Tag Archives: distributed generation

How rooftop solar can prevent the apocalypse

Our 20th century electric grid is more vulnerable to attack than you might think. And the results of attack could be catastrophic.

Our 20th century electric grid is more vulnerable to attack than you might think. And the results of attack could be catastrophic.

I’m not normally interested in doomsday scenarios. The idea that Fukushima is some sort of “extinction-level” event (whatever that means) or is ending life in the Pacific Ocean, as I’ve seen people say on social media, is simply contradicted by the facts and the reality that the Pacific Ocean is a really big place. Dilution is never a solution for pollution–it doesn’t get rid of toxins like Cesium-137–but it does spread them out a lot. Continue reading


Some utilities get it (believe it or not)

Graph from survey of utility execs by Utility Dive.

Graph from survey of utility execs by Utility Dive.

Every year (well, this is the second year), the trade website Utility Dive conducts a survey of about 400 electric utility execs across the country to find out what they think about the future of their business.

The good news about the survey this year is that many of them seem to get a very key point: distributed generation is the future. 31% of them, more than for any other category, see distributed generation as a real opportunity. The bad news, or a portion of the bad news anyway, is that 56% of the execs don’t have the slightest clue as to how to build their business around distributed generation. Continue reading

Goldman Sachs sees a solar future for the U.S.–and that has nuclear utilities running scared.

This is Germany today, but it is what the U.S. will increasingly look  like over the next decade.

This is Germany today, but it is what the U.S. will increasingly look like over the next decade.

Goldman Sachs says declining prices of solar plus battery storage means that by 2033 homeowners will no longer need to be on the grid in U.S. And that will happen sooner in expensive electricity states like New York and California. This projection tracks well with the recent Rocky Mountain Institute report (Nuclear Newsreel, February 25, 2014) on grid defection. As RMI subsequently pointed out (The utility death spiral, stupid utilities and grid defection) grid defection is not necessarily a good thing. But homeowners need not actually disconnect from the larger grid to take advantage of the  plunging prices of rooftop solar and the upcoming similar price plunges for battery storage expected from Tesla’s massive battery production plant being planned.

That’s the good news for utilities; the bad news for them–and the good news for the climate–is that as homes and businesses increasingly become self-powered and even able to send excess power back to the grid, the need for large “baseload” nuclear and fossil fuel plants will become less and less. Utilities planning expansion of large reactors (e.g. Vogtle and Summer) and continued operation of increasingly-expensive aging reactors will be in trouble in this new marketplace. And the odds that reactors that already have obtained 20-year license renewals will actually operate for those extended periods are dwindling. License renewals are pieces of paper, they’re  not assurance of economic operation–if there is no market for the electricity they’re generating, utilities won’t run them. And since we’re talking odds here, the idea now being bounced around the NRC, DOE and some in the nuclear industry of further license extensions to allow 80-year operation of reactors increasingly appears to be a genuinely silly concept.

Solar power costs have dropped dramatically over the past 30+ years, and are expected to continue to fall.

Solar power costs have dropped dramatically over the past 30+ years, and are expected to continue to fall.

This is what is behind efforts by backward utilities like Entergy and Exelon that are heavily invested in nuclear reactors  to rig electricity rates to favor nuclear power (Activists pay attention: the nuclear industry wants to rig your rates). They know the long-term trends are running against them, and even in the short-term their reactors are failing to compete in the new marketplace. That inability to compete is only going to accelerate. It’s one thing to be unable to compete with alternative generation like natural gas and wind, which is their current problem. It’s quite another to be unable to compete with tens of millions of homeowners and businesses putting up solar panels on their roofs and backing up that power with battery storage. No amount of electricity price-rigging can compensate for that–in fact, higher electricity rates for nuclear power will only encourage faster adoption of rooftop solar. Most of those customers will stay connected to the grid to ensure stability and greater reliability, but they won’t be buying much power, certainly not the levels needed to keep behemoth reactors operating.

A different kind of effort by nuclear utilities to prevent the inevitable can be seen in California, where SolarCity has accused Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) of blocking a pilot program of solar plus battery storage installations. That approach is even less likely to work over even the short-term than the efforts of Exelon and Entergy. But PG&E is desperate to avoid shutdown of its Diablo Canyon reactors, at least before their initial licenses expire in the next decade, so it’s trying whatever it can. License extension of those reactors seems increasingly unlikely, given the level of opposition to Diablo Canyon in California and the unfavorable long-term prospects for nuclear in the state. An early shutdown now appears far more probable than 20 more years of operation.

But even if a cleaner and cheaper energy future powered increasingly by renewable distributed generation sources appears increasingly inevitable, the efforts by nuclear utilities to delay that future will be painful–economically, potential for nuclear accidents, unnecessary radioactive waste generation–if successful. That’s why activists–and just concerned people everywhere–need to stay on top of these developments and take action to oppose the utilities when appropriate. If you’re not already on NIRS e-mail alert list, join now to do just that.

Michael Mariotte

March 18, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/18/goldman-sachs-sees-a-solar-future/

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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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Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, February 14, 2014

Nuclear Power

The mindset over at the Tennessee Valley Authority is just impossible to fathom. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that TVA will spend $160 million for replacement steam generators at Watts Bar-2–before the reactor is even built! Construction at Watts bar-2 began more than a generation ago–back in the 1970s–and the reactor still isn’t finished. But the original steam generators have flaws that have caused leaks at other reactors and have aged while waiting for construction to be completed. TVA decided it would be too expensive to replace them now, before starting up the reactor. So it’s planning to get the reactor running with faulty steam generators, and then planning to replace those generators in just a few years. If, of course, the existing faulty generators don’t rupture by then. Citizens of Tennessee have to hope for the best….

Of course, TVA won’t include the replacement steam generators in its initial construction costs, making them look lower than they otherwise would. “Nuclear power is always sold as the cheapest power until it isn’t,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an anti-nuclear group based in Knoxville. “It’s not cost competitive when you have these billion-dollar cost overruns that we’ve already experienced at Watts Bar 2 and now we’re having a look at what will probably be a half billion dollar replacement project in the not too distant future.”

Arnie Gundersen and the remnants of Fukushima Unit-3

Arnie Gundersen and the remnants of Fukushima Unit-3

Tepco has finally admitted what Fairewind and NIRS have been saying for nearly three years now: the Fukushima Unit-3 fuel pool is in much worse shape than the Unit-4 pool which caused so much concern late last year. In this new video from Fairewinds, Arnie Gundersen explains the problems that will face Tepco–and the world–when clean-up of this mess begins. 50 tons of rubble fell on top of and into the pool.

Sometimes state legislatures do stupid things, Part 1. Washington state legislature approves creation of task force to examine feasibility of new nuclear power in the state. Most of Washington’s electricity comes from hydropower, just three percent from the one reactor in the state–the remnant of the legendary WHOOPS collapse of the early 1980s. That happened when the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) tried to build five reactors at once and couldn’t do it; only one was completed. The other four were abandoned at various levels of construction and WPPSS defaulted on billions of dollars of bonds–in fact, still the largest such bond default in U.S. history. Renewables other than hydro account for relatively little of Washington’s supply–there should be more. As Tom Buchanan of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) says here: “There are other options. We think that carbon free and nuclear free go hand in hand.” He said renewable energy sources including wind and solar, along with continuing energy conservation are the way forward. We agree.

Sometimes state legislatures do stupid things, Part 2. The Texas legislature will examine the feasibility of offering up some part of the state to be an “interim” high-level radioactive waste site. A potential permanent site, at Deaf Smith County, was dropped in the 1987 “Screw Nevada” radioactive waste bill and isn’t likely to be revived. But there’s a lot of wide-open space in west Texas, so some legislators think a “temporary” radioactive waste dump could bring in a few extra bucks. Better watch out Texas: those “interim” sites aren’t exactly fail-safe and could quickly become permanent when it’s clear that no one else will take the lethal waste. Or as Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen puts it here: “It’s idiotic to even consider disposing of high-level radioactive waste in Texas. Other states have rejected having high-level radioactive waste dumped on them. It’s all risk and very little reward for Texans.”

Electricite de France (EDF) is overwhelmed by nuclear reactor upkeep operations, reports Bloomberg. Adding to the financial pressures on the world’s largest nuclear utility (yesterday, we posted that EDF is trying to raise its wholesale nuclear power rates), EDF is finding that maintaining and attempting to upgrade its 58-reactor fleet is costing twice as much and taking 50% more time than projected. Add to that the utility’s woes in attempting to build the way-over-budget and way-behind-schedule Flamanville EPR reactor and the European Commission’s initial finding of illegal subsidies that may scuttle EDF’s proposed Hinkley Point complex in the UK, and you get the picture of a utility, that despite posting record profits last year, is scrambling for its life to get out of a self-imposed nuclear collapse.

Clean Energy

The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration says that coal plants will be retired much more quickly, at least through 2016, than previously projected. That’s the good news. Oddly, EIA projects coal retirements will slow rapidly after that.

Distributed resources, including combined heat and power systems and solar PV, could make up a full third of the U.S. power grid by the end of this decade. And while rooftop solar isn’t a huge part of that this decade, its rapid growth suggests that the percentage of power provided by distributed generation will continue to increase rapidly every decade.

Inside Washington

This one isn’t exactly energy-related but it’s a must-read anyway. The two best people writing on economic issues these days are Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. In this piece, The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks’ Most Devious Scam Yet, Taibbi reports on a little-known piece of some 1999 legislation that is fundamentally transforming the American economy–and not for the better. The subtitle gives some indication of the issue: “Banks are no longer just financing heavy industry. They are actually buying it up and inventing bigger, bolder and scarier scams than ever.” And, indeed, the article notes that the mega-investment bank Goldman Sachs is now in the uranium business. What could possibly go wrong?

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/06/nuclear-newsreel-friday-february-14-2014/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The question of exactly why South Carolina’s largest utility SCANA has embarked on building two new reactors at its Summer site has been rather hazy from the beginning, and SCANA partially covered itself by corralling partners like the Santee-Cooper co-op to take large shares of the second reactor. But Santee saw construction prices rise and electric demand fall and got cold feet. It’s been trying to sell as much of its share as it can to whoever will take it. But it seems like no one really needs or wants the power from the new Summer reactors. Duke Energy yesterday dropped the idea of joining the project; Santee had been hoping it would take a large share. That forced SCANA to bail out Santee a little and take a larger share. But SCANA doesn’t really need that much power either. Could this be a sign that the second unit at the site won’t be completed? At this point, it’s hard to see who would benefit from completion.

NRC sends special inspection team to Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs reactors after both units shut down during snow storm. The January 21 storm was pretty bad in the Northeast, we hear, but really, a few inches of snow in southern Maryland shouldn’t be a big deal–certainly not enough to shut down two reactors. But it was cold, and losing both reactors at the height of the deep freeze didn’t sit well with regulators. We expect the Maryland Public Service Commission will look into this as well, especially if the NRC inspection finds operational, rather than strictly mechanical, problems.

I spent many years of my life fighting Urenco’s attempts to enter the United States and have to admit it’s always a little depressing to read about their operations, and expansionary plans, in New Mexico. Urenco is a European uranium enrichment company that announced in 1989 that it would build an enrichment plant in northern Louisiana. Calling itself Louisiana Energy Services, the project was greased by then Senate Energy Committee Chairman Bennett Johnston. Well, we stopped his legislation that would have prevented public hearings and an Environmental Impact Statement on the project; we brought in a plain-spoken but fiery representative from the multi-racial citizens group that formed to stop the project to testify before Congress; I traveled to Homer, Louisiana several times to speak to the group and townspeople and put them in touch with some of the best environmental/nuclear lawyers in the country. By the time the hearings were over in 1997, the project made history as the first courtroom verdict of environmental racism in the United States–resulting in outright denial of the license application by the NRC.

But rather than scurry back to Europe as we had hoped, Urenco popped up again a year or two later in central Tennessee, at a site near the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel’s national headquarters–which put up the first $5,000 to fight the project. Local citizens hired a friend of the community–who happened to be a nuclear industry consultant. Some thought it was a dangerous move but he quickly became appalled at Urenco’s plans and within a year or so succeeded in getting all of the nearby counties to adopt stringent waste disposal and emissions criteria that Urenco couldn’t possibly meet. End of that project. The company then became interested in using an abandoned TVA site in Alabama; it only took us a couple months to beat them there.

But then Urenco hooked up with a new Senate Energy Committee Chairman, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico, who invited them–perhaps pleaded with them would be a better description–to build their plant in the tiny town of Eunice on the Texas border. We tried again to stop them, but this time the NRC hearings were stacked against us; promised opposition from Governor Bill Richardson and the state of New Mexico didn’t materialize; and $300,000 later, we lost and the plant was built. You can see why I get depressed about Urenco “success” stories.

Anyway, Matt Wald of the New York Times offers a look at Urenco now and contrasts it with the only U.S. enrichment company, USEC, which is teetering on bankruptcy and, as we’ve noted in these pages recently, exists entirely on taxpayer bailouts at this point. Interesting article, but not really much news to it.

The full story of the fight against Urenco in the U.S. has never been told (maybe it’s up to me to tell it some day), but in 2002 Earthjustice, whose lawyers played a key role in the Louisiana victory, published a beautiful book: Justice on Earth, which includes a well-done chapter on that battle. As far as we know it’s never been made available in digital form, but you can purchase a copy here.

Some things we read so you don’t have to, like this pathetic piece from Mike Rencheck, president and CEO of Areva that for some reason (cash perhaps?) The Hill saw fit to publish. In it, Rencheck, whose company designed the ill-fated EPR reactor–perhaps the most expensive single thing man has ever devised–sheds tears because President Obama’s recent directive that executive branch agencies obtain at least 20% of their power from renewable sources doesn’t include nuclear power. Really. That’s 10 minutes of my life I can’t get back; if you want to waste your time you can do so here.

A new study shows that solar and wind already are cheaper than fossil fuels throughout Europe; rooftop solar, even in cloudy northern Germany, will be cheaper soon. Meanwhile, a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance has determined that unsubsidized renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels in Australia. And, of course, fossil fuels in both places are cheaper than nuclear…. Kind of looks like a trend, doesn’t it?

Solar power is growing fast in the Southeast, and it’s forcing utilities to change their business models. But it isn’t only the Southeast, as we’ve pointed out in Nuclear Newsreel several times already, distributed generation–whether from solar or wind or any other source–is going to change the entire nature of electric utilities and how Americans receive and pay for their electricity. And that is happening much faster than anyone expected. A bit more insight into the changes ahead is found in this transcript of a TV interview with four experts on the subject, including former FERC chief Jon Wellinghoff. As Peter Behr of E&E Publishing’s EnergyWire put it, “This is a great example of some of the pressures that are on the utility sector, the electric/power sector at a period of very intense transition. This is probably the most change that this industry has seen since the end of the 1800s when it took its modern form.”

This article is a reply to an absurd article from someone at Energy Collective who tried to argue that there are at least 10 reasons “intermittent” solar and wind power are a real problem. The article starts off on target, pointing out that “The more accurate term is ‘variable renewables,’” explains energy consultant Nancy LaPlaca. “The word ‘intermittent’ reinforces the impression that wind and solar are unreliable. The word ‘variable’ underscores the fact that, like all energy sources, wind and solar can and must be managed by grid operators.”

“Wind and solar energy are variable because their output changes gradually over many hours, and those changes can be predicted,” explains American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Senior Electric Industry Analyst Michael Goggin. “Fossil and nuclear power plants are the ones that are intermittent, as their failures occur instantaneously and without warning, which is far more costly for grid operators.” And the article continues on target from there.

The solar power industry created nearly 24,000 new jobs in the U.S. in 2013–a 20% increase–bringing total jobs in the sector to about 142,000. It expects to create about the same number of new jobs in 2014. For comparison, the nuclear industry claims about 100,000 jobs nationwide. Nuclear power provides a greater percentage of U.S. electricity than does solar, that it does so with far fewer jobs per Megawatt produced is a reflection of its highly capital intensive nature. The obvious conclusion is that solar is not only better as an energy source, in terms of job creation it is probably the most productive energy source available.

Lancaster, California, a city of about 160,000 about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, plans to become the first net-zero energy city in the world. Already 26% of its power comes from solar, by June of this year it should be up to 50% solar. All new homes in the city must be powered by solar. In this interview, the city’s mayor Rex Parris talks about the city’s energy goals, the need to take action to address climate change, and how it wants to serve as a template for cities around the world to attain net-zero status.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/28/nuclear-newsreel-january-28-2014/

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