Category Archives: nuclear industry

One More Chance to Defeat Exelon Bid for an Energy Mega-Monopoly

exelonpavilionOn Friday, the District of Columbia’s utility regulators dealt what may end up being a fatal blow to Exelon’s bid to buy local utility Pepco and become the largest utility in the country. Or maybe not. In a complex decision that almost literally gave those of us in the room whiplash, the Public Service Commission:

• Rejected a controversial deal submitted by the corporations and DC’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, and agreed to by several other parties. To which the whole room cheered.
• And then immediately after, the commission offered amended terms by a 2-1 vote. If all of the parties accept the terms within two weeks, the PSC would automatically approve Exelon’s purchase of Pepco, with no further review or vote required.

This set off a lot of speculation about how quickly or easily the deal would be approved. We are happy to report that hasty judgments that Exelon would quickly achieve victory are far from true. If even one of the nine parties backs out, the deal could be dead, or be subject to further review.

NIRS and the PowerDC coalition are encouraging DC residents to write to Mayor Bowser, DC Attorney General Carl Racine, and People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye, urging them to reject the PSC’s terms and, effectively, back out of the settlement.

And there are plenty of reasons for them to do it. But first a little refresher on why this is so important for those concerned about clean energy and a nuclear-free, carbon-free future.

Exelon is by far the largest nuclear power plant operator in the country, running 23 reactors in six states and holding an ownership stake in two others, plus five shutdown reactors. Over one-fourth of Exelon’s reactors are unprofitable and losing millions of dollars each year, placing them at imminent risk of retirement. Given that nuclear power is the core of Exelon’s business, it is under pressure to boost its bottom line by whatever means necessary.

Hence, the company is pushing legislators and regulators from Illinois to New York to DC to deliver massive subsidies for nuclear power plants. And it has stepped up its attacks on renewable energy in the same fashion: blocking renewable energy legislation in Illinois for the last two years, and trying to kill federal renewable energy programs.

But Wall Street has also been telling Exelon it needs to shift away from nuclear power. And that is why, in 2014, it offered Pepco a deal it couldn’t refuse: to buy out the company and its shareholders to the tune of $6.8 billion, 25% more than the company’s stock was worth. Pepco was literally the best option for Exelon: with 2 million captive ratepayers, and adjacent to utilities it already owned in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Pepco would give Exelon an unprecedented regional monopoly.

The problem: people in Maryland and DC have been fighting for renewable energy and real climate justice policies for years. They knew Exelon would be a disaster for consumers and the environment alike. And with vigorous grassroots organizing and legal interventions, we won round one. After Maryland only narrowly approved the deal (with over 50 pages of conditions), DC’s Public Service Commission rejected it in August, pointing out Exelon’s long track record opposing renewable energy, the loss of local control with a utility headquartered in Chicago, and the company’s inherent conflict of interest in selling its nuclear power at the highest price possible.

That set off a desperate effort by Exelon and Pepco to seek out a settlement with the city government. The Mayor’s decision to go along with Exelon at the same time that Pepco gave the city $25 million for a soccer stadium and Exelon hired the chairman of her political action committee as a lobbyist have raised serious concerns about corruption (see the timeline below). If Exelon’s takeover of Pepco were the clean energy equivalent of the Titanic, then the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs rather than heading to the lifeboats.

The terms offered by the PSC are actually worse – even for the Mayor and other officials who joined the settlement:
• $28 million in bill credits intended to lessen the impact of Exelon rate hikes until 2019 on residential customers are now out the window. PSC says it will apply the credits to all customers (businesses and government). Residential customers would see their bills go up long before the Mayor’s re-election campaign in 2018.
• $9 million toward low-income customer assistance, also gone.
• Other monies that the Mayor would have had the discretion to spend on renewable energy projects (or not) would now be under the PSC’s authority, to prevent the Mayor from diverting them to other budgetary purposes.

These happen to be the very terms district officials were using to justify their support for the deal. Without them, Exelon’s rate hikes mean nothing but misery to district ratepayers. That would have been the case long-term anyway, but now the Mayor and others will be exposed to the political repercussions of supporting Exelon. So it is really down to whether Exelon’s corporate influence is more powerful than the threat of an angry electorate.

There are other significant terms, too, including forcing Exelon to bid out micro-grid and solar projects to competitive providers, rather than being able to own and profit from them itself. Exelon could probably live with that. Also, the PSC’s chair, Betty Anne Kane, issued a strong and principled minority opinion opposing the terms offered by the other two commissioners. Kane reiterated the view that the Exelon-Pepco deal is inherently flawed, both because of the inevitable loss of local control and Exelon’s fundamental conflict of interest in being both the utility and a major nuclear generator.

Before the PSC decisions, Exelon had said it would walk away from the deal if it wasn’t decided by March 4. Now we’ll see if that’s true.

And here is a timeline of Exelon’s and Pepco’s scandal-ridden effort to squeeze their rotten deal through. (Timeline compiled by NIRS and Chesapeake Climate Action Network from news reports and public documents.)

SUMMARY OF SCANDAL-PLAGUED EVENTS LEADING UP TO FINAL EXELON-PEPCO MERGER DECISION

April of 2015: FreshPAC launched. Close allies of the Mayor launch a highly controversial political action committee called FreshPAC. A quirk in DC campaign laws allows unlimited contributions to the super PAC from companies and businesses, including those with business before the Mayor and City Council. The PAC is highly criticized by the media, voters, and members of the City Council as a fund that appears open to abuse and pay-to-play politics.

August 25, 2015: Exelon-Pepco merger rejected. The DC Public Service Commission unanimously rejects the proposed Pepco-Exelon merger as a fundamental “conflict of interest.”

September 18, 2015: Pepco pays Mayor’s office $25 million in “Soccergate” deal. Pepco gives the Office of the Mayor $25 million in cash for vague naming rights of property adjacent to the proposed new soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. The structure of the deal is highly unusual. Researchers have not been able to find another deal like it in the country. Not only is all the money paid up front, at a very high price (proportionally more than the Verizon Center naming rights deal), but the brevity and minimized complexity of the two-page legal agreement is virtually unprecedented.

September 19, 2015: Exelon presents merger “settlement” financial terms the day after “Soccergate” payment. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, the very next day after the soccer deal, Exelon submits new financial information to the Mayor’s office for settlement purposes.

November 10, 2015: FreshPAC is disbanded after widespread criticism. Critics charged it represented a pay-to-play PAC that tarnished DC politics and the Mayor’s public integrity. Exelon continues to refuse to say whether it was asked to donate to FreshPAC while working with the Mayor’s office on a settlement that would give the company its prized $6.8 billion merger.

December 16, 2015: WAMU reveals that former FreshPAC chair registered to lobby for Exelon on the merger. News breaks that Chico Horton, the director of FreshPAC, registered to lobby for Exelon on the merger on September 30, 2015 – the same time that Exelon was negotiating a settlement with the mayor and while FreshPAC was still active and soliciting huge donations from businesses.

January 2016: Chico Horton, the Exelon lobbyist, says he did no “lobbying.” The former head of Bowser’s FreshPAC declares that he did no lobbying – zero – for Exelon during the intense autumn negotiations between Exelon and the Mayor’s office, despite registering as an Exelon lobbyist. Horton said he simply gave the company “strategic advice” that did not officially constitute lobbying.

February 2016: Documents indicate Mayor’s office misled the public on merger negotiations. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the Mayor’s office repeatedly misled the public as to who in her administration actually coordinated and led the merger settlement negotiations between the city and Exelon. The Mayor claimed and still claims that City Administrator Rashad Young and Tommy Wells, head of the Department of the Environment and Energy, led the negotiations. But FOIA documents show that they were informed of key settlement terms after the deal had been negotiated by others close to the Mayor. Who actually led those talks, and what connection to Exelon or Pepco the city negotiators might have had, is still not known. But it was not Wells or Young, as was claimed. Why the discrepancy?

February 26, 2016: PSC gives conditional approval to the merger. Little substantive changes were required on top of the Mayor’s wholly inadequate settlement. Opponents assert the merger is still a fundamental “conflict of interest” and the process was clearly influenced by big-money “pay-to-play” politics.

Tim Judson

February 29, 2016

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2016/02/29/one-more-chance-to-defeat-exelon/

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Looking back–for just one day

Still got a long way to go....Vogtle Units 3 (left) and 4, July 30, 2015.

Still got a long way to go….Vogtle Units 3 (left) and 4, July 30, 2015.

At GreenWorld, we like to look forward. Forward to the day that nuclear power is a bad but fading memory and our planet is powered as safely, cleanly and affordably as possible with renewable energy and advanced 21st century efficiency, storage and grid technologies. Forward to that day of a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system.

It’s a day that we believe is coming, and is coming sooner than could have been believed even five years ago. But while we believe that day is inevitable, the timing is important: if it comes too late to turn back the worst effects of climate chaos, then its inevitableness won’t matter. And it won’t come on its own in time. As we’ve said here often, it will take all of us who believe in that future to act to bring it about in time.

Nor will that day just suddenly happen. It is the product of a transition, a transition that already has begun but that is still in its infancy and whose stumbling steps could be blocked or halted for years or even decades at any time. Chronicling–and urging along–that transition is the purpose of GreenWorld. So, naturally, we tend to look forward.

As we enter our third year of publication next week, however, it is appropriate to both look back for just one day and to turn our focus toward you, our readers. Who you are, and, of the 89 posts we published last year (about 1.7 per week, if you’re counting) on topics ranging from solar power in Indiana, Fukushima’s aftermath, the growing interest and viability of electricity storage highlighted by Tesla’s release of the consumer-oriented PowerWall, Russia’s increasingly aggressive efforts to market nuclear power abroad, to continuing coverage of the economically threatened reactors owned by Exelon, Entergy and FirstEnergy, what you found most interesting in 2015.

The most-read article on GreenWorld this past year pretty much sums up the state of nuclear power in 2015. Titled Vogtle: at $65 billion and counting, it’s a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics, the piece examines the cost overruns and construction delays of America’s symbol of the “nuclear renaissance.” While the focus of the piece is on the Vogtle reactors being built, slowly and expensively, near the Georgia/South Carolina border, the fundamental conclusion–that the economics of not only Vogtle but nuclear power generally don’t add up, that nuclear reactors are not only too costly to build but even to operate–permeated throughout GreenWorld, and the real world, during the year.

Close behind were two articles focused on France: Yves Marignac of WISE-Paris’ expose of the serious problems found with manufacture of Areva’s EPR reactors, The EPR “anamoly;” what’s at stake for Areva and my piece on a presentation on nuclear power’s dwindling status in France Yves provided at NIRS’ office, The accelerating decline of French nuclear power.

The effects of radiation–the basic reason we all oppose nuclear power in the first place–ranked high in interest, especially two pieces based on work by Dr. Ian Fairlie on the link between normal operation of nuclear reactors and leukemia. The evidence that radiation from nuclear reactors causes childhood leukemia not only ranked third in GreenWorld readership for the year, it was linked to on Facebook by our readers more than 1,000 times and on Pinterest 100 times. The second piece, Powerful new study shows radiogenic risks of leukemia 50% greater than previously thought ranked tenth for the year in readership.

In a year that brought both the final version of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the international COP21 conference, nuclear power and climate was unsurprisingly a topic of great interest to you. Tim Judson’s triumphant analysis of the Clean Power Plan, EPA took nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan, was our fifth most-read post of the year. Two articles I wrote, one on why nuclear power has become irrelevant as a possible climate solution, The nuclear industry’s COP 21 dilemma: 100% renewables is attainable and my expose of the Energy Information Administration’s analysis of the Clean Power Plan that found a nuclear emphasis would not result in greater carbon emission reductions, New EIA analysis shows nukes don’t help reduce carbon emissions under EPA’s Clean Power Plan also were in the year’s top ten most-read posts.

Filling out the top ten were a look at the nuclear industry’s near-apocalyptic reaction to the permanent shutdown of the Vermont Yankee reactor, Nuclear industry goes hysterically ballistic over Yankee shutdown and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek report on a slipup at the Baltimore Sun that revealed that the nuclear industry’s astroturf trade group Nuclear Matters had paid for a full-page ad in that newspaper in support of the proposed Exelon-Pepco merger at the very time Exelon was claiming to the Maryland Public Service Commission that the merger had nothing to do with helping bail out its economically-failing nuclear fleet, Oops! Real reason for Exelon-Pepco merger inadvertently revealed.

Our least-read story of the year? An article I wrote looking at President Obama’s proposed Energy Department budget, Obama energy budget continues “all of the above” delusion. Maybe you’re just not that interested in energy budget details. Or maybe you figured that it doesn’t matter what kind of budget Obama submits, Congress is going to do whatever it wants anyway.

Perhaps this is the kind of thing of more interest to publishers and editors than readers, but in case you find it as fascinating as we do, here’s just a little bit of who you–GreenWorld readers–are: The vast majority of you–more than 32,000 in 2015–were not surprisingly from the U.S. And also unsurprisingly, the next three nations with the highest readership are also English-speaking: the UK, Canada and Australia. Perhaps because of the quality of our posts on France, that nation came in fifth in GreenWorld readership, followed closely by Germany. Rounding out the top ten were India, Finland, Japan and South Africa.

In all, we could nearly do our own COP 21 negotiation: we had readers from 148 different countries. Only 30 of those were from the world’s most populous nation, and the one with currently both the largest renewable and largest nuclear construction programs, China. Language certainly is a barrier there, and perhaps censorship of the site–we don’t know–but we do hope that number can increase this year. Only one solitary, but brave, reader came from another nation currently the focus of a lot of nuclear attention, Iran. That’s a number we’d like to see grow this year too.

Since we don’t collect or keep any other data about you, we can’t tell you much more. We have no idea how old/young you are, what kind of money you make, what you do for a living, what level of education you have. We don’t sell ads, so while it would be fun to know some of that info, it isn’t necessary for our survival.

What is necessary, however, is your support, and below you can find out how you can donate to keep GreenWorld publishing. We hope you will. Our outreach and influence are growing, but our bank balance isn’t, and that isn’t sustainable. The other necessity is your action, and we encourage you, if you are not already on it, to join NIRS’ e-mail Alert list and make your voice heard whenever possible. It’s easy, just fill out the short form here. The change we all want, the energy future our planet needs, depends on your action. We’ll do our best to keep you informed, but we can’t speak for you. So please keep those voices raised high and often.

Michael Mariotte

December 30, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/12/29/looking-back-for-just-one-day/

Your contributions make publication of GreenWorld possible. If you value GreenWorld, please make a tax-deductible donation here and ensure our continued publication. We gratefully appreciate every donation of any size.

Comments are welcome on all GreenWorld posts! Say your piece. Start a discussion. Don’t be shy; this blog is for you.

If you’d like to receive GreenWorld via e-mail, send your name and e-mail address to nirsnet@nirs.org and we’ll send you an invitation. Note that the invitation will come from a GreenWorld@wordpress.com address and not a nirs.org address, so watch for it. Or just put your e-mail address into the box in the right-hand column.

If you like GreenWorld, help us reach more people. Just use the icons below to “like” our posts and to share them on the various social networking sites you use. And if you don’t like GreenWorld, please let us know that too. Send an e-mail with your comments/complaints/compliments to nirsnet@nirs.org. Thank you!

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Dear John (Hansen)

James Hansen. A tireless climate campaigner, but no energy expert...

James Hansen is a tireless climate campaigner, but he’s no energy expert…

November 13, 2015

Dear John,

Thanks for the e-mail yesterday from your PR firm, notifying me of the press conference you’re planning on December 3 in Paris, in conjunction with the COP 21 climate negotiations.

Though I have to admit I was a little surprised to receive it, seeing as how you never responded to my last letter to you. Remember? It was the one where I asked to debate you about nuclear power and whether it could be a solution to the climate crisis you have so ably articulated over the years? I even offered a very nice potential debate location here in Washington, where we could make sure there would be an audience and some media to chronicle the event. Continue reading

Revisiting the pawn/toast prognostication as more reactors close

Another one bites the dust: New York's Fitzpatrick reactor will close permanently next year.

Another one bites the dust: New York’s Fukushima-clone Fitzpatrick reactor will close permanently next year.

In mid-September, I wrote a piece delving into prognostication–always a dangerous endeavor–identifying (with tongue slightly in cheek) the nation’s most troubled nuclear reactors and dividing them into two piles: pawn or toast. Toast was those reactors most likely to shut down; pawn indicated that while on the precipice, the utilities would go to great lengths to avoid shutting them down.

Only six weeks or so later, enough has happened to revisit that list and see how we’ve done. Continue reading

Pilgrim’s closure, and what’s next for New England.

Entergy's Pilgrim reactor--the latest victim of nuclear power's increasingly wretched economics, not to mention sustained citizen activism.

Entergy’s Pilgrim reactor–the latest victim of nuclear power’s increasingly wretched economics, not to mention sustained citizen activism. Photo by Enformable.

A generation or so ago, New England was one of the most nuclear-dependent regions in the nation. If one defines New England as including New York, then that relatively small corner of the U.S. map was home to 15 commercial nuclear reactors 25 years ago–only the state of Illinois had a more concentrated nuclear presence; regionally, no other area is even close to that concentration on a square-mile basis.

Today, New England is leading the nation away from nuclear power, and toward the energy efficient, renewables-powered system of the 21st century. Today’s news from Entergy that it will close its Pilgrim reactor by mid-2019–and probably a whole lot sooner–is just the latest manifestation of that process, and it’s a process that is accelerating. Continue reading

Mainstreaming the nuclear exit

Exelon's Ginna reactor in New York, one of a growing number of economically troubled reactors. Photo from IAEA.

Exelon’s Ginna reactor in New York, one of a growing number of economically troubled reactors. Photo from IAEA.

It’s no great revelation to say that the mainstream media, fractured though it may be these days, holds great power. It’s not direct power; the media can’t make actual decisions. Rather, the media grabs a theme–a meme if you want–and holds on to it, and repeats it, and provides slight twists to it so it can be repeated again, until it becomes accepted wisdom. While the media, especially the mainstream media, is often behind the curve, behind reality, once it catches up and snares and spreads that meme, it doesn’t take long for it to establish itself. And once a concept becomes accepted wisdom, then the actual decisions tend to follow in unison. As a group, politicians rarely stray far from accepted wisdom. Continue reading

Some unanswered questions

The Summer reactors construction site July 30 2015. As Alice Cooper once sang, "we still got a long way to go...." - (c) 2015 - SCHighFlyer@gmail.com

The Summer reactors construction site July 30 2015. As Alice Cooper once sang, “we still got a long way to go….” – (c) 2015 – SCHighFlyer@gmail.com

There are some questions that are simply unanswerable; for example, how is it that Donald Trump’s approval rating is not zero? What defect in the U.S. educational system has resulted in some actual adults, with actual grade school, high school, and perhaps even college degrees, believing that an egomaniacal, perennially publicity desperate billionaire has anyone’s interests in mind other than his own?

Then there are questions that just beg for an answer, but we probably won’t get one. Here are a few of those: Continue reading