On Friday, Nov 16, I wrote about the potential impact of applying a “peanut butter spread” sequestration algorithm to the NRC budget. (I spent a few years as a government budget analyst, so I sometimes speak the lingo.) If the accountants at the Office of Management and Budget continue on their proposed path, the NRC would receive an $86 million budget cut, which is 8.2% of their total top line, even though 87% of its current budget is paid by fees that are assessed on nuclear licensees and applicants for nuclear licences.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the American Public Power Association think that is a really bad idea, so they have signed out a joint letter to Mr. Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of the OMB. That letter explains their objections using an engineer’s rational language. I hope that others follow that letter with individual appeals to congressmen, senators and the President. Those appeals should be much shorter and perhaps include a select emotional pleas.
There is a an excellent letter in The Hill’s Congress Blog from John Droz, a physicist who recognizes that “all of the above” is often a really lazy answer that leads to terrible policies. One of his main targets is the continuing policy of providing massive public subsidies to inherently unreliable power systems that need enormous collectors to capture diffuse natural energy flows.
John’s letter is titled Getting past the hype behind wind energy; it is a sharply pointed stick aimed directly at the bubble of failed promises from the wind industry.
Here is a sample quote to encourage you to go read the rest of the article:
AWEA says that Congress should provide a tax credit for high income earners to pay less than their “fair share,” while middle class taxpayers borrow $12+ Billion from China, to subsidize an expensive, unreliable, environmentally destructive, alternative energy source, based on unsubstantiated claims, that will actually result in net job losses! Exactly how is that a good idea?
So what should be our energy policy? How about “All of the Sensible”?
The BBC is reporting that major partners in the always absurd “Desertec” scheme to supply 15% of Europe’s power by building massive solar collectors in North Africa and shipping the electricity through cables laid under the Mediterranean are pulling out of the project after spending money for four years with nothing to show for their troubles. I would bet that a substantial portion of the money they spent came directly or indirectly from stressed taxpayers who should also be wondering what they were getting out of the scheme.
As evidence of the fantasy world that the Desertec project promoters inhabit, the article concludes with some of the supporters claiming that Chinese investors will save the project because they are interested in obtaining the high voltage cable technology that the project would need to transmit the power over long distances. Right.
The Energy Report includes a sensible piece of analysis titled US Shale Gas Won’t Last Ten Years: Bill Powers. Bill Powers is the author of a book that is due out in the spring of 2013 titled Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth. His theory sounds quite a bit like the one I have proposed here several times – there are people who are promoting the idea that gas is going to be cheap as a way to drive up the demand and profit when the price skyrockets after supply fails to keep up with the hyped promise.
Here is a sample quote:
The decline is a set-up for a gas crisis, a supply crunch that will lead to much higher prices similar to what we saw in the 1970s.
Interestingly, during the lead-up to that crisis, the gas industry mounted a significant advertising campaign trumpeting the theme, “There’s plenty of gas!” Now, it is true that there was a huge ramp-up for gas during the post-World War II period that lasted through the late 1960s as demand for gas for the U.S. manufacturing base grew rapidly. But we hit a production peak in the early 1970s during a time of rapidly growing demand. This led to a huge spike in prices that lasted until 1984.
It was very difficult to destroy demand, so the crisis was resolved by building hundreds of coal-fired power plants and dozens of nuclear power plants. But today, gas-fired plants are popular as we try to turn away from coal. This time around, those options are no longer available. Nuclear plants are still an option, but the time and money involved in keeping our aging nuclear power plant fleet operational, let alone building new plants, will be quite significant.
My addition to the theory is that the nuclear renaissance has been one of the primary targets of the gas industry’s long lasting price war. By keeping prices far below international prices and true production costs, the gas industry has effectively turned off several projects, shelved others and inserted several years worth of delays into yet another group. Natural gas strategists recognize the impact of inertia and know that prices will remain high — and very profitable — for quite some time before new nuclear plant capacity can be completed and begin intruding on the supply crunch.
Meredith Angwin has published an important series of posts on Yes Vermont Yankee. When the Vermont Public Service Board held a hearing on November 7 to determine if the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station should receive a Certificate of Public Good, the plant supporters outnumbered the opposition by at least 2 to 1. Meredith obtained transcripts and permission to publish most of the testimonies offered by the supporters. One of my favorites was from a 13 year old boy whose father works at the plant. That contribution is titled Vital for the Region and My Family, A Teen-Agers View of Vermont Yankee: Guest Post by Evan Twarog.
On Canadian Energy Issues, Steve Aplin recognizes the important pro nuclear activism work that Meredith has been doing in Vermont and also shares some stories about how nuclear professionals and their supporters have entered into the public discourse about nuclear energy use in Canada. You can find Steve’s commentary at Nuclear power in Vermont and Ontario: the locals fight back, intelligently.
Here is a sample quote:
Meredith has been fighting a relentless and resourceful campaign to keep Yankee open. In this, she reminds me a bit of the formerly obscure but now famous baseball outsiders who revolutionized thinking about the sport and who were immortalized in Michael Lewis’s brilliant book Moneyball: the art of winning an unfair game. Like major league baseball, nuclear advocacy in Vermont is definitely an unfair game: Yankee opponents are wired to the mainstream media and were successful years ago in defining the rhetorical frame in which the nuclear plant’s existence is debated in the public sphere. But like the Moneyballers, Meredith’s intelligence will win in the end. Like I said, she is relentless.
Steve mentioned that there is another interactive public hearing about Vermont Yankee scheduled for today, November 19. I hope that Meredith’s series of posts help to improve the pro nuclear turnout for that event.
Disclosure: I consider both Steve and Meredith to be personal friends as well as fellow pro nuclear travelers. We cemented our friendship during a terrific tour of French nuclear facilities in the summer of 2010. As Meredith often points out, pro nuclear people need to get together now and again over brownies. Getting together over fine food and wine after a day of visiting economically important infrastructure is also a pleasant way to build a community.