community in Anderson County closed Dec. 1 last year. TVA remains uncommitted to any plans for most of the land around the plant. A company recently announced, however, that it plans tests connected to fusion power in a small part of one of Bull Run’s old buildings by 2028. It will be an experiment and not generate power directly.

Meanwhile, TVA plans to retire Kingston Fossil Plant on Swan Pond Road in Harriman by the end of 2027. Its nine coal-fired units power about 818,000 homes. To replace the power generated at the plant, TVA plans to build a new complex at the Kingston plant’s site, combining natural gas, solar power and battery storage.

TVA plans to retire all its coal plants by the 2030s.

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From Cataloochee to Cherohala: Officials pondering ways to spread the love

GATLINBURG With ever more people crowding Great Smoky Mountains National Park, should the park and others encourage them to go somewhere else?

Enter “de-marketing:” A presentation at the 2024 Great Smoky Mountains Science Colloquium laid out a study examining ways to draw people away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and toward the Cherohala Skyway. The colloquium, sponsored by Discover Life in America, can be found on YouTube along with other presentations from the day, ranging from elk to ozone’s effects on plants. Justin M. Beall gave the presentation on crowds and de-marketing and said he conducted the research while at North Carolina State University. His was the only social science presentation of the day.

“That doesn’t mean we want to stop people from getting outdoors,” Beall said. “It just involves trying to convince visitors, maybe on their next trip, to explore a less visited destination in order to reduce crowding in certain spots.” He called it “diversion de-marketing” and said it was better than other de-marketing strategies. Two such other de-marketing strategies — forcing people to make reservations or raising the prices — he said, might price out people who earn less money or could confuse and frustrate visitors.

Beall said his study involved giving brochures to people at Alum Cave and Laurel Falls trailheads and Clingmans Dome. One focused on nature opportunities at Cherohala Skyway; one focused on social media photo and video posting opportunities there; and a third was more “of a boring control” in its approach to promoting the Skyway. His team distributed 500 surveys, evenly divided by both site and type of brochure. He said he expected to be there for 10 days but the group finished it in a little more than three days.

That “is amazing from a social sciences perspective, but I think again it shows you during these peak visitation times, such as peak leaf season, how many visitors can actually be in the park at one time,” he said.

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Solar panels are easy to attach without roof penetration to properly prepared metal roof with standing seams.This view shows the main sanctuary from the side building that hosts Oak Ridge Faith Lutheran Church’s solar panels.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

How two East Tennessee churches went solar, and can help your congregation do it, too

OAK RIDGE — On two church roofs on the same road in this small town that helped harvest the atom, panels catch the sun’s rays for electric power.

Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church at 1500 Oak Ridge Turnpike and Faith Lutheran Church at 1300 Oak Ridge Turnpike added solar energy at different times through different companies using different federal incentives. ORUUC added its panels in 2015; Faith Lutheran added them in March 2022. Members of both churches involved in the solar projects spoke to both the challenges involved and the benefits. They said their churches benefited both financially and spoke of the benefits to the planet.

“I really hope it works well for us as well as for the environment,” said George Smith, associate pastor at Faith Lutheran. “I’m fond of thinking that we’re turning God’s gift of sunshine into a gift of cash for ministry.”

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Smokey Mountain Smelters siteSmokey Mountain Smelters site is seen in this EPA file photo. Work has commenced on cleaning up this particular Superfund site, but South Knoxville residents are wondering about the fate of the other highly toxic sites along Maryville Pike.

Vestal community leans into future of multiple South Knoxville Superfund sites 

KNOXVILLE — City residents are discussing the future of the Vestal community’s toxic sites after a long history of industrial use and activism that recently led to federally funded action to clean up at least one infamous Superfund site.

Vestal community resident Cathy Scott shared the history of each of these sites near Maryville Pike at South Knox Community Center during two Vestal Community Organization meetings related to the cleanup of multiple Superfund sites on the south side of the city.

She said in an email to Hellbender Press that much of her information came from John Nolt, formerly of the University of Tennessee Philosophy Department and author of the essay “Injustice in the Handling of Nuclear Weapons Waste: The Case of David Witherspoon Inc.,” which is chapter three of the book “Mountains of Injustice: Social and Environmental Justice in Appalachia.”

While the EPA is focusing on the Smokey Mountain Smelter site, Scott, Nolt and others have discussed other properties and their effects on nearby watersheds. The sites are all connected to the Witherspoon family. They are at are at 1508 Maryville Pike; 1630 Maryville Pike and adjacent land; 901 Maryville Pike and 4430 Candoro Ave. The meetings took place Feb. 13 and 22.

“It was a phenomenal accomplishment of community collaboration,” Eric Johnson, president of Vestal Community Organization, said of the two meetings. 

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New Horizon Center power lineThis map shows several of the various options that were proposed over the years for a new power line to the Horizon Center. Options numbered 1 here would have severely impacted the North Boundary Greenway. Options 1 and 2 also would have diminished the ecologic values of the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement. The now authorized option 5 will tap into the existing 161 kilovolt TVA power line at a new substation to be built on the south-east side of Oak Ridge Turnpike (TN-95).  City of Oak Ridge Electric Department

Conversations, letters, alliances and action prompted electrifying win for East Tennessee citizens

OAK RIDGE  After a grassroots citizen effort highlighted the fact new electric lines would mar habitat and popular hiking trails, the city plans to put them elsewhere.

The move came after objections raised by East Tennessee environmental groups, previously reported by Hellbender Press, to protect the land along the North Boundary Greenway, a wide gravel path used by hikers and cyclists. The new route goes down Novus Drive’s median, starting south of State Route 95.

Contractors aren’t done building the Novus Drive route, but city staff made the new route clear in December when asking for funding. Oak Ridge City manager Mark Watson stated the new lines and substation need to be ready for the proposed TRISO-X nuclear fuel facility by December 2024.

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UT forestry efforts benefit whiskey and ecological chasers

KNOXVILLE — Volunteers, distilleries and two universities came together this fall to collect white oak acorns to ensure the survival of the species for commercial and ecological purposes.

It was a key part of a conservation effort started by distilleries worried about the future of oak barrels and casks used to age whiskey and bourbon.

It’s about more than that though, as white oaks have many uses not just for people but for an estimated 2,000 other species, including bats, birds, turkeys, deer, rabbits and hundreds of butterflies and moths. But because the trees are slow to grow, they may be at risk, especially as the region grapples with the uncertain outcomes of climate change.

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IMG 3876Gerry Moll is seen in the native garden of his home in the 4th and Gill neighborhood of Knoxville.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

People are restoring native plants on their properties. You should, too.

‘There are a lot of messes out there and this is something that you can do right at home that has a positive effect.’

KNOXVILLE — If you want to help native wildlife and attract it to your yard, plant some native plants and kick back on your porch and watch them grow. That’s a good place to start.

That’s the message from Native Plant Rescue Squad founders Gerry Moll and Joy Grissom.

People walking by Moll’s garden in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood off Broadway just north of the city center will see tall plants; not hedges or other foreign plants, but various short trees and native flowers. It looks like an explosion of growth on both sides of the sidewalk, but it’s not chaos.

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IMG 3713Spark CleanTech Accelerator participants join Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon during an Aug. 31 awards ceremony. Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Knoxville celebrates sustainable technology startups from across the country

KNOXVILLE — Leaders of start-up green businesses specializing in services and products ranging from carbon reduction to cleaning products and piping wrapped up some warp-speed lessons Aug. 31.

At the conclusion of the three-month Spark CleanTech Accelerator the leaders of environmentally sustainable businesses from across the country took home some awards and got a strategic pep talk from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.

“I’m very committed to all things green and sustainable,” she said. “Orange and green are complementary colors." She spoke of making Knoxville a “clean tech hub,” not just for Tennessee but internationally. She envisioned “a cleaner Knoxville and a cleaner world.”

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