Thursday, May 29, 2014

Camera-free reflections

Sometimes you’ve got to put the camera down.

This morning I was in beautiful downtown Huntington on a personal matter. As usual, I went down to the riverfront park to look for boats, and I saw one of the big new AEP boats heading my way. So, I went up on the 6th Street bridge to wait for it. I did not have my camera with me, so I enjoyed watching and listening to the boat as it passed under me. For the first time, I really felt and smelled the diesel exhaust as it hit my face, and I paid attention to how the water acted as the boat and its fifteen barges pushed their way through.

I stared at the wheel wash for a few seconds and noticed how drops of water rose and fell in the air. Watching their motion, I recalled one of the few physics equations that is stuck in my memory. It’s the speed of falling bodies: V = 16t2. Now don’t ask me to expound on wave action and flow mechanics. I dropped my physics studies before I spent a lot of time on those.

The sky was cloudy, so there was not a lot of glare to mess up exposures or wash out colors or hide details in shadows -- if I had had my camera.

As the boat passed under me, I saw that it was the Mountain State. As it had approacheded my position, I noticed the winch or whatever the thing is called that lowers the motorboat was active. After the Mountain State passed under me, it slowed and I thought, crew change. Then I noticed a white van at the Harris Riverfront Park boat ramp. So I came down off the bridge and drove to the ramp. I got there as two guys were getting their things out of the motorboat and two guys were getting in. The Mountain State was fairly close to shore. It might have made a decent photo, but background wasn’t as good as it would have been at Ashland, Ky., so no harm there. Plus I have lots of photos of the Mountain State -- interior and exterior -- already, so again, no harm.

But as the boat pulled away, I thought of events of the past few days and what it means for the Mountain State and its sister boats in the AEP fleet. For one, AEP CEO Nick Akins told Bloomberg News the company is thinking about selling its power plants in Ohio. Ohio is a deregulated state as far as electricity is concerned, and AEP prefers to operate power plants in regulated states, where it can expect a more certain rate of return. Then there are the new proposed EPA rules on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The EPA will announce those on Monday, and if the rules go through, power plants will burn less coal, and coal is mostly what the Mountain State pushes. That and limestone to feed the scrubbers. An AEP p.r. person told me a couple of years ago that a power plant is more likely to be shut down temporarily because of a lack of limestone than a lack of coal.

So, three to five years from now, will we see as many AEP boats on the Ohio River pushing coal as we do now? What about Crounse, Ingram, Campbell, Amherst Madison and others? What about the coal trains? CSX moves coal on the old B&O line along the river in West Virginia, and Norfolk Southern moves a lot on its tracks on the 45 miles or so between Kenova, W.Va., and Portsmouth, Ohio.

What are the ripple effects through the rest of the economy and the environment?

See? That’s what goes through my head when I leave the camera at home.

P.S. An old photo of the Mountain State in black and white.


American Electric Power in the news

First, this item from Forbes saying AEP, one of the largest movers of coal on the Ohio River, also was the largest producer of carbon dioxide from power plants in the United States in 2012.

Then this one from Bloomberg saying AEP may do what Duke Energy is doing and put its Ohio generating assets up for sale.