Whose permission is needed to operate important facilities?

By Cal Abel

At some point the lights will go out in New York. This kerfuffle over Jazcko and his replacement is indicative of a major effort to attack those who support nuclear power over “safety”. The people who oppose the use of nuclear energy attack those of us who understand it the best and are not afraid as not having the interest of public safety in the forefront of our minds. They imply that we are therefor greedy and unethical. Because we fight to do what we know is right and safe and do not belong to a particular political sect, we are demonized as putting people at risk for our own betterment.

Public opinion does not matter. Recent polls suggest the public is evenly divided on nuclear energy. It is the voice of the mob that is being amplified to suit policy needs that is driving what we are seeing. The mob gets the noise and the attention.

Germany is going to take a hit of over 100 billion euros with the
Greece exit
from the Euro. Shutting down their nuclear reactors will easily cost twice that sum in construction and monetary impact. It may very well be more than that, but the combined loss of wealth will certainly enough for the Euro Zone to enter a full recession.

Unless Japan starts up their perfectly safe (just not publicly safe) reactors soon, that important industrial power will suffer long term restructuring of both capital and labor markets. This process is well underway; capital is leaving Japan to support production in other locations. Labor is going to shift; their unemployment numbers do not yet support this claim, but labor has a longer time delay to adapt to changes than capital.

On May 12, oil prices started to fall. I think this is a first signal of a global economic correction. Europe and Japan will determine if this becomes a recession or creates bank runs that governments can’t stop with subsidies or bailouts. Half of global oil supplies 99% of our transportation fuel and the other half is used to manufacture the goods we produce. Oil production hasn’t increased, leaving the price reduction due to a reduction in demand. The falling global economy cannot support current energy prices, especially as politically powerful forces seek to shut down the most inexpensive form of power, nuclear fission.

Our margin for error is not very good in the US. Our currency has had a mass of capital influx from Europe and Asia, which along with low natural gas prices has kept inflation down supporting the value of the dollar. The capital flows and low gas prices are not permanent; when they reverse, there will be unavoidable repercussions.

Our politicians and economists do not think that energy has anything to do with our economy, other than being just another commodity. Instead they rely on such fanciful things as exogenous growth multipliers, which are akin to fairies and unicorns, they just call it “technology”. Technology will save us, “Invest in new technology…” “… support technology startups.” are the mantras of this ideology.

Energy, more specifically exergy, is the sole component of a real exogenous growth multiplier. I had an economist friend at the Atlanta Fed explain to me that even though rising exergy input into the economy correlated to the unexplained residual growth with over 99% accuracy for the last 112 years that this was not a valid theory. He did not have a suitable replacement and instead relied upon current theory of the “Solow Residual” to explain it, even though that theory does not provide a justification to the economic patterns history shows.

Whose permission does it take to operate our nuclear reactors, and our coal plants? It is the owners and the operators who’s permission is needed to operate the reactors. If they say, “No.” their word is final. Washington politicians want us to have to ask for their permission to operate productive energy facilities. They seek to make it sufficiently difficult to obtain that permission so that we are grateful for their lenience in granting it to us this one last time. Jazcko was playing a game with Southern California Edison with regard to its San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS). He has made public announcements that leads one to believe that the responsibility and decision of the plant operation ultimately rested with the NRC. Dan Yurman, who blogs at Idaho Samizdat had an excellent piece on this last week titled
Reactions to reactor restart remarks about San Onofre
.

In reality, it is the owner and the operators who determine if the plant operates. The company has a license and the technical ability to operate SONGS, the NRC can shut it down with a specific order, but only the company and its employees can decide that they want to operate the plant. The same is true for the 104 plants in this country that create 5% of our GDP. For those nuclear operators out there, think of this the next time you are sitting in your pre-shift brief. The plants that contribute most to our GDP have the highest retail prices, price signals value. Those are the reactors that are most at risk of being shut down and are the most prominent political targets today.

Many of the reactors that are being targeted for action by antinuclear activists are located in the Northeast portion of the United States. I think the political problem with the Northeast’s reactors is because they haven’t given sufficient campaign contributions to the regional politicians. They have not bought enough protection or paid adequate rent to their rate payer’s politicians. They are making profits that have been deemed to be too high (Entergy is funded in large part through those handful of reactors). The opposition wants people to believe that the American company that owns these plants is socially dangerous, because that company is making money and not wasting it by spending on unnecessary capital projects pushed by nuclear energy opponents to make nuclear energy less competitive under the guise of improving public safety or improving the environment. Paradoxically, the high prices in the Northeast are more than likely due to the restrictions on permitting and constructing any new energy facilities. The restrictions are based upon policy implemented by the same politicians blaming the utilities for exorbitant profits.

I can only attribute the behavior of politicians as insanity. They keep on doing the same old stuff and expecting different results. More stimulus, more regulation, tighter controls, all supposedly done for the public good and public safety. And across the globe we keep on electing these jokers. We too are insane. The insanity is reflected in our public discourse.

We have a choice. We can accept the current state of affairs or we can decide to take a more active role in securing our future. Our showing up to work and doing what others cannot is a profound responsibility and duty. It is not enough. Some of us will have to leave the security and comfort of what we are familiar and take on new roles in the public arena either as an avocation like what we see with the nuclear bloggers or as a vocation and enter public service. A political friend told me, “If good people don’t run for office someone else will.” Complaining about the lack of meaningful candidates is idle chatter of old men. Do something about it. Participate as a volunteer, a candidate, or support someone who is a good person and wants to run.

It is our action that decides the consequences we achieve.

About Guest Author

23 Responses to “Whose permission is needed to operate important facilities?”

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  1. Daniel says:

    Rod,

    Your comment:

    Unless Japan starts up their perfectly safe (just not publicly safe) reactors soon, that important industrial power will suffer long term restructuring of both capital and labor markets.

    Prime Minister Noda:

    2 months ago:
    Decision to restart 2 Oi reactors coming soon

    1 month ago:
    Decision to restart 2 Oi reactors coming soon

    2 weeks ago:
    Decision to restart 2 Oi reactors coming soon

    1 week ago:
    Decision to restart 2 Oi reactors coming soon

    Fact: Elderlies are going to die again of heatstroke in Japan this summer. There ar after all casualties from the nuclear shutdowns. These plants are not publicly safe like you say.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Daniel – I am not sure how you conclude that reactors are not publicly safe because the reactors have not been ALLOWED to start up by political choices and their lack of operation may contribute to deaths from heat strokes.

      The reactors are not the source of the suffering; the people making the decisions that prevent the operators from doing their job must take the blame.

    • Daniel says:

      @ Rod,

      Lost in translation from my french mind to the english language. Of course I know and agree that the reactors are safe. I am just running out of patience with the japanese authorities and their lack of leadership.

      Has anyone learned from history and heard of Winston Churchill? I recommend Lord Roy Jenkins biography. He would have had the reactors back a long time ago.

  2. Daniel says:

    China and India are forging ahead. 16 new reactors approved in India this week and today China announced that the lessons learned from Fukushima are behind them and are moving towards lifting the one year long moratorium on approval of new reactors.

    Germany and Japan are sinking.

    Finland has approved a new reactor last week.

  3. It will be extremely interesting to see what happens with Germany. Can they pull it off? Germans are not crazy fanatics by any means. They think rationally and think straight. Much more than other average european nations if we were to generalize. I think it’s good to have one such serious nation taking that road as an experiment if nothing else for everyone to learn from.

    I’m really happy that China and India are moving ahead with nuclear. They will need huge amounts of energy and if it was all fossil based we would be screwed even more.

    • Daddeldu says:

      Ivan,

      First up: I am from Germany.

      The German energy policy is awful. It’s a catastrophe. The German administration knows this. Everyone who knows the first thing about an electric grid or about economics knows that. Nothing is rational or straight about it. In fact it is batshit crazy.

      But the administration can not change the taken path without completely losing its face. They painted themselves into a corner.

      In Germany in 2002, under the social democrat-green coalition of Gerhard Schröder, the “Act on the structured phase-out of the utilization of nuclear energy for the commercial generation of electricity” took effect, following a drawn-out political debate and lengthy negotiations with nuclear power plant operators. The act legislated for the shut-down of all German nuclear plants by 2021.

      In 2010 the new government of Conservatives and Liberals decided another extension of life span for the plants. But, officially, they still wanted the phase-out of nuclear energy, only slower. Nonetheless the result was a new uprising of the anti-nuclear movement: And in March 2011, after the disaster of Fukushima, the Federal Government of chancellor Angela Merkel reinstated plans to shut all German nuclear plants by 2022, reversing the earlier decision to let them continue to run until 2032. Eight reactors were shut down immediately.

      After this back and forth, they simply cannot revise their politics yet another time.

      The German engineering has a good reputation. Let’s, for the sake of the argument, take for granted, that this reputation is still being justified.

      But how many Germans are engineers? 0.5 %? 0.1 %? A small minority. In politics, engineers and other natural science academics decide exactly nothing. The population in general is as scientifically illiterate as everywhere else.

      The Germans as a people are not specifically rational. People in general aren’t. The magical thinking, that is rampant in politics like in no other field of human thinking, is, in my view, especially strong in German politics.

      Germany was strongly involved in Romanticism (or the Romantic era/Period) which was, according to Wikipedia, rooted in the German “Sturm und Drang” movement, which prized intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism.

      I think the German mentality is still strongly influenced by romanticism, or at least stronger than in other nations.

      What a German engineer thinks about the energy turnaround:

      http://www.eike-klima-energie.eu/uploads/media/2012_01_09_EIKE_Germa_energy_turnaround_english.pdf

      Daddeldu

  4. Rod Adams says:

    @Ivan Raszl

    Germans have a reputation for rational thinking, but a well established history of being able to be massed for irrational actions by charismatic leaders.

    German industry has so far remained, but only because they do not pay the same power rates as most other consumers. As the extreme cost of abandoning low marginal production cost nuclear plants is combined with the extreme cost of attempting to produce reasonably reliable power out of inherently unreliable power sources by massively overbuilding grid connections becomes more and more apparent, the industrial customers are going to have to pay higher rates.

    Since they are more free to move to cheap power rates than most consumers, heavy power industries will move.

    The experiment has been attempted over and over again. Labor rates alone do not explain how California and the Northeast US lost so much manufacturing capability; a major part of their problems was caused by expensive electricity.

    • Daniel says:

      @ Rod,

      Speaking of rates, Texas is considering tripling their electricity rates this summer. This will open up the debate on merchant states again and the fact that market forces are not always best to arbitrage the supply of electricity.

      I believe this ‘boring’, well understood and essential business can be taken care of by central authorities.

      What is your take on this ?

      • Cal Abel says:

        As I understand this it is the cap on the price. Electricity generation very inelastic, small changes in demand mean big price swings. The raising of the cap is to create an incentive to build capacity that will remain idle. The purpose is to encourage the construction of a larger reserve margin this means more gas peakers that will sit idle for 99 hours out of a hundred.

        Although ERCOT is “deregulated” it still has pretty stiff price controls, think of rolling blackouts as standing in the line at the gas station in the 1970’s when we had price controls on the cost of gasoline.

        Unfortunately the price controls meant to protect the consumer actually end up hurting the consumer. Its a shame an actual deregulated market, with no price controls, would have the most inexpensive and reliable power. Would likely also encourage more investment (by the private sector) into energy storage as this would be another way of meeting reserve requirements.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Cal

          Its a shame an actual deregulated market, with no price controls, would have the most inexpensive and reliable power.

          We disagree on this one. History shows that regulated monopolies with an obligation to serve provide abundant, reliable, low cost electricity. They can confidently invest in facility modernization and are not forced to compete on price based on extracting the last drop from cash cows before building new capacity.

          Your statement might be true if you were starting from scratch without any existing electricity supply, but even in that case, I think you will have a hard time finding an example on which to base your assertion of deregulated competition working well for electrical power.

        • Cal Abel says:

          Rod,
          You are correct. The key component in having a functioning free market is competition. Without it it does not work. The utilities act on a level that is like a regional competition where it happens on the fringe. Deregulation allowed, and in some cases I think mandated a separation between the generation and distribution. Thus the final retailer would have choice in whom they purchased power from. As we are talking generation here, that is for the most part fairly fungible on the grid, one person can sell more power. Deregulation works best when the government steps out of the way, provided the market has developed enough competition to be abel to support. The act of deregulation should not be done instantly it should be done over time to change the shape of the market.

        • Brian Mays says:

          Enron was a huge fan of deregulated markets.

        • Cal Abel says:

          If deregulation is done too quickly I think it creates a shockwave like effect inducing instabilities in the market and you get jokers like Enron capitalizing in the environment. They are a short lived phenomena (as observed by rise and collapse) and one that can be entirely prevented. Deregulation should be done in more controlled fashion to allow market to evolve into a stable vice unstable system, eg Enron.

          Using Enron as an example stating deregulation doesn’t work is shallow argument. There are deeper effects, it is more accurate to say that rapid deregulation is dangerous and then use Enron as an example.

  5. Atomikrabbit says:

    @Cal

    FYI, recently John Herron, Chief Nuclear Officer for Entergy, said that in his northeast fleet Pilgrim, Vermont Yankee, and Fitzpatrick were all losing money – only the Indian Point site was profitable, marginally. His southern plants are state utility commission regulated entities that make small but dependable profits.

    The northeast situation is because of the low price of merchant electricity due to the current glut of fracked methane, and the low startup costs for power plants fuelled thusly. Of course this situation could change rapidly, especially if the frackers were required to monetize the environmental consequences of their drilling, and the power plants do the same for their emissions. But they have powerful allies and a tremendous PR campaign ongoing.

    • Cal says:

      I had a couple of friends that worked at Indian Point, which was my one bit of info on the revenue generated by that facility. Would have thought the capital investments would have been paid off on the old nukes by now. That would leave just variable and fixed costs, to the tune of ~$40-50/MW-hr. A new CC or even CT can’t compete with those numbers.

      Might be reading more into the tea leaves here, Entergy seems to have used these “safe” assets to leverage expansion, which would be a major way that they would have money on the books with them. What were the purchase prices that they paid for these facilities? I remember a rash of consolidation among the nuclear generators back about a decade or so ago.

      I find it hard to loose money on something with the lowest marginal cost. Natural gas, even at $3.33/MMBtu delivered (national average) is 4x the cost per MMBtu and only at best 2x as efficient.

      Looking at EIA data from Mar 2011 to Mar 2012 nat gas has increased 247 GW-hr of production. Coal decreased 423 GW-hr. Nuclear seems to have made up the difference by 110 GW-hr. The data show (for NY) that natural gas has 52.1% of the market, nuclear 43.5% and coal the remainder (I did not include the other stuff, they were pretty much unchanged few GW-hr give or take). This checks, or I think it does with what I said above about the marginal costs. Natural gas is low, nuclear is still lower and for it to increase capacity the regulatory hurdles make that more difficult so we build what we can, which supports what you said. Interesting thing too is that overall electricity consumption went down by 300 GW-hr (5.8%) for NY, 130 GW-hr (7.3%) for MA, and 20 GW-hr (10.5%) for VT. The reduction in the amount supplied can be attributed to price increases in VT and MA of 3.3% and 2.7% respectively in just about every sector. New york saw a reduction in price of 4.8%. These are average prices and they are all around $144/MW-hr. I don’t have a good break down in the cost of electricity (transmission, distribution, and generation) But here is a comparison. Our average price of electricity here in Georgia is $91.4/MW-hr and we are building two new reactors. So even with 14% for equity and maybe 8% ish for debt on several billions of dollars it is a lot of money to have to recover and it ain’t cheap. Entergy holds probably on the order of 3-4 billion in debt between their north east reactors and that is even a stretch. Spread between something over 3-4GW(e) that is about $1B per GW(e) and is not terribly taxing especially with the returns they are getting.

      Just had a thought. Entergy a while back was looking at splitting off their nuclear assets into a separate but wholly owned company. This would allow them to offload debt on their fossil side to pretty up their balance sheet while they ran their cash cows (the nuclear plants) all out to pay off their debt. If this is the case then their loosing money on the nuke plants is their own damn fault.

      There are lots of things going on, A mild winter does not reduce New England electricity consumption. From my limited experience in Groton, CT, Anderson Oil company kept my various homes warm (I moved a lot). It is is too darned cold on average to heat a home with a heat pump like we do in the south. If anything the warmer winter should have stimulated other consumption due to having to expend less energy for heating.

      So in a market where prices are going up (VT and MA) how can a company be loosing money? Granted this is only over a 1 month period with one year of history so this is very limited in scope. If the trend I laid out here is larger in scope (which I think it is). How is what the Entergy CEO said accurate. I don’t think he lied. I think Entergy is leveraging existing assets to finance construction and hoping the markets don’t fall out. Need to look at their annual report, but that just shows overall debt loading, not debt tied or related to various assets.

      Here is the link to the data: http://205.254.135.7/electricity/monthly/

      What are your thoughts. I haven’t had too terrible of an in depth look into Entergy and the very detailed look at the North East other than some back of the envelope calculations. Side note… I am a little disconcerted about the reduction in price and the reduction in purchased power in New York.

    • Cal Abel says:

      One more thing the market with the lowest costs is the regulated market here in Georgia. Compared to the North East our price of electricity (average all consumers) is 37% lower than in the Northeast. The yankees are deregulated.

    • Cal Abel says:

      @Atomikrabbit Thanks for the info on Pilgrim. Seem to remember a similar struggle in the late 1990’s with Zion. Hopefully this will be resolved favorably for all. The 7-years to relicense probably did not help matters much either. Thank you for the correction on Enexus, that fell off the radar screen a while ago. I did not know that it was shot down. Makes sense.

      I did not get to your comment on the PR campaign of nat gas. There is more to it recent article in WSJ:
      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303630404577392104017737774.html?KEYWORDS=exhausting+earths+resources#articleTabs%3Darticle

      It marginalizes coal and pushes oil and gas with no mention of nuclear fuels. Other commodities seem a reasonable sample. The graphic is well put together and worth looking at. especially enticing on a tablet…

      Wonder what will happen to nat gas if this sumer is mild (not likely, but a possibility) can the dedicated producers sustain long term losses? Monetization of externalities would make it very difficult to stay in business. So much for being clean.

  6. James Greenidge says:

    That was an exceptional tome, Cal Abel,. Thanks!

    Atomikrabbit, did you view the TV ads by “Vote Energy” touting oil and gas and wind and solar to off us off Middle East sources — but not one wilt mention of nuclear! The omission is just stunning bias to me, and one wonders how the nuclear industry/unions — or even individual plants — can take being regarded an unmentioned pariah sitting down. Giving out nuclear badges to Girl Scouts is well and good, but that’s not going to cut it in massive positive PR!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  7. Cal Abel says:

    Going through Entergy’s annual report it is very distracting with the frogs, yes I mean frogs it seems more about frogs than energy production and sales, their main business. Have a feeling they are gussying up their annual report to hide something. Their average sale price of electricity fell two dollars from 2010 to 2011 ($78.12/MW-hr to $76.90/MW-hr) Having a hard time finding their 2011 operational costs to see what their margin is. Have the 2009 to 2010 on page 36, but no 2011.

    Entergy did do the spin off it is EWC (Entergy Wholesale commodities which holds the operating licenses for the reactors. Their debt to equity also went up 1.7% from 2010 to 2011. They also burned through $600 million in cash in the last year.

    Ok buried in this mess of very distracting graphics on page 56 is the Consolidated income statements. Reference this to how much power they produce (treats them like a single commodity entity, even though they do sell NG). 2011 112,799 GW-hr and in 2010 111882 GW-hr. Their revenue for each commodity sold fell from $20.27/MW-hr to $17.85/MW-hr. This follows the general trend of a supply curve but this is above and beyond and represents a net loss in revenue.

    Love to hear from someone who does stock analysis for a living. My analysis here is as a lay person.

    I can see why Entergy gussied up their annual report so much.

    • Atomikrabbit says:

      @Cal
      I don’t have any more details or insights into Herron’s statement. He was -and I believe still is – in tough negotiations with the unions at Pilgrim at the time. Maybe he was playing politics and poor-mouthing the economic situation a little to dampen their demands.

      I know they have spent tens of millions, perhaps more, on legal and licensing fees to counter the litigious interveners (including some state governments) and justify the license extensions at VY, Pilgrim, and IPEC. As southerners, when Entergy bought these plants in 1999-2001 I’m not sure they fully accounted for the objectionist political culture they would encounter in this region.

      As you probably know, the states of NY and VT shot down the all-nuclear spinoff, “Enexus”, a couple of years ago. Entergy Wholesale Commodities now owns all non-utility generation, and recently bought a large combined-cycle plant in Rhode Island.

      From a summary of the Q4 2011 report, “For the quarter, the average realized revenue per megawatt hour for the nuclear fleet was almost 10 percent lower than the same quarter last year”, and “Entergy Wholesale Commodities’ net revenue declined due primarily to lower pricing associated with the nuclear fleet; the average realized revenue per megawatt hour was down more than 7 percent compared to a year ago. Providing a partial offset in net revenue was an increase in nuclear generation. The merchant nuclear fleet realized a 93 percent capacity factor in 2011 compared to 90 percent in 2010, with fewer planned and unplanned outages.” http://www.entergy.com/news_room/newsrelease.aspx?NR_ID=2362

      @James
      I have not seen those ads, although I usually have some sort of cable news on in the background when I am on the computer. I sure do see a lot of the black-pantsuited blonde touting the wonders of magical methane, but not a whole lot of Rudy Giuliani, who was supposed to be on a PR blitz for IPEC.

  8. Atomikrabbit says:

    @Cal
    I don’t have any more details or insights into Herron’s statement. He was – and I believe still is – in tough negotiations with the unions at Pilgrim at the time. Maybe he was playing politics and poor-mouthing the economic situation a little to dampen their demands.

    I know they have spent tens of millions, perhaps more, on legal and licensing fees to counter the litigious interveners (including some state governments) and justify the license extensions at VY, Pilgrim, and IPEC. As southerners, when Entergy bought these plants in 1999-2001 I’m not sure they fully accounted for the objectionist political culture they would encounter in this region.

    As you probably know, the states of NY and VT shot down the all-nuclear spinoff, “Enexus”, a couple of years ago. Entergy Wholesale Commodities now owns all non-utility generation, and recently bought a large combined-cycle plant in Rhode Island.

    From a summary of the Q4 2011 report, “For the quarter, the average realized revenue per megawatt hour for the nuclear fleet was almost 10 percent lower than the same quarter last year”, and “Entergy Wholesale Commodities’ net revenue declined due primarily to lower pricing associated with the nuclear fleet; the average realized revenue per megawatt hour was down more than 7 percent compared to a year ago. Providing a partial offset in net revenue was an increase in nuclear generation. The merchant nuclear fleet realized a 93 percent capacity factor in 2011 compared to 90 percent in 2010, with fewer planned and unplanned outages.” http://www.entergy.com/news_room/newsrelease.aspx?NR_ID=2362

    @James
    I have not seen those ads, although I usually have some sort of cable news on in the background when I am on the computer. I sure do see a lot of the black-pantsuited blonde touting the wonders of magical methane, but not a whole lot of Rudy Giuliani, who was supposed to be on a PR blitz for IPEC.

  9. Atomikrabbit says:

    Sorry for double post everyone- I hate it when that happens. Sometimes the AI comments hosting software plays hard-to-post – you never know whether it “took” it or not, and hours later find out that it took both.

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