Saturday, May 1, 2010

Entergy takes a stand at Indian Point

Nuclear utility files an appeal of adverse action on its water permit by the State of New York

boxingAfter taking it on the chin from environmental groups and a two rounds on the ropes from manifestly hostile agencies of the State of New York, Louisiana-based Energy (NYSE:ETR) got a second wind.

The utility, which owns and operates the two reactors at Indian Point on the Hudson River 50 miles north of New York city, formally appealed the denial of a water quality permit it needs to get their licenses renewed by the NRC. The licenses for the two reactors at Indian Point expire in 2013 and 2015.

Separately, the State of New York Public Utility Commission staff rejected a planned spin-off of six reactors, including the two in New York. In response, Entergy cancelled its financial plans for the new merchant group. However, on the licensing issue the firm has taken a stand. The firm filed an appeal April 30 telling the NY Department of Environmental Conservation it is “mistaken” in its imposition of a requirement for cooling towers.

coolhandnuke Read the full details exclusively at Cool Hand Nuke, a nuclear energy jobs portal and a whole lot more.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Payette County approves land use for new Idaho reactor site

A zoning hearing must take place to authorize industrial uses

approvedThe Idaho Statesman reports that the Payette County, Idaho, Commissioners this week unanimously approved a change to the county’s land use plan for a 5,000 acre tract. The change will allow the parcel to be re-zoned from agricultural use to industrial use. The commission changed its comprehensive plan for the site near Big Willow Road and Stone Quarry Road. The area is near New Plymouth, Idaho.

The next step in the process will be a zoning hearing by the county planning commission. The commission will make a recommendation to the county commissioners for a decision. Getting the site approved is the first of many regulatory steps needed to build a reactor.

NRC license application scheduled for 2011?

Alternative Energy Holdings Inc. (OTC:AEHI) has notified the NRC it plans to submit a license application in 2011. The firm has not yet indicated what reactor design it plans to reference in the license application. CEO Don Gillispie has visited South Korea in an effort to ink a deal for construction of a 1,400 MW design. However, design certification in the U.S. is an unknown quantity at this time. AEHI’s claims that it will build a South Korean reactor in Idaho remain subject to the usual reality checks that are part of the nuclear industry.

Investors?

investorAlso, AEHI has yet to see results in convincing investors to support the project despite having hired three investment banking firms. The second in the series took $25,000 of the company’s money and allegedly spent it on parties.

Felony charges were filed against Silverleaf Partners on March 22, 2010 and an arrest warrant issued for Shane Baldwin, the company CEO. He posted bail and said via his attorney he maintains his innocence. In December 2007 this blog published a series of questions about the credentials of Silverleaf’s principals which went unanswered at the time by AEHI.

AEHI has not reported results from the third firm it hired to raise money. It’s always possible the third try will be the charm that works. In the meantime, AEHI has been raising money through sale of stock to its board members and corporate officers.

The firm’s stock has headed north in recent weeks towards $0.20/share giving it a market cap of $53 million. However, the firm has yet to publish a balance sheet showing more than $1 million in cash on hand. It has immediate needs of at least $25-50 million to submit a license application to the NRC by the end of 2011. It will need five-to-eight billion to build a reactor.

Promises promises

CEO Gillispie has made promises in Payette County about job creation. The Idaho Statesman reported the latest include that the plant would create around 5,000 jobs through the construction phase and more than 1,000 jobs during operations averaging $60,000 to $80,000/year.

powerlinesIt’s unclear how even if the plant is built how it will get 1,400 MW of electricity to market. Significant upgrades will be needed to transmission and distribution infrastructure to get the power out of Idaho and into regional markets. Investors will want the answer to that question.

The Idaho State government Office of Energy Resources reports the interconnected transmission system in the west is at or near capacity and many constrained paths have been identified. The existing bottlenecks in the power grid could create serious disruptions.

“The expense associated with high capacity transmission projects ranges from $1.6 million to $2.6 million per mile. Delays or siting conflicts could add significant and perhaps unnecessary costs to projects. In some circumstances, financial considerations associated with these issues could ultimately stall a critical project.”

One of those critical projects could be AEHI’s reactor. There are plenty of challenges ahead. It will be interesting to see how the company meets them.

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Climate Legislation in the US Senate: Will Obama Get a Bill?

FREE WEBCAST - Climate Legislation in the US Senate: Will Obama Get a Bill?

May 6, 2:30 PM ET / 11:30 AM PT

Live Webcast Featuring Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Energy Collective Featured Bloggers Marc Gunther and Jesse Jenkins

Register Now

Following closely on the much-anticipated release of the proposed Kerry-Lieberman Senate climate legislation (until recently known as the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman legislation), The Energy Collective is bringing together energy experts, a key legislator from the U.S. Senate, and the head of the Environmental Defense Fund to examine the bill, and the climate debate, in an interactive online forum.

How will the Senate bill regulate large emitters and price greenhouse gas across the oil & gas, utility, and manufacturing industries as compared to the House-passed Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act?
Join us as we ask this panel of leading climate players:

  • Can the Democrats pass the Kerry-Lieberman bill in 2010? What's the strategy for bringing uncommitted Senators on-board?
  • What will the total emissions reductions be if the bill is implemented?
  • Industries will be regulated very differently from each other in the bill - why is comprehensive legislation still necessary?
  • What is the state of play on distributing free emissions allocations through the bill, which could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the course of the legislation?
  • Why are pricing fees for emissions preferred to an economy-wide emissions cap?
  • How does the bill address concerns over economic impacts of climate legislation?
  • How do nuclear energy policies and incentives differ from those in the House bill?
  • Your questions, submitted live during the event.

Featuring:

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) chairs the Senate Republican Conference and serves on committees overseeing education, clean air, highways, science, appropriations and the Tennessee Valley Authority. He is the only Tennessean ever popularly elected both governor and U.S. Senator. Sen. Alexander has been U.S. Education Secretary, University of Tennessee president, and professor at Harvard 's School of Government. He chaired the National Governors’ Association and President Reagan's Commission on Americans Outdoors. Recently, he is the author of Going to War in Sailboats: Why Nuclear Power Beats Windmills for America’s Green Energy Future.

Fred Krupp has been President of the Environmental Defense Fund for 25 years, and has overseen the growth of EDF into a recognized worldwide leader in the environmental movement. Krupp is widely acknowledged as the foremost champion of harnessing market forces for environmental ends. He also helped launch a corporate coalition, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, whose Fortune 500 members – Alcoa, Siemens, GE, DuPont and dozens more - have called for strict limits on global warming pollution. Krupp is coauthor, with Miriam Horn, of New York Times Best Seller, Earth: The Sequel. Educated at Yale and the University of Michigan Law School, Krupp was among 16 people named as America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News and World Report in 2007.

Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer at Greenbiz.com, a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

Jesse Jenkins is Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute, and is one of the country's leading energy and climate policy analysts and advocates. Jesse has written for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Yale Environment 360, Grist.org, and HuffingtonPost.com, and his published works on energy policy have been cited by many more. He is founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary and a featured writer at the Energy Collective. Jesse goes by @JesseJenkins on Twitter.

Register for the Webcast

Competing claims for uranium enrichment loan guarantees

Government gets two more contenders for $2 billion in lending insurance

badgerDepartment of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu probably thought he’d bagged the problem that had badgered him for the first two years of the Obama administration over what to do about a loan guarantee for USEC’s planned $3.5 billion uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, OH.

In March Chu announced he’d found a way to grant the $2 billion in loan guarantees to USEC and to Areva without breaking a sweat. The move resolved a politically touchy situation that threatened to unnerve the White House in its view of election prospects in nominally Democratic Ohio for the mid-term elections.

The reason is in 2008 then candidate Obama wrote a letter to Ohio governor Ted Strickland promising support for USEC’s plant. At the same time Areva applied for the same $2 billion in loan guarantees for its Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility in Idaho. The problem for Chu is that Areva has a sterling silver application in terms of technical and financial due diligence and USEC had parts left over and a troubled balance sheet. Finding a way to make awards to both plants gave the Department of Energy, the White House, USEC, and Areva the breathing room to issue a collective sigh of relief.

Wait – one plus one equals four

new mathWhat Chu didn’t anticipate is that two other uranium enrichment plants now want a piece of the action and are contending for all $4 billion in loan guarantees. The new political math represented by the requests threaten to turn the government turtle over on its back, metaphorically speaking, leaving it flapping all four flippers in an effort to deal with the situation. Sec. Chu certainly doesn’t want to wind up in this political posture. There is a way out, but it will take time.

The two other plants are Louisiana Energy Services (LES) in Eunice, NM, and General Electric’s Global Laser Enrichment Services (GES) in Wilmington, NC. Neither company applied for loan guarantees when they were first announced by the government. Both firms now say that if the government should give them a shot at the loan guarantees. They may have to wait.

The reason is the ponderous, turtle-like pace of government reviews for the original applicants suggests no one at the Department of Energy wants to take another two years to consider new applicants. Areva will likely get its NRC license by mid-2011 at which time it will come to DOE asking for approval of the loan guarantee that is rumored to be sitting on Sec. Chu’s desk waiting for his signature.

New loan guarantees in 2011?

slice of pieBut wait once more as the scent of progress is in the air. President Obama said he wants another $36 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plants and has asked Congress to give it to him in 2011. The relatively undefined request has opened the door to all sorts of creative thinking by the nuclear industry. For instance, Exelon reportedly told Forbes Magazine it wants the terms of the new loan guarantees to include uprates to existing reactors.

So why not carve out a $2 billion slice of the $36 billion pie for two new enrichment facilities? There isn’t a clear answer. The two applicants represent a mixed bag of opportunities. LES is all but completed the construction of the first set of cascades for its plant in Eunice, NM, and will officially open the facility for production in June. GES recently completed testing of its experimental laser separation process and announced it is proceeding to design a production plant for construction in Wilmington, NC.

The difference is there is a huge technical gap between LES using well-proven gas centrifuges from Europe and GES developing a new laser separation process from its test bed. These are very important distinctions because Energy Sec. Chu stopped award of loan guarantees to USEC last August on the grounds its gas centrifuge technology was not ready for prime time. GES may be in much better shape, but for obvious proprietary reasons, we only have their word for it.

USEC is still a contender for the loan guarantees because of political influence. In 2008 then candidate Barack Obama had done what all presidential aspirants do. He promised Ohio he’d support the Piketon plant in its application for the $2 billion in loan guarantees.

However, once Chu began to work with the loan guarantee process, especially its due diligence provisions, things began to change. In August 2009 Chu determined that the technology being readied by USEC for its American Centrifuge Facility needed more work. He also learned that the company was broke with less than $50 million in cash on hand. Giving the firm a $2 billion loan guarantee might be seen as a politically motivated rescue mission rather than meeting the congressionally mandated due diligence provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Handwriting on the wall

quillpenThe folks in Ohio, seeing the handwriting on the wall, had some handwriting of their own. It was a signature from now President Obama on a 2008 letter to Ohio Governor Ted Strickland promising support for the USEC plant. Political candidates make lots of campaign promises, but the ones that matter come on 25% cotton bond paper with a penned signature at the bottom. Indeed, Ohio has one of them.

Chu punted offering USEC $45 million to further develop its centrifuge technology and he also offered hundred of millions in DOE cleanup money to provide jobs in southern Ohio at the Piketon site. There the government has radioactive and hazardous wastes some of which go all the way back to the Manhattan project which took place in the 1940s.

These offers settled the political turmoil for a while, but elected officials in Ohio continued to push for the whole meal deal. That’s why Chu pulled another $2 billion in lending insurance out of his agency’s loan guarantee program.

Where things stand now is that DOE hasn’t officially responded to the media reports that the two new aspirants for loan guarantees for new uranium enrichment plants want a piece of the action. If Congress gets serious about the new round of loan guarantees, the Obama Administration might take a serious look at carving out new authority for the two new plants. Right now we’re still in the smoke and mirrors stage of both the new loan guarantee authority and whether it will include more types of projects than just new reactors.

Is everything up for grabs?

brass-ringLobbying for federal money in Washington, DC, is a dicey business. Making predictions about the outcomes for these new contenders isn’t easy. A $36 billion program of loan guarantees for nuclear facilities is sure to set off a feeding frenzy of lobbying activity.

USEC and Areva might be justifiably annoyed that two new interlopers are now on the scene. However, don’t look for either firm to say anything about it in public. If wishes were fishes, their hope is DOE will tell the two new applicants to get in line if and when Congress expands the agency’s legal authority.

That’s not how it works in DC. Everything is up for grabs, like a brass ring on a merry-go-round, so hang on to your hats. The ride has just started and when it ends and how is anybody’s guess.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tamar’s Law – Nuclear industry has some explaining to do

Part 2 of the interview with Dale Klein at the NRC

Guest blog post by Tamar Cerafici*

NRC INTERVIEWIn March, Tamar Cerafici had a chance to sit down with out- going NRC Commissioner Dale Klein.

This blog post completes the interview. It focuses on Dr. Klein’s thoughts on the industry’s generally poor record of public communication.

The interview with Dale Klein occurred just after Entergy’s drubbing in the the Vermont Senate. The status of Vermont Yankee and other nuclear plants with license renewal issues were clearly on his mind. This concern was shared by the industry professionals gathered at the NRC’s Regulatory Information Conference where the interview took place.

There was no question that we would discuss it, but I was surprised with the strength of Dr, Klein’s opinion. Klein has some specific observations and advice for the nuclear industry as a whole even as he also noted the public relations gaffes by Entergy’s management team in Vermont.

“Vermont Yankee has done a dismal job of communicating”

donotlaughatnatives_thumb2Klein forcefully emphasized that Entergy’s safety record is stellar. The utility has simply failed to understand the culture of the communities around Vermont Yankee. New Englanders take large corporate snubs very personally. They hate having local concerns minimized. Politics in Vermont is intensely local, and politicians are responsive to the continued barrage of “bad news” coming out of the plant.

Entergy’s failure to meaningfully respond to crises at the plant are a case in point for Klein. As a Commissioner, he winced as Entergy continued to ignore elected officials who had problems with the plant. He cringed as Entergy continued to dig itself deeper by giving bad information under oath. Granted, Entergy has dealt swiftly with the problem, said Klein, but it was a problem that should have never occurred.

“When you find yourself in hole, stop digging”

180pxDig_a_hole2_180_thumb2Klein noted that Entergy does not see “someone with a problem.” Instead, the utility and the industry have a record of talking at communities instead of engaging in crucial conversations. The industry’s efforts in community outreach are spotty at best, he said. In fact, he noted that Vermont Yankee had no effective community outreach program.

He contrasted the industry’s efforts with communication successes at the NRC. During his tenure as Chair and as a Commissioner, innovative changes in the ways the NRC tells its story have led to more cordial public meetings and wider information availability. He suggests that the industry would do well to tell the public what it does, and how it’s done.

“Listening isn’t just not talking”

Once you work out the word salad, you realize Klein has a really good point. The industry clearly is not listening, nor is it responding to concerns expressed by opponents.

turtleI recognize that it’s hard for nuclear industry public relations professionals to refrain from the nearest alcoholic beverage when Alec Baldwin starts talking about the Tooth Fairy project and the latest round of questionable statistics about cancer and nuclear plants. Nor is it easy to sit quietly and hear someone prattle on about how much wind energy the country can exploit, or how the power from nuclear plants can be displaced by energy efficiency.

These positions are the product of the echo chamber created when the industry closed the door to its bunker thirty years ago. The industry has simply lost track of the discourse, and it hasn’t kept up with the way people communicate. The best way to counter this disinformation is with information – built from the grassroots and disseminated by national experts and local people who care about sustainable energy.

“Management isn’t leadership”

leadership starThe nuclear industry has managed itself safely, and has avoided the tragic safety issues that haunt the coal and natural gas industries. Even the relatively benign hydroelectric power hasn’t escaped tragedy.

At the same time, the nuclear industry is still viewed with far more suspicion than it deserves. As recently as last week, the New York Times noted:

Underlying public attitudes about nuclear power is, if not fear, at least lingering anxiety. This is the industry that gave American English the all-purpose term for disaster, from the financial markets to a toddler’s tantrum: meltdown.

And earlier, USA Today tried successfully to show how polarizing a local debate can be – precisely because the industry has failed to lead in the communication of information and risk.

Many observers, such as incoming NRC historian Thomas Wellock, view public support for nuclear power as broad but shallow — "just one accident away from heading south in a hurry," says John Kassel of the Conservation Law Foundation.

20080208N_PeachBottom_thumb5So when does “management” become “leadership?” Klein noted that some plants have been very proactive in leading communities to a greater trust of plant activities. In 2008, after the Peach Bottom plant’s inattentive guard embarrassment, plant managers and the NRC invited public officials from Delaware and Pennsylvania to spend the day at the plant. Klein said these officials got to see the plant run, and felt their concerns had been heard – and even resolved. In other words, opposing parties communicated. That, said Klein, is when management turns into leadership.

It’s time to communicate

The industry needs stop managing the debate through damage control and start communicating.

For the most transparent industry on the planet, it is doing an awfully good job of hiding its greatest assets.

It has neighbors and friends near every existing plant, and a growing cadre of supporters in the wider world. It has dedicated employees who have voiced their opinions, but need a real forum and the tools to effectively communicate.

It’s time to use them, and start leading the debate about this country’s energy future.

* Author ID

Tamar_Cerafici_profileMs. Cerafici (right) is an attorney in private practice with expertise in nuclear licensing and environmental law.

Contact info

Tamar Jergensen Cerafici, tnelaw@gmail.com
349 Shaker Road
Northfield NH 03276
(603) 496-2575 http://gnplegal.com/

# # #

Why public support is thin for nuclear energy

The New York Times points out it’s visibility is cloaked by the faults of a few plants

trustHere’s a startling and trenchant thought that advocates for nuclear energy need to take to heart. It appeared in the New York Times April 21st.

“The nuclear industry is just so far removed from people’s lives, they don’t have much feeling for it,” said Baruch Fischhoff, a professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “They don’t really trust it. Although it hasn’t done anything recently to lose the general public’s trust, it hasn’t done anything to gain people’s trust.”

This is the heart of the challenge for advocates for nuclear energy. It is not enough to say we never met a reactor we didn’t like. Like any industry, it has the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Interestingly, the NYT points out the Vermont State Senate voted against a certificate of public good for the Vermont Yankee reactor despite the fact it has operated for 500 days without a shutdown.

Combined with the reactor’s public gaffes, such as the collapse of the cooling structure and a failure to communicate over buried pipes, and what you get are all three in one place. It becomes the poster child in the public mind for perceptions of what’s wrong, or what could go wrong, with a nuclear reactor, even a new one.

Two strikes you’re out

The newspaper also points out that closer to home Indian Point has been the subject of regulatory ire by not one but two agencies of the State of New York. The environmental agency slammed the plant with a requirement for cooling towers saying that water intakes for the reactor’s once through cooling system kill too many fish. The public utilities commission wrote that a planned spin off of six reactors, including Indian Point, was “not in the public interest” due to excessive levels of debt.

The average man in the street isn’t going to get any further beyond these headlines than he does about riots in Thailand. Both reports are equally distant in terms of impact on his daily life and both are received as messages about the world’s troubles that are beyond his control.

Relative risk is not a cousin you never met

riskOur proverbial man-in-the-street doesn’t think in terms of relative risk. The NYT notes . . .

“The recent deaths of 29 coal miners in West Virginia, of six construction workers at a natural gas plant in Connecticut in February and of five maintenance workers at a hydroelectric plant in Colorado in October 2007 have not shaken the popular conception that it is nuclear power that is dangerous.”

At the heart of American angst over nuclear energy is the issue of radiation risk. The mantra we know of time, distance, and shielding, which has kept workers safe at commercial plants and on U.S. Navy ships and submarines, is simply not in the lexicon of dialog in the public mind.

Americans still think of all radiation as colorless, odorless, and dangerous. Yet, they are happy to put carbon monoxide alarms in their homes to protect them from a deadly gas from their furnaces which has exactly the same characteristics. Why is radiation viewed differently by the public? Answer that question and you'll be on your way to making the case for nuclear energy.

New lamps for old

I’m not arguing for some huge pro-nuclear public relations push. What I do feel is necessary is a complete re-thinking of how the industry presents its case. The industry’s toughest critics are willing to look at nuclear industry in light of the threat of global warming. Is that enough?

What would their view be if we didn’t have this threat? Where would the industry be today? The benefits of nuclear energy cannot be presented merely as “carbon emission free.”

Maybe some scenario thinking in terms of “what if” might surface some ideas. The issues of energy security and safe operation of plants are closely linked in the public’s mind. I think that’s a starting block for where the rethinking of message points needs to take place.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Climate bill postponed

Contentious immigration issues are flashpoint for Senate Republicans

monkeywrenchA top priority for President Obama suffered a severe setback over the weekend as Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham withdrew his support for climate change legislation which was to be introduced in the Senate this week. His action came as Democrats prepared to change the sequence in the legislative calendar taking up immigration reform ahead of the massive climate bill. The move by Graham throws a huge monkey wrench in plans by the Obama administration to support the nation’s international commitments to cut greenhouse gases.

The climate bill developed by Sen John Kerry was expected to have a strong section on nuclear energy. Republican support for the climate bill was to have relied heavily on leadership from Graham who’s home state of South Carolina uses nuclear energy for a substantial portion of its electricity. The state is also expected to be home to the construction of at least two new reactors.

Graham’s withdrawal of support for the climate bill actually removes pressure on Sen. John Kerry and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who come from the two most anti-nuclear states in the country. They’ve had to swallow hard to support the climate bill and its support for nuclear energy.

Arizona is heart of immigration issue

firestorm2At the heart of the dispute is the political firestorm ignited in Arizona last week when Republican Governor Janice Brewer signed a new immigration measure that gives local police unprecedented powers to arrest people suspected of being illegal aliens. The constitutionality of the measure will likely be tested in the courts. The new law has inflamed the entire U.S. Hispanic population and created social unrest in Arizona and other border states. Graham charged that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved immigration to the front burner in the Senate in response to the situation in Arizona.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the Hispanic population of the country at just under 50 million with half that number split between California and Texas. These two states also control a significant number of electoral votes. Florida and New York hold the third and fourth rank positions for Hispanic population. Arizona, at the fifth position, which is at the heart of the controversy, has an estimated two million people of Hispanic origin and just 10 electoral votes.

Democrats sense they have a political opportunity to pass immigration reform and capture support of Hispanic voters in the mid-term elections. The immigration reform legislation would reform rules for temporary workers which is a major priority for U.S. businesses and the Hispanic community.

Amidst Graham’s strident protest stands the reality that only one bill, climate change or immigration, is likely to emerge from the Senate prior to the 2010 mid-term elections. Republicans know Arizona has backed them into a corner, and they are in no mood to cooperate with Democrats.

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