Tag Archives: David Crane

It’s not utilities leading the energy revolution

It's policy--not utility preference--that is enabling the renewable energy revolution.

It’s policy–not utility preference–that is enabling the renewable energy revolution.

Last Friday, we noted that Ceres has released a major new report ranking the renewable energy production and energy efficiency programs of the 32 largest electric utility holding companies in the U.S.

But that note came in a brief update to our post Exelon supporting solar power in Massachusetts? Um, nope.  It was easy to miss and the report–and its implications–deserve more attention.

That’s especially so now that two experts, from very different ends of the energy arena, have weighed in with their perspectives. Continue reading

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Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas. WCS wants to triple the site's capacity and slash its liability at the same time.

The Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas. WCS wants to triple the site’s capacity and slash its liability at the same time.

It’s been a while since we caught up on the news, so let’s jump right in….

Nuclear Power

EPA chief Gina McCarthy has in essence admitted that our analysis of the EPA’s proposed carbon rules is correct: they are intended to boost the nuclear power industry, and are especially an effort to protect those uneconomic reactors–mostly owned by Exelon–that would close without more subsidies. However, McCarthy also demonstrated that she doesn’t know much about nuclear power or the reactors she’s trying to keep open: “There are a handful of nuclear facilities that because they are having trouble remaining competitive, they haven’t yet looked at re-licensing (to extend their operating lives). We were simply highlighting that fact,” McCarthy said at a round-table discussion with business leaders in Chicago. In fact, of the dozen or so reactors that have been publicly cited as in danger of closing because they’re losing money, only Exelon’s Clinton reactor has yet to receive a license extension. Perhaps that lack of knowledge at the top levels of the EPA is the reason the proposed rule is so inartfully worded.

In any case, McCarthy’s admission is just one more reason to make sure the largest possible response is provided to the EPA. The first step is signing and spreading the word about the NIRS/CREDOMobilize petition here. The next step is to begin organizing to attend, speak out and protest at the four public meetings EPA is setting up for public comment.  Continue reading

Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The existing Turkey Point facility consists of two reactors, two gas/oil plants and one combined cycle natural gas plant. But FPL is considering adding two new reactors to the site.

The existing Turkey Point facility consists of two reactors, two gas/oil plants and one combined cycle natural gas plant. But FPL is considering adding two new reactors to the site.

A hearing is being held today in Florida on whether FPL should be allowed to build two new reactors at its Turkey Point site near Miami. The hearing is for a state permit, FPL would still need a license from the NRC to be able to build. And FPL has said it hasn’t decided yet whether it wants to build the reactors, which would be expected to cost about $18 Billion. An FPL spokesperson made the astonishing claim that the reactors would save $170 billion in fuel costs over natural gas over the next 60 years; we guess FPL alone has the crystal ball that can predict natural gas prices over that period, not to mention its certainty that the unbuilt reactors would receive a license extension to operate that long.

And, of course, the fuel cost savings over solar, wind and energy efficiency, the alternatives being promoted by Turkey Point opponents in The Sunshine State, would be a negative number. Then there’s that little matter of climate change, with Miami being one of the most vulnerable cities in the U.S. to climate-induced disaster.

Continue reading

NRC sends mixed signals on foreign involvement in U.S. reactors

The existing reactors at South Texas. NRG had wanted to build two more, but has dropped that idea--now only Toshiba thinks it's a good idea.

The existing reactors at South Texas. NRG Energy had wanted to build two more at the site, but has dropped that idea–now only Toshiba thinks it’s a good idea.

Different parts of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission took opposite positions this month on how the agency will enforce its Atomic Energy Act-mandated rules prohibiting “foreign ownership, control or domination” of U.S. nuclear reactors, known as FOCD in agency parlance.

The NRC staff had joined with intervenors, including the SEED Coalition and Public Citizen Texas, challenging the license of the proposed South Texas nuclear project, which is owned by a consortium called NINA (Nuclear Innovation North America), which is composed of NRG Energy and Toshiba. Tokyo Electric Power originally was a member of the consortium but was forced to drop out of the project after the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But NRG Energy–the lead partner at the time–also said it was dropping out of the project and stopped providing any funding for it after spending some $480 million in its initial stages. That left Toshiba holding the bag and keeping the project’s funding going. But although it stopped funding the project, NRG never formally left the consortium even though its CEO, David Crane–hardly an anti-nuclear advocate–has said repeatedly in public that no new reactors will be built in deregulated markets like Texas.

Continue reading

Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, April 7, 2014

Nuclear Power

The New York Times reported over the weekend that dozens of U.S. reactors are more vulnerable to earthquakes than previously believed. The NRC has been requiring utilities to re-evaluate their ability to withstand possible earthquakes in their regions based on growing knowledge about plate tectonics and the nature of earthquakes–a process that began before, but was certainly underscored by, the Fukushima disaster. But even though this has been an NRC initiative, don’t expect a quick or strong NRC response. Instead, the agency’s basic pronouncement is: Don’t close them, just study the issue some more. Oh, and don’t worry, be happy. In the NRC’s official blog,  the agency lays out its plans for the issue, which includes at least three more years of study before any real action is taken (and one shouldn’t actually expect any real action from NRC then either–if there is to be action, it will have to be from governors and state legislatures, not the NRC). The studies don’t even include those reactors in the most seismically active areas on the west coast–they have another full year to complete even their initial studies. But New York’s Indian Point is included and found more vulnerable to feasible earthquakes than designed for; that’s likely to be further ammunition in a growing campaign to close those reactors.

New York's Indian Point reactors. Photo from wikipedia.

New York’s Indian Point reactors. Photo from wikipedia.

Meanwhile, what is expected to be a three-week hearing on Indian Point’s antique once-through cooling system, which causes severe damage to the marine ecosystem of the Hudson River, kicks off today in Albany. Riverkeeper and the State of New York want Entergy to be forced to build cooling towers for the reactors if they want to keep operating them (though both also oppose continued operation), at an estimated cost of about $1.6 billion–probably enough to make it uneconomical to continue operations. The State Department of Environmental Conservation calculated that such a system would reduce fish kills by 98%. For its part, Entergy denies even killing fish, and wants to put in a much cheaper, and much less effective, screen system to prevent fish and larva from being drawn into the plant along with cooling water and roasted.

A Department of Energy official told Congress that the U.S. would have to subsidize use of plutonium/MOX reactor fuel in commercial nuclear reactors if the MOX plant Obama wants to shutter is completed. The Obama Administration’s latest budget calls for putting the facility in cold standby and ending construction on a project whose projected lifetime cost has reached some $30 Billion–far more than originally projected. But that number doesn’t include subsidies just to get utilities to use the MOX fuel, which would be far more expensive to them than normal uranium fuel. Nonetheless, a small group of mostly South Carolina legislators, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), is working hard to keep the pork barrel money funneled to the state regardless of the merits of the project. Meanwhile, while the Obama Administration has not yet stopped work on the project, and some media accounts last week pointed out that work at the site is continuing and no one has been laid off, Anne Harrington, deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said a stop work order is on the way. 

Florida Power & Light (FPL) says an inspection of the steam generator tubes at its St. Lucie-2 reactors shows less degradation than it had predicted, but the utility refused to say how many tubes now show signs of degradation. It looks like FPL plans to wait six months, until a report is required to be filed with the NRC, to reveal that information. But the utility did admit that it had plugged 69 tubes at both units already this year. The NRC says, of course, that there is no safety issue here. Well, at least there won’t be until one of the degraded tubes ruptures a la San Onofre (and several other reactors over the years). But there may well be an economic issue ahead for FPL ratepayers. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen warns that “The bottom line is, it was the worst in the nation before the outage, and it’s even worse now. These numbers are astronomical. The steam generators just can’t get to the end of their useful life.”

This has been self-evident for years, but it’s clearly worth repeating. Ed Lyman, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists told a group in Chicago last week that nuclear safety requires appointment of new NRC Commissioners. “It’s common knowledge in Washington that anyone nominated to be a commissioner to the NRC has to be pre-approved by the nuclear industry,” he said. “In order to get a more independent mindset, you’ve got to break that stranglehold.”

Anti-nuclear protestors in Helsinki, FInland.

Anti-nuclear protestors in Helsinki, FInland.

More fallout from the Russian takeover of Crimea and its continued efforts to destabilize Ukraine: Finns are having second thoughts over a proposed new Russian reactor project there. A new public opinion poll finds that nearly half now oppose the project, while only a third support it. Unlike most other European countries however, Finns in general are supportive of nuclear power, with more than half still supporting new nuclear construction–just not with Russian reactors.

Clean Energy

Billionaire Tom Steyer and NRG Energy CEO David Crane are two of the most vocal and active people shaping America’s energy future: Steyer through his efforts on climate change and particularly to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and Crane by attempting to build the utility of the future. The two of them appeared at the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago Thursday and separately laid out their visions of our energy future. Crane in particular has been harshly critical of most electric utilities, and repeated his belief that distributed generation is going to upend the utility industry over the next decade. He also answered questions about nuclear power, saying, “Nuclear power is probably the biggest asset we have in the fight against climate change,” Crane said, noting his decision to pull the plug on a Texas project just weeks after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan. “But I’m a business guy and I’m a pragmatist, and there’s no future for nuclear in the United States. There’s certainly no future for new nuclear.”

A long and thoughful article from High Country News on the upcoming issue of rooftop solar and “grid defection. The piece wonders whether the greater ability of the better-off to install rooftop solar and, in the not-distant future leave the grid, will cause a new “electrical divide” between the more fortunate and those less well-off as well as inner-city and apartment residents without rooftop space.

A useful infographic from EnergyFactCheck.org on subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels versus those for renewables. A few (among many) nuggets:

*The oil and gas industries have received approximately $446.96 billion in subsidies from the United States, as opposed to just $5.93 billion for renewables, since 1918.

*Eliminating the 12 subsidies for fossil fuels in the U.S. would save $41.4 billion over 10 years without increasing fuel prices, reducing employment, or weakening U.S. energy security.

*The nuclear power industry has received four times more subsidies than the distributed solar industry and has had six times longer to mature.

Michael Mariotte

April 7, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/04/07/nuclear-newsreel-monday-april-7-2014/

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The utility death spiral, stupid utilities and grid defection

Much has been written so far this year, including in these pages, about the “utility death spiral,” in which electric utilities that fail to adapt to changing technologies and electricity delivery systems like rooftop solar and distributed generation generally will gradually (or quickly, depending on one’s perspective) wither away and disappear. Warren Buffet thinks the “utility death spiral” is bullshit, so he’s on a utility buying spree--although he’s looking only at small, regulated utilities, not the Entergys and Exelons of the world that are at most risk of being unable to compete in a transformed utility sector. Buffett says “society will forever need massive investments in both transportation and energy,” which is undeniably true. But that doesn’t mean the traditional-minded, behemoth-plant baseload power-oriented utilities aren’t on the way out….

This article from SmartGridNews argues that utilities aren’t really “shockingly stupid” as NRG Energy CEO David Crane observed recently. Rather, the author argues that utilities respond rationally to existing regulations–some of which are decades old–and this prevents them from quickly adapting to new technologies like rooftop solar. But, the author says, the utilities could be faulted for not working to change those regulations. Still, the article concludes: “Jigar Shah, founder of solar company SunEdison, has a dimmer view of utility survivability.

“There are 300 public utilities in this country and six might be successful on the other side. By 2020, this whole market will be firmly disrupted.”

Shah said pension funds have started divesting shares of utilities because they are losing growth. With distributed generation and energy efficiency, the only way to prosper is by investing in those opportunities. But the utility mindset and business model was not designed to accommodate innovation.

“Hedge funds managers are calling me on whether they should be shorting utilities,” Shah said. “When we are having that conversation that means the end is near.”

If the survival of utilities requires changing regulations, it looks like utilities better get moving….We suspect most won’t.

Speaking of utility survival, as we noted here February 26, the Rocky Mountain Institute released a major report: The Economics of Grid Defection, in which it predicted that–sooner than most people have realized–it will be just as cheap or cheaper for consumers to leave the electric grid and power their own homes and businesses. But RMI has now posted a follow-up piece in which it points out a) that consumers economically can leave the grid doesn’t mean they will and b) that widespread grid defection would not necessarily be a good thing–in fact there are numerous drawbacks to the possibility. RMI says “We need not face an electricity future with an either/or dichotomy of two extremes: total utility/centralized dependence and total defection/independence. There exists another path, one in which central and distributed resources are complementary, connected and supported by a nimble grid.”

Michael Mariotte

March 14, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/14/the-utility-death-spiral-stupid-utilities/

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Why we’re writing so much about the changing nature of the electricity business–everybody else is. Oh, and because it’s important.

If how much is written about a topic is an indication of how important or perhaps timely the topic is, then the issues of distributed generation, the changing nature of how Americans will obtain their electricity, and the effects of both on electric utilities, are of both extreme importance and timeliness. We have been reporting on these issues almost daily, citing articles and adding to the conversation, but today the plethora of articles, opinions, predictions and information–and good ones at that–is almost overwhelming.

That major changes are coming should be obvious to anyone without blinders on–or perhaps anyone who hasn’t overinvested in nuclear power and fossil fuels. The only questions now are how fast those changes will be implemented and how extensive they’ll be.

If you haven’t been following the issue, here’s the brief (and simplified) synopsis: Distributed generation–for the most part small-scale rooftop solar (from your local Wal-Mart to your own house) and wind farms, coupled with increased availability and affordability of electricity storage (primarily batteries) coupled with increased energy efficiency in both buildings and appliances and smart electric grids are completely changing the nature of the electric utility business.

In the 20th century, that business model–designed to bring reliable and relatively affordable (if not often safe or clean) electricity to the entire nation–achieved its goals. Utilities built large “baseload” power plants, typically fossil fuel or nuclear powered plants that run 24/7, and an accompanying transmission grid to take the power from those plants to cities and towns all across the country. Regulators ensured they earned a profit on every step of that process. And the nation was indeed electrified.

But as we entered the 21st century, that business model began to fall apart. Most states chose to deregulate their electric utilities, and separated the jobs of power production from electricity transmission. Instead of regulators setting rates and ensuring profits, utilities began to be forced to compete with each other to sell electricity at the lowest rates to consumers. Inefficient and overly costly power plants began to close–a process that accelerated in 2013 with the unexpected shutdown announcements of five nuclear reactors. More shutdowns–in many cases aided by anti-nuclear campaigns–are likely this year and next. And dozens of dirty coal plants have closed in the past few years as well.

Meanwhile, technological advances, especially the plummeting costs of small-scale solar power and the advent of leasing arrangements which mean that consumers–both businesses and homeowners–can get solar installed on their rooftops without the high upfront costs, have made it possible for millions to produce their own electric power and sometimes even more than they need, which policies called net metering allow for them to sell back to the grid at market, and sometimes above-market prices.

As energy efficiency programs have begun to work, the average household and business is using less electricity than they used to. It now looks like peak electricity use in the U.S. was reached in 2007, and even with population growth we may never again reach that peak.

Wind power costs also have fallen over the years, and in many parts of the country are cheaper than their older competition: nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Smart grids, which are still in their infancy, make it possible for grid operators to more efficiently move between the intermittent power sources like wind and solar farms as their power is produced and wanes, providing more reliable access to renewable energy.

That’s where we are now. Where we’re going, sometimes called Utility 2.0, is what’s really exciting. The “internet of things,” where our devices, soon to include our entire homes and places of work, are connected to the internet, are enabling the smart grid to become really smart–to provide power to where it’s actually needed when it’s actually needed (and not at other times) from where it’s being produced (and in a somewhat similar fashion to the local food movement, that will more often than not be locally).

Electricity storage means that those big baseload plants will become obsolete. At the household level, who needs them when your rooftop solar panels provide all your electricity when the sun is up, and when it’s down you just shift to the batteries that have stored the excess power. Solar power 24/7. On the macro level (after all, most big city downtowns don’t have enough rooftop space to power themselves), larger batteries and other types of storage now in the early stages of commercialization mean that the power from wind, offshore and onshore, and large solar plants such as those sprouting up in California and Nevada (and even New York City’s Fishkills landfill), will also become 24/7. Add in some geothermal power where available, even more increased energy efficiency, the ability for cars to not only run on electricity but to generate electricity, and other technological advances on the horizon, and that old utility model has bitten the dust.

As we noted here on Wednesday, February 26, Rocky Mountain Institute has just released a report on when it will be cost-effective for the average household to just completely leave the grid if it wants–it’s sooner than you think. But whether we will end up with millions of micro-grids or will keep some form of regional grids as we have now is one issue for discussion; the reality staring all in the face is that we won’t have the kind of electric system we have now, and that’s coming sooner than most people think as well.

Traditional utilities are fighting this, of course, the same way all obsolete industries fight to remain relevant until they no longer are. And the nuclear power industry is fighting this too–that’s behind what for it is the absolute necessity of rigging the power markets to favor nuclear power over cheaper (and cleaner) energy sources. Without a rigged market, it can’t survive even in the current reality, much less the one on the way. Clean energy advocates should be actively championing and working towards the future–because it is the pathway to a nuclear-free carbon-free energy system.

Everything that has been said here has been documented in the past two months of GreenWorld, thus I haven’t put up links to each sentence–although I could have. Just scroll through the last two months, as I did yesterday sitting in a hospital room after a minor procedure, and you’ll see that. Even I was amazed at how this has been documented here.

But here are a few more posts I found just this morning that provide some new context and perspective:

Among the most ardent champions of the new system are Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk and his cousin, Solar City’s Lyndon Rive, who appeared yesterday at the California Public Utilities Commission to talk about our energy future.

Said Rive: Storage is a game-changing product. Those in the game don’t want to change the game. Utilities are trying to delay the game from changing.

Musk added that Tesla is working to create stationary battery packs that will last long, be safe and compact enough for houses. In other words, Musk’s vision is not just for Tesla to eventually become one of the world’s major auto manufacturers, it’s larger that that: it’s to bring Tesla into every household.

Musk also endorsed a carbon tax: The right move is a broad carbon tax. Our taxes for gas are very low compared to the EU. We should tax the things that are bad over the things that are good. Like we tax cigarettes and alcohol more than bread. It seems like common sense. It’s time for us to get serious on a carbon tax on a national basis. It’s economics 101. It’s so obviously the right move, but politicians are afraid of it.

commercial_installed_solar_pv_costsStephen Lacey is one of the better-informed writers on energy issues. He too sees solar power coupled with battery storage as an existential threat to utilities and in this article explains more about that, while also explaining in greater detail the Rocky Mountain Institute report mentioned above.

John Farrell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance is another who has been writing extensively on these issues. In this article, he asks: Is utility 2.0 a forecast or a post-mortem? And he concludes that for many utilities, it’s the latter–it may already be too late for them to jump on board–although some commenters disagree. Snippet:

Look at Georgia Power. They’re struggling to complete new reactors at their Vogtle nuclear power plant, and costs are rising despite over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees. But thanks to a coalition of environmentalists and the Georgia Tea Party, the state’s public utilities commission has required the utility to invest in distributed solar power. The utility will get 525 MW of new clean power generation, years before either new reactor will generate a single kilowatt-hour. And by 2017, the earliest the reactors could come online, it will cost less for Georgia Power customers to get solar energy from their own rooftop than to buy it from the utility.

Finally, David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, which owns 53,000 MW of power plants, most of it fossil fuels, but also some nuclear and some renewables, has been outspoken on the need for utilities to adapt to the new model. In this article, he says it is “shockingly stupid…to build a 21st-century electric system based on 120 million wooden poles….” Crane has famously said he believes the new system will take about as long as it has taken smartphones to supplant landlines (though obviously that remains a work-in-progress), and that rooftop solar is the future. Here he even admits that NRG’s own power plants could become a liability for the company in the not-so-distant future. Crane is no anti-nuclear advocate, in fact he remains a supporter of nuclear power, but adds that there is no support in either the political arena nor private sector for traditional reactors or small modular reactors. The article goes on: Beyond nuclear, Crane said that the public’s perception of renewable energy technologies is vastly more positive than it was even a few years ago. “Green doesn’t mean a compromise of capability and price,” he said, adding that consumer products like Tesla S are “kicking ass.”

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/28/why-were-writing-so-much-about-the-changing-nature-of-the-electricity-business-everybody-else-is-oh-and-because-its-important/ ‎

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