Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Snapshot in Nuclear Time

polaroid Let’s take a snapshot of the legislative landscape as it relates to nuclear energy:

Last week, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) introduced a climate change bill that includes a strong nuclear title, something missing from the initial draft of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Take-away phrase: mini-Manhattan projects, which they use to refer to research initiatives such as nuclear reprocessing methods.

And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) proposed an extensive addition to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that beefs up the nuclear provisions of the act considerably.

And Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)  bolstered Udall’s effort by introducing a self-described complementary bill to Udall’s that promotes research and development into small nuclear reactors (that is, those with 350 mW or less of capacity). Bingaman and Udall are co-sponsors of each other’s bills, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as co-sponsor on both bills.

This is important because Bingaman and Murkowski are chairman and ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, which will take up both the Udall and Bingaman bills. That’s a lot of important – and bipartisan – support right out of the gate. (That’s true of Webb-Alexander as well, though that’s a much more expansive bill.)

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You would think someone in the news business might notice all the Ds among those sponsors and scratch their heads with interest.

The Obama administration and leading Democrats, in an effort to win greater support for climate change legislation, are eyeing federal tax incentives and loan guarantees to fund a new crop of nuclear power plants across the United States that could eventually help drive down carbon emissions.

This comes from the Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola, and we should note that this appeared on A-1 above the fold in the printed edition. That means it’ll be very widely seen, at least in passing, on Capitol Hill.

Faiola’s hook is the increasing support for nuclear energy among environmentalists – something we’ve written about here several times in the last couple of months – but there’s a lot of interesting tidbits throughout.

So far at least, the start of what many are calling "a new nuclear age" is unfolding with only muted opposition -- nothing like the protests and plant invasions that helped define the green movement in the United States and Europe during the 1960s and 1970s.

And:

An Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House, for instance, shows nuclear energy generation more than doubling in the United States by 2050 if the legislation is made law.

And:

"Our base is as opposed to nuclear as ever," said David Hamilton, director of the Global Warming and Energy Program for the Sierra Club in Washington. "You have to recognize that nuclear is only one small part of this [a solution to global warming]."

Wha – ? Oops! Well, although we’re not sure Faiola gives Hamilton his full due, he uses this bit to show environmental activists becoming more “pragmatic” about nuclear energy. For example:

"Because of global warming, most of the big groups have become less active on their nuclear campaign, and almost all of us are taking another look at our internal policies," said Mike Childs, head of climate change issues for Friends of the Earth in Britain.

And if legislators want to keep their green profiles up while supporting nuclear energy, words like this can only help. (We’ve also had some harsh words for FOE in the past, so this development is very welcome.)

Consider the current legislative efforts and the Washington Post article as a snapshot of this particular moment in the climate change debate. We now have to pull it out of the Polaroid camera and wave it around in the air and see if it develops correctly. We think nuclear energy now has all the traction it needs to find its place at the energy table, so we may want to remember these past couple of weeks as the period when it all came together. And just in time for Thanksgiving.

Polaroid is the name given to a synthetic plastic that polarizes light (useful in sunglasses). The Polaroid Corp. (and others) exploited the principle to create a line of cameras that produced instant – well, almost instant – photographs. These sold as early as 1948, but are really familiar as the equivalent of 8-track tapes in the 1970s –technologies that became genuine icons of their era, but yielded fairly rapidly to superior successors – cassette tapes and truly instant photography (also from Polaroid.)

But if you have an album of brownish pink photos, it’s hard not to feel affection for Polaroid.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Summer Rising

On a crisp morning in 1937, if you asked him, he may have gone with you and his other friends to a fishing spot just over that hill. But to support his disabled father, and his mother and siblings, Virgil Clifton Summer, Jr., graduated from high school and went to work. The Parr Steam Plant had given him a job: sweeping floors and mowing grass. He was then just 16 years old.

After four years as a Navy sailor in World War 2, a college degree, professional engineering license, and a couple decades of hard work back at South Carolina Electric & Gas, he became SCANA’s Chairman, President, and CEO. In 1971, the board named the company’s first nuclear plant for him. Everyone’s heard of Summer 1, and many remember Chairman Summer the gentleman. And now comes the next generation, bearing the same proud name as the original.

In September, the South Carolina Public Service Commission granted SCE&G’s application for a 1.1 percent increase in retail electric rates to help pay for the new generating station, an early of many milestones in the company’s long-term plan to provide steady, clean energy and save its customers $4 billion on electricity bills by lowering the cost of construction, capital, depreciation, property taxes, and insurance.

Last week, SCE&G published its quarterly report of the new units’ status: pre-construction work at V. C. Summer 2 and 3 is well underway in sunny Jenkinsville, South Carolina, on schedule and budget.

We think the old man would be proud.

With Duke Energy’s James Rogers

clip_image001The Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting interview up with James E. Rogers, Duke Energy’s CEO. Right at the start, interviewer Roya Wolverson notes that Duke is the country’s third largest producer of carbon emissions and stands to  be a “loser” in any climate change legislation. Rogers takes that on directly:

We know the transition is going to be expensive. We know it's not going to be easy, because every technology that generates electricity needs advances to be an equal contributor in a low-carbon world. We know that it won't be quick. But we believe that the transition needs to be fair and the cost impacts to consumers need to be smoothed out over a period of time so it's not disruptive to U.S. businesses or families.

And as you might expect, the nuclear takeaway is significant, and Rogers is right on top of current events:

But the difference in the jobs [at solar and wind plants vs. nuclear plants] is quite different, because if you're wiping off a solar panel, it's sort of a minimum wage type of job, [with] much higher compensation for nuclear engineers and nuclear operators. If our goal is to rebuild the middle class, nuclear plays a key role there, particularly if coal is out of the equation.

And, he hasn’t much time for the anti-nuclear advocate’s occasional “no need for base load energy” argument:

Job one for me is affordable, reliable, clean, 24/7, 365 days a year. So, given the technologies that we have today, nuclear is the only 24/7 product we have--unless you do natural gas, which has 50% of the carbon footprint of coal. And its price is quite volatile.

And the bottom line on nuclear energy:

If you asked me today based on current technologies--and assuming we have no advances in technology with respect to decarbonization of coal--I would say nuclear would trump coal because it produces zero greenhouse gases, it provides power 24/7, and, probably most importantly, it probably produces more jobs than even solar or wind on a per-megawatt basis.

We could go on stealing Wolverson’s work all day, so do go over to the site and read the whole thing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stories Like Inchworms

inchworm If you’ve been following the health care or climate change debates, you know that your local newspaper will run a story each day whether or not anything significant happened that day because of the intense interest in the subjects. Some stories can roll on for a good long time before anything resembling resolution occurs – instead, the stories inch along, one detail at a time.

For example:

We wrote about the lack of enthusiasm of the Scots government for putting up new nuclear units, as proposed by the United Kingdom’s energy plan. We can’t pretend to understand the relationship between Scotland and the central government – it seemed as though it could complain but not really stop the plan.

But it did leave an open question: what do Scots feel about nuclear energy? Answer: they’re okay with it.

A survey has revealed that more than half of Scots support the use of nuclear power stations to provide Scotland's energy.

The YouGov poll showed that 61 per cent of those surveyed here thought nuclear power should be part of the energy mix.

However:

A spokesman for finance secretary John Swinney said: "This government was elected on a policy of no new nuclear power stations, and Scotland's Parliament has since endorsed this position."

Hmmm! It’s certainly possible people elected the government for all kinds of reasons without nuclear being determinative in their votes. We doubt very many voted for or against nuclear in our last election. We suggest Mr. Swinney revisit his assumptions.

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We wrote about Alternate Energy Holdings a few weeks ago and wondered whether their efforts to build a plant in Idaho – or China – might ever come to fruition. Not sure about China, but:

The Payette County [Idaho] Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 19 took testimony from about 260 people on whether the county’s comprehensive plan should be changed to allow the rezone of about 5,100 acres for a proposed nuclear power plant.

This is for AEHI’s project. 260 sounds like a pretty good turnout (Payette County has about 20,000 people). So how did it go?

Testimony was “sharply divided” between those in favor of the project based on the potential for thousands of jobs and cheap energy, and those opposed on fears of radioactive waste disposal and disruption of the area’s rural character.

Well, the first worry isn’t really that worrisome, but we can’t argue with the second – any power plant has the capacity to disrupt natural beauty, though a well architected plant can mitigate some of the disruption. AEHI could probably win some converts with a few attractive prototype drawings.

The zoning commission hasn’t made a decision yet. That’ll be the next movement in this story.

For some more on this, including comments from Don Gillispie, CEO and chairman of AEHI, see here.

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We wrote about Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Tom Carper’s (D-Del.) efforts to write an amendment to the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill that would provide it with a strong nuclear title. Since then, this morphed into an alternative climate change bill that would gain more support among Republicans, spearheaded by Lieberman and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). John McCain (R-Ariz.) was on-board with these efforts at the start, But Politico now reports:

“Their start has been horrendous,” McCain said Thursday. “Obviously, they’re going nowhere.”

Win some, lose some?

The rest of the article reviews Sen. McCain’s sharp turn away from supporting any type of climate change bill, which had previously been a signature issue for him – he co-authored several pieces of such legislation throughout this decade.

An interesting piece, though as with a lot of Politico’s reporting, the article speculates about things it actually cannot know - unless, in this case, McCain fully explains his change of heart. And he hasn’t done that. So take it for what it is.

So these stories inch along. As always, Let’s see what happens next.

Although you have every reason to assume inchworms are, well, worms, they are in fact caterpillars. Eventually, they will become moths and, all things being equal, they will avoid yellow lights.

A Q&A with Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand has been the subject of multiple NNN blog posts over these last several weeks: his latest book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, was reviewed and the kerfuffle between Amory Lovins and Brand has been discussed in multiple posts. Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to conduct an online Q&A with the author. The transcript is below.

How's the book tour going? What's the public response been like at your readings?
There's been good turnouts in the bookshops and vigorous signing[s].

What is the most commonly asked question at your book readings?
The main hot button question is always nuclear. Usually in the form of "But what about...??" And then they bring up something I haven't discussed but is in the book, such as the widespread photographs of defective babies people are told were caused by Chernobyl.

What are your (or your publisher's) expectations for book sales? (Somewhat related: any idea on how many copies of the Whole Earth Catalog have been sold?)
Viking printed 30,000 copies. Whole Earth Catalog in sundry editions wound up around 1.5 milion.

When you first pitched this book, whom did you see as your target audience? Has it changed at all since you've completed the book?
My target is and was environmentalists with doubts, and people with doubts about environmentalists. I think that as climate dangers become increasingly conspicuous everyone becomes in some sense an environmentalist.

What magazines or blogs do you read regularly to stay on top of environmental issues?
Science, Nature, New Scientist, Conservation, Sierra, Earth Island Journal, ScienceDaily, SciDev.net, Crop Biotech Update, Yale's environment360.

You were quoted in a Newsweek interview recently, stating that you believe nuclear power is "green." Was there an "A-ha!" moment that led to your position or was this a gradual process?
Gradual, as I got more acquainted with climate, with coal, and with nuclear.

Have you ever been inside a nuclear plant?
Not yet.

We know that you live comfortably on your houseboat, Mirene, in San Francisco Bay, but would you ever consider living near a nuclear plant?
Happy to. Ditto waste storage.

What advice, if any, would you give to nuclear energy executives on how to improve public understanding of the industry?
Get active about climate. Join and help environmental organizations as a fellow Green. Have booths at Green trade shows and such (with young engineers, not booth babes). Hire and promote young Green nuclear engineers. Explore and expand the "distributed micropower" of small reactors. Open all nuclear reactors to the public. Encourage visitors to photograph each other standing (and probably mugging) by dry casks of spent fuel. Flaunt the Megatons to Megawatts program and its successors. Help people understand fuel banking for developing nations, and promote it. Support objective research on the "linear no-threshold" theory of low dose radiation effects.

What grade would you give to the current administration's initiatives to address global warming?
B-minus. Better than the previous [administration's] D-minus.

What would be your main advice for the administration and Congress on effecting transformative change in the energy, global warming and environmental arenas?
Do the sums, see if proposed numbers add up. Then keep legislating and regulating and innovating until they do. For an example of doing it right, read David MacKay's Sustainable Energy (without the hot air).

Any plans on attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen?
None yet.

As one of several "old-school" environmentalists who have been quite vocal in their support for nuclear energy, what do you say to old friends who still oppose nuclear?
Don't assume you know what's in my chapter on nuclear. Read it, then let's talk.

Finally, your book has received praise from critics, but not from Amory Lovins. Any chance you two will sit down to a beer summit and hash it all out?
Unlikely.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bald Assertions and Bird Eating Machines

turkies No need to spend too much time on this, from the San Francisco Gate:

Let's back up a little bit. Nuclear energy is unsavory to the average citizen: It creates toxic waste and entails some level of danger for those who leave [sic: live] near reactors and waste sites. Advocates insist that risk has declined precipitously since the days of Three Mile Island, but the risk is certainly greater than that of, say, solar panels.

Read the whole thing, but mostly as an object lesson in writing without researching.

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Think Progress got hold of a mailing (pdf) from Oliver North’s group Freedom Alliance stating its unhappiness with the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill – well, really, anything involving climate change. It’s pretty wild, but we especially like this fact about windmills:

Item: Environmentalist push government and industry to encourage vast electricity producing windmill farms. Result: Thousands of birds are killed each year by these virtual bird eating machines.

This really isn’t a very good argument, but we do like the image of a bird eating machine (otherwise known as, um, us, what with Thanksgiving coming up). See here for more on windmills and birds. We think that the threat to birds by windmills is somewhat akin to the radiation danger from nuclear plants – that is to say, next to none – but it sounds good in a mailer.

If we were going to trot out this argument, we’d probably worry more about bats, but since no one likes bats, there’s not much return on the investment (and no, there’s not much threat to bats from windmills, either.)

You can read the rest of North’s mailer yourself; it’s a fine example of ideology trumping sense at almost every turn.

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After so much fact free reading, it’s a pleasure to come to this:

Recent studies by the Electric Power Research Institute, National Academies of Science and the Energy Information Administration all conclude that nuclear energy must play a key role in our nation’s transition to a low-carbon energy base. An analysis of the House’s climate change legislation (H.R. 2454) by the Environmental Protection Agency projects that 187 new nuclear plants will need to be built in the United States by 2050 to achieve the bill’s core policy scenario.

This comes from an op-ed by Gary Gates and Bill Johnson for The Hill, a newspaper that cover Capitol Hill. They make their points by referencing studies and relying on reliable sources. That it also makes the case for nuclear energy is the honey in the tea, but nuclear energy usually makes out quite well when you stick close to, you know, the verifiable truth.

Here’s some more, addressing the challenges:

Nuclear energy facilities and other large capital energy investments face significant financial challenges, particularly during this period of financial market duress. Nuclear power plants are costly to build but provide low-cost electricity for generations of Americans over the life of the plant — which is at least 60 years. Uranium fuel is, by far, our lowest-cost fuel for electricity production. And if public officials are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear energy is the best available energy technology and must be part of the equation. It already produces 72 percent of U.S. carbon-free electricity.

We’re very fond of debating our critics’ strongest arguments – it helps to prove the validity of our stances – and Gates and Johnson are clearly open to it. It’s a good, long piece and excellent withal.

Unlikely to hit a windmill – unless the windmill falls over on it – yet quite likely to hit my stomach.

Time Enough for Nuclear Energy

time-management-clock Generally speaking, folks who dislike nuclear energy have lost their footing a bit because the pressing energy issue of the day – climate change – seeks solutions that nuclear energy readily provides. A fair number of former anti-nuclear advocates have put the issues on the scale and found the risks of nuclear energy, as they perceive them, acceptable versus the potential fate of the planet. But the feeling isn’t universal and some effort stills goes into making nuclear energy go away.

Environment Maryland released a new report Tuesday (Nov. 17) arguing that it would take a decade or more and cost upwards of $600 billion to build 100 more nuclear plants, as some have advocated to ease planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The group argues that the time and money could be better spent promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy such as wind and solar.

That’s from B’More Green, a blog of the Baltimore Sun (Get it? B’More?) It contains our favorite argument these days: it takes too long to build nuclear energy plants and thus they cannot help with carbon emission reduction.

What this neglects is that once a plant is operational, carbon emissions drop like a rock, as anything a nuclear plant happens to replace (minus another nuclear plant, of course) stops producing emissions.

So even where, for example, energy efficiency via individual action or the roll out of a smart grid has a positive impact on carbon emissions, it is vastly enhanced by the considerable impact of a nuclear energy plant - it’s a great doubling down on emissions and affords, in many cases, a tremendous boost in the emission-free electricity available to an area.

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It’s not that nuclear energy is a panacea to the climate change issue – the industry never suggests it – but that nuclear energy is a well-understood technology that answers to the need for emission-free, base-load energy.

But no one energy source represents a complete answer. Wind and solar energy, for all their positive qualities, present issues of their own.

A first concern is over their intermittent nature – because the wind mostly blows at night when there is no sun for solar energy - which makes it important to backstop them with base load energy. Advocates who want to avoid nuclear energy will tout natural gas, which is itself not emission free

A second concern is siting. Windmills and solar panels gobble up a lot of land. Third, once sited and built, they have to be attached to the electricity grid, which means, at the least, transmission build outs. This adds cost which, while doubtless below that of a new nuclear unit, is certainly more than is implied by putting up a few windmills.

But these are realities a growing number of environmental activists recognize.

It should be noted that not all environmentalists oppose nuclear power.  Locally, the Maryland Conservation Council has endorsed Constellation's bid for a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs.  The group is concerned about industrial-scale wind and solar projects gobbling up land and wildlife habitat, and argues that nuclear power is safe and least expensive, for the amount of power generated.

All true. Now, having barked about wind and solar energy, we must note that many of these concerns can be, and we expect will be, addressed – think battery technology, for starters - perhaps even in the time it takes to bring some new nuclear units online.

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To highlight their objections, Environment Maryland and other activists staged a press conference outside the downtown Baltimore headquarters of Constellation Energy, which has applied for a permit to build a new, third reactor at Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant. The press event drew a few lunchtime spectators, but the growl of traffic on busy Pratt Street often drowned out what they had to say.

They probably could have planned this a little better – perhaps at a greener Baltimore locale like Fort McHenry – but we’re okay with it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

After Cap-and-Trade

jim-webb Never say never, but the cap-and-trade provisions in the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill have made a number of Senators nervous about supporting it. A number of Republicans have termed it cap-and-tax and some Democrats are not inclined toward it either. For example, take this bit from the Times West Virginian:

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, (D-W.Va.), reportedly plans to vote against the resolution [the climate change bill] while Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.), has “serious concerns” with the House’s amendments to the original resolution.

Rockefeller, in other words, is still on the fence, but that’s an uncomfortable place to be. We have no opinion on the efficacy of cap-and-trade: it’s more market based than a direct carbon tax would be, but beyond that, we’ll take whatever gets the job of climate change mitigation done without destroying industries in the process.

That said, and given the skittishness about it, might it be possible to come up with a bill that bypasses the cap-and-trade issue while staying focused on climate change?

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jim Webb (D-VA) today introduced “The Clean Energy Act of 2009,” a bipartisan bill to promote further investment and development of the nation’s clean energy technologies, including nuclear power and other resources. The Alexander-Webb bill is designed to invigorate the economy, create jobs, and move the United States toward providing clean, carbon-free sources of energy.

Well, it is bipartisan insofar as the two sponsors are from the two parties. How far it gets depends on the traction it receives from Republicans and Democrats uncomfortable with cap-and-trade -– and that’s by no means a unanimous group. Such support may or may not be enough to carry it since, after all, Kerry-Boxer is far from dead.

But there’s a lot to like in Webb-Alexander, especially for nuclear nabobs:

  • Authorization of $100 billion in government backed loans for the development of clean, carbon-free energy to bring in investors and project developers to jump start efforts that are otherwise too capital-intensive up front.
  • $100 million per year for 10 years toward nuclear education and training. The nuclear revival cannot take place without a workforce and for that reason the bill provides much-needed support to educate and train craftsmen, engineers, operators and other workers.
  • $200 million per year for 5 years for a cost-sharing mechanism between government and industry to enable the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review new nuclear reactor designs such as small and medium reactors and help bring those technologies from concept into the market place.
  • $50 million per year for 10 years for much needed research to extend the lifetime of our current nuclear fleet and maximize the production of low-cost nuclear power.
  • $750 million per year for 10 years for research and development of low-cost solar technology, battery technology, advanced bio-fuels, low-carbon coal, and technologies that will reduce nuclear waste.  Each of these will be funded at $150 million, annually.

Sense a certain theme at work there? Now, consider that the idea behind the Kerry-Boxer bill is that it was designed as a framework which would have provisions added to it via the Senate’s amendment process. That’s still going to happen now that the bill has moved on to the Finance Committee.

Further, consider Sen. Alexander’s decided taste for nuclear energy as a carbon emission reducer – we wrote about that and his energy blueprint here last July -  and you can see that the Webb-Alexander bill had a nuclear energy section that could dovetail with Alexander’s provisions from his blueprint. He had already worked these out. The rest of the titles may seem a little barren, but if the bill gains traction, that will change.

The nuclear industry responded enthusiastically:

“With this legislation, Sens. Alexander and Webb are offering a substantive package of incentives and programs that realistically addresses the requirements necessary for our nation to achieve the significant expansion of nuclear energy that can meet rising electricity demand with a proven source of clean energy. These two senators already have seen the tremendous economic development in their own states that will be generated by re-establishing the U.S. manufacturing base for commercial nuclear technology.

And that’s exactly right. The Senators introduced this at the American Nuclear Society’s annual meeting and have already submitted it to the senate. You can find it at Thomas as S.2776.

Sen. Jim Webb rounds the corner.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part Four (The “Role of Government Myth” and Final Thoughts)

This is the fourth and final post from us that looks critically at the bogus claims in Amory Lovins’ latest study.

“Role of Government Myth”
In his new book, Stewart Brand states (p. 84):
…Energy policy is a matter of such scale, scope, speed, and patient follow-through that only a government can embrace it all. You can’t get decent grid power without decent government power.
In reply, Amory Lovins asserts (p. 19, pdf):
…nuclear power requires governments to mandate that it be built at public expense and without effective public participation—excluding by fiat, or crowding out by political allocation of huge capital sums, the competitors that otherwise flourish in a free market and a free society.
Lovins’ response contains a contradictory claim. Lovins accuses nuclear of not being able to survive in a “free market and a free society.” Yet, several pages later, Lovins touts how wind and solar are flourishing in China while being built by state-owned power companies according to one of his sources. Further, Lovins’ same source said this about renewables:
A big impetus was the [Chinese] government’s requirement, issued in September 2007, that large power companies generate at least 3 percent of their electricity by the end of 2010 from renewable sources.
Doesn’t sound like a free market to me.
Further, nuclear is not “crowding out [other technologies] by political allocation of huge capital sums.” Below is a chart showing the loan guarantee volume available by technology. Nuclear is hardly "crowding out."
As well, Lovins’ section rebutting Brand's role of government logic contains some of the greatest exaggerations yet is also the least sourced. Here is one bogus, undocumented claim from that section (p. 19):
…if all options were unsubsidized and their social costs internalized, the observed market prices suggest that nuclear would lose decisively against practically anything else.
Not quite. Below is a graph from the Energy Information Administration that shows the estimated levelized costs for all technologies less subsidies and financing costs. Nuclear is ranked fifth in terms of total levelized costs. Only coal and gas without CO2 controls come in cheaper than nuclear. Renewables are much more expensive. Independent government data illustrated here undermine Lovins' unsupported claims about the costs of renewables and "micropower."


“Sloppy scholarship”
The Lovins study was courteous enough to not only attempt to rebut Brand’s views but also to point out every typo or minor mis-statement in Brand's book. From being a little off about the number of nuclear plants operating worldwide in 2008 to mis-stating by only a few percent nuclear’s worldwide electric share, the Lovins study went hard at Brand’s chapter on nuclear. Let’s pay Lovins’ study the same respect.
The Lovins study incorrectly applies the use of Moore’s law as pointed out in Grist’s comments section.

Referencing one’s previous studies continuously throughout the document as if they’re authoritative pieces of work is lame. It also violates at least one principle of logic.

It’s false to continue to refer to “micropower,” which includes wind and solar, as decentralized technologies when page 26 of this NERC report (pdf) and page 35 of this WADE report (pdf) say wind and solar are mainly central technologies.

Lovins criticizes blogger STK in the Grist comments section saying that STK needs to give more “solid proof” than referencing conversations in an argument when in fact Lovins references conversations at several points in his own paper (p. 5 with Jim Harding, p. 6 with Michael Eckhart, and p. 30 with China’s “top officials”).

A chart on page 27 of Lovins’ paper that compares the electric generation of nuclear to its competitors should no longer be used after it was thoroughly debunked more than a year ago.

And research from Stanford Professor Jacobson shouldn’t have been referenced in the first place because it doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny.
Conclusion
After reading Amory Lovins’ latest paper written only to argue with Stewart Brand, it is clear that the paper tries too hard to make an argument against nuclear. While facts need to be backed up by credible sources, more sources doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Readers who have followed RMI’s papers over the years know that sometimes half of a page could be riddled with sources and needless commentary. Lovins’ papers are polluted with so many stats and sources that it makes the paper’s arguments incoherent, confusing, hard to follow and even contradictory at times.
For the number of sources in Lovins’ latest paper, one would think that everything would be accurate and spot on. Yet, as demonstrated here and earlier, this is not the case. In almost every instance that we have looked into Lovins’ sources, we have found that there is another side to the story his study fails to mention. Nuclear isn’t perfect but neither are “nuclear’s competitors,” despite what a Lovins study portrays.
As Brand points out in his book, more and more environmentalists are coming over to the pro-nuclear side. We’re sure this has an effect on the recalcitrant antis because if Lovins’ paper is a symptom, those stuck in the past will become ever more desperate, vocal and isolated. Brand describes the phenomenon (p. 90):
Older environmentalists talk about nuclear power exclusively in terms of what they see as the four great problems that condemn the technology – safety, cost, waste storage, and proliferation. Those four have no form of positive, only degrees of badness, and they are treated as absolutes. If a reactor accident is possible, then nuclear power is impossible; if the capital costs are high, then nuclear power is impossible, and so on. Absolutes are potent. Once something is seen as a capitalized Absolute Evil, it functions as a premise; everything has to exist in relation to your opposition to it.
To me, this speaks exactly to Lovins’ thinking. Brand goes on further to explain what changed his mind about nuclear.
By contrast, the four considerations I began with – baseload, footprint, portfolio, and government-scale – are logics rather than problems. They are relative rather than absolute, which means they invite thinking in terms of trade-offs and risk balancing. And they are open to the positive, treating nuclear as one potential tool to help head off climate change and end poverty worldwide.
Holding all eight logics and problems in mind simultaneously nets out, for me, to a strong argument for expanding nuclear power. From that perspective, I see the four problems of safety, cost, waste handling, and weapons potential differently than I used to. I’ve learned to disbelieve much of what I’ve been told by my fellow environmentalists, and I now think of the four problems the way an engineer does, as design problems. Define them, frame them in a way that is solvable, solve the damn things, and once you’ve got a solution, act on it.
Well said, hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Props to Rod Adams, Steve Kirsch, Charles Barton, Brian Wang, Sovietologist, Gwyneth Cravens, Stewart Brand and all the other pro-nuke commenters who contributed to the debate to blast this junk study! Also thanks to Jim Slider and RSM here at NEI who reviewed my posts with a critical eye to make sure they remained in check!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blame It on the Volcano

dsc00696 Louise Gray at the Telegraph (U.K.) clears it all up for us:

Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist from Adelaide University, argues that a recent rise in temperature around the world is caused by solar cycles and other "extra terrestrial" forces.

Extra terrestrial? That sounds like fun. But it turns out Professor Plimer has a specific villain in mind here and it’s not extra-terrestrial:

"We cannot stop carbon emissions because most of them come from volcanoes," he said. "It is a normal element cycled around in the earth and my science, which is looking back in time, is saying we have had a planet that has been a green, warm wet planet 80 per cent of the time. We have had huge climate change in the past and to think the very slight variations we measure today are the result of our life - we really have to put ice blocks in our drinks."

Whew! Good to know. Hey, wait – volcanoes? They’ve been around for a pretty long time – we’ve seen them in pictures with dinosaurs – so surely they’ve been doing volcano-like things over the epochs. We took a look over at the U.S. Geological Survey. Here’s what it says about volcanoes and gaseous emissions:

Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1991). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 27 billion tonnes per year (30 billion tons) [ ( Marland, et al., 2006).

All right, so 255 million tons for volcanoes, 30 billion tons for human activity. In fairness, volcanoes also throw out SO2 – think acid raid – but in any event, Professor Plimes’ volcano theory seems to depend on people not visiting the USGS or their national equivalent. This is odd, since Professor Plimer, trained as a mineralogist, might be someone to make an interesting argument involving volcanoes.

In our reading, we found that Guardian writer George Monbiat has engaged Plimer’s climate change work for awhile, not usually to Plimer’s benefit. Start here for that and then search for Plimer for a lot more.

Now, we’re always reluctant to say that the Plimers of the world are 100% wrong and the Monbiats are 100% right. As say, Galileo showed, you can be a severe outlier – and right. But if the arguments on one side are notably fact-free, that’s a problem and throws credibility into doubt. It’s really a risk on either side of a debate, but this time, the burden of proof is on Ian Plimer.

Advice from personal experience: If you overdo the vinegar in your tabletop volcano, you’ll get to watch your mother turn into a living volcano – and not a notably benign one either.

Blogroll Drive-By

This Week in Nuclear has a fascinating new interview (downloadable as a podcast) with engineer and writer Joseph Somsel, author of articles in The American Thinker and Energy Pulse. The discussion ranges over nuclear financial topics, touching on tax treatment of new generating stations, investment, transmission, and loan guarantees.

Capacity Factor has an interesting analysis of reports indicating successful integration of wind electric into the Spanish grid.

Reminder to lawyers, their fellow travelers, and news addicts that Utility News remains an excellent law blog and news digest that should reside near the top of your Favorites.

Pro-Nuclear Democrats collected and posted three videos well worth watching: Stewart Brand, Marv Fertel, and Per Peterson.

In Australia, Professor Brook at Brave New Climate covers yesterday’s announcements from the mother country; don’t miss his op-ed and the related news in the Adelaide Advertiser. And if you’re puzzled about this month’s Scientific American cover story, Prof. Brook analyzes and deconstructs several specious bits including the most glaring one found in the subtitle, “How to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030.”

Final on today’s reading list, check out Energy Outlook’s three new must-read pieces on carbon debt, carbon counting, and cheap oil. Brief, cogent, and original.

And since it’s November, don’t forget to vote – David Walters at Daily Kos has eight ballot questions right on his main page.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Saving Money on Your Next Nuclear Plant

vogtle2 You would be perfectly within your rights to give us the fishy eye if we said anything other than that nuclear energy plants are very expensive to build. Most power plants suffer this problem, because costs are so front-loaded: plants take time to build, introducing bank interest charges, changes in regulation that incur cost and fixed costs on commodities that refuse to stay fixed. But this can work in two directions – just as costs can go up for uncontrollable reasons so can they come down.

The official price tag for Georgia Power's share of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle is $1.5 billion lower than when the company requested permission to build them, according to testimony Tuesday in front of the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Walter Jones reports in the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle that a lot of information about Vogtle is protected as a trade secret. But still, he could share what was bringing down cost – this time, it’s bank interest.

Projected construction costs dropped, Mr. Burleson said, because the company is avoiding some interest by charging its customers for the reactors before they begin operation.

Customers are paying about $1.30 per month for the reactors; the charge will rise by that amount each year until it tops out at $9.00 per month. When the plants open in six years, the surcharge should stop.

We like that the Georgia PSC is keeping its hand in and having these checkups every six months. This allows everyone to hear that Georgia Power (it’s nuclear energy page is here) is moving the project along – and in the process validating the Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) method of financing a new plant – and, really, such frequent meetings can do no harm.

If CWIP works as intended in Georgia, then implementing it elsewhere becomes easier – and avoids those fishy eyes when we say there are ways to bring down the costs of a nuclear plant.

Those are Vogtle’s towers way off there in the distance.

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part Three (The “Portfolio Myth”)

The third part of our series that debunks Amory Lovins’ study which criticizes Stewart Brand’s nuclear chapter discusses the need for all emission-free technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The “portfolio myth”

On page 82, Brand states that:

climate change is so serious a matter, we have to do everything simultaneously to head it off as much as we can.

Stewart Brand backs up his statement by citing Princeton’s wedge concept which proposes that a number of different technologies will be needed to avoid CO2 emissions. Lovins, of course, doesn’t buy this (pdf, p. 17):

There is no analytic basis for Brand’s assumption that all energy options are necessary, nor is it sensible.

Lovins goes on to criticize Brand for misinterpreting parts of the Princeton study. As well, Lovins dings Brand for offering only one piece of evidence to back up the concept of a portfolio approach.

Well, there isn’t just one piece of evidence that says we need a portfolio of technologies. The Electric Power Research Institute has been presenting their analysis on how to reduce emissions for three years now (pdf) and below is their chart that shows the amount the US has to build for each technology to help reduce emissions (p. 3):

Each color represents the incremental reduction in emissions projected as feasible for a given technology under a given set of assumptions.

EPRI’s model builds out the maximum amount of capacity that they believe is possible to achieve for each technology. For example, by 2030, they project that the US nuclear industry could feasibly build 64,000 megawatts of new capacity and renewables could build 135,000 MW.

Lovins also argues on page 17 that:

The more urgent you think it is to protect the climate, the more important it is to spend each dollar to best effect by choosing the fastest and cheapest options—those that will displace most carbon soonest.

Here’s what the EPRI analysis found (pdf, p. 16):

The analysis confirms that while the cost of implementing major CO2 emissions reductions is significant, development and deployment of a full portfolio of technologies will reduce the cost to the U.S. economy by more than $1 trillion. Less than half of these savings would be achievable if the future electricity sector generation portfolio does not include advanced coal with CO2 capture and storage or advanced light water nuclear reactors.

EPRI’s results from their economic model conclude that nuclear IS a good buy to reduce emissions, contrary to Lovins’ assertions. If we don’t invest in nuclear, it will cost more for other technologies to reduce emissions. Lovins says that “we have only so much money.” EPRI found that we’ll be saving money if we invest in nuclear.

Further, other economic models from other sources came to many of the same conclusions as EPRI did on nuclear. Below is a table of many more studies that found that nuclear is projected to have a large role to play in a CO2-sensitive world. The table highlights the amount of new nuclear capacity projected to be built by a certain year under various climate change proposals and analyses.

For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s economic analysis of the House of Representative’s climate change legislation (Waxman/Markey, H.R. 2454), 187 new reactors are projected to be built by 2050 if we assume all existing nuclear plants retire after 60 years.

According to the Energy Information Administration’s economic analysis of the Waxman/Markey bill, in the shorter term, the United States would need to build 69 new reactors by 2030 to meet the bill’s CO2 reduction goals. This would result in nuclear energy supplying 33 percent of US electricity, more than any other source.

Here are even more studies we’ve compiled highlighting what others are saying about nuclear energy's role in averting climate change and protecting the environment.

Back to Lovins (p. 18):

Nuclear expansion, [my] papers show, is about the least [cost] effective way to displace carbon (or achieve any of its other professed goals).

That’s just it, only Lovins’ papers show nuclear is the least cost effective way to displace CO2. Everyone else’s economic modeling comes to opposite conclusions. Lovins again on page 18:

These—efficiency and micropower—are the solutions that the global marketplace is overwhelmingly choosing in preference to nuclear power, where allowed to.

For those who weren’t around a year and a half ago when we debunked Lovins’ previous study, we showed that his data for “micropower” was mostly made up of decentralized fossil-fuel plants. As Sovietologist pointed out a few weeks ago, Lovins admitted in his latest post at Grist that he still doesn’t know the carbon intensity of “micropower.” How can Lovins claim “micropower” is a better climate solution than nuclear when he doesn’t even know its CO2 footprint? Stewart Brand sums it up more eloquently (p. 100):

It turns out that [Lovins’] arguments against the economics of nuclear power work only within the narrow commercial boundaries he defines, which increasingly no longer apply, and he focuses mainly on the US. His reasoning has no traction in relatively dirigiste economies like France, Japan, and most developing countries, especially China and India; if those governments want nukes, they build nukes. More important, the loom of climate change has altered everybody’s perspective on costs and risks.

It would be presumptuous to exclude any technology that has the ability to reduce emissions, generate vast quantities of electricity and provide reliable and affordable power. Nuclear already does this. Wind and solar have a foot in the door to possibly make a meaningful contribution. The world, however, has very little experience of successfully integrating high amounts of wind and solar. Wind capacity is booming right now but how do we know if it’ll sufficiently perform in a potentially warmer climate? We already know wind generation declines in the summer (pdf). Thus, it would be a bit foolish of us to put all of our eggs in one basket, especially with technologies dependent on the whims of the sun and wind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Candris, Scots, and Carbon Friendly Flowers

toyota-solar-flowers Shall we see what’s doing in the world of nuclear energy?

Aris Candris, the CEO of Westinghouse makes the case in the Wall Street Journal:

Nuclear energy … must play a larger role in our effort to become and remain energy independent, and to reduce carbon emissions. The growth of nuclear power will also have peripheral benefits, as it constitutes an economic stimulus package in and of itself.

Although any industry can sell itself as an economic stimulus if it starts hiring more people and doing more work, Candris demonstrates that this is happening now:

To date, the recent growth of the nuclear energy industry has created at least 15,000 jobs, with many more on the horizon. Westinghouse's work alone in the deployment of four new nuclear plants now under construction in China will create or sustain an additional 5,000 U.S. jobs in 20 states.

Do read the rest. Candris does a good job laying out the economic case.

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The British have lately released a draft plan that approves building 10 new nuclear units, most at sites already existing. But:

The SNP [Scottish National Party] government at Holyrood have vowed to block two new nuclear stations at Dounreay and Hunterston, claiming they are dangerous and unnecessary because of the amount of wind and wave power generated in Scotland.

Uh, oh, this kind of thing always ends in tears.

SNP energy spokesman Mike Weir MP accused [Energy Secretary Ed] Miliband of "cheerleading for the nuclear industry".

He said: "Right now, Scotland is capitalising on our vast clean, green energy potential, instead of following London Labour's blind faith in costly, dirty, dangerous and unreliable nuclear power.

Scots Labour, too.

But a Labour spokeswoman warned that would damage the Scottish economy - and run the risk of the lights going out across the country due to power cuts.

She said: "The SNP are in the 'just say no' camp and it shows they're not serious.

We’re surprised she didn’t call them the Party of No. Scotland has an election next year – let’s see how this plays out.

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We don’t have any particular brief on the Toyota Prius, but critics say (and why not?) that the Prius manufacturing plant puts out enough carbon to nullify the car’s benefits. What to do?

Toyota has created two flower species that absorb nitrogen oxides and take heat out of the atmosphere.

The flowers, derivatives of the cherry sage plant and the gardenia, were specially developed for the grounds of Toyota’s Prius plant in Toyota City, Japan.

So that’s that. (There’s more to it – see the whole story for more.)

A Toyota solar flower (not related to the flowers above), which they’re putting up in various locales to promote the 2010 Prius. Read more about them here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part Two (The "Baseload Myth")

Continuing on Friday’s critique of Amory Lovins’ latest study, our following post delves into discussing if wind and solar are baseload technologies. Funny enough, Lovins’ rebuttal of this myth completely misinterpreted what Stewart Brand said about baseload in his nuclear chapter and apparently ended up agreeing with Brand in one case.

The “baseload myth”

Here’s the quote from Brand’s book that the Lovins study has a problem with (p. 80 and 81):

“’Baseload,’” she [Gwyneth Cravens] explains in the book, “refers to the minimum amount of proven, consistent, around-the-clock, rain-or-shine power that utilities must supply to meet the demands of their millions of customers.”

Wind and solar, desirable as they are, aren’t part of baseload because they are intermittent—productive only when the wind blows or the sun shines. If some sort of massive energy storage is devised, then they can participate in baseload; without it, they remain supplemental, usually to gas-fired plants.

This claim is “fallacious” according to Lovins, yet Lovins’ six-page rebuttal (p. 5-10) to Brand’s quote doesn’t even make the claim that wind and solar are baseload, only that the two intermittent technologies can be successfully integrated into the grid. Brand didn’t say wind and solar can’t contribute to the grid, he only said they’re just not baseload technologies. Apparently, that wasn’t clear to Lovins, but what Brand says is clear to me and even to the wind folks who put together an analysis of how wind could possibly get to 20% of the US’ electricity by 2030 (p. 89):

The units with the highest capacity factors—nuclear (75% CF) and coal (62% and 71% CF)—are the workhorses of the system because they produce relatively low-cost baseload energy and are fully dispatchable. [emphasis added] Wind (30% CF) and hydro (27% CF) generate essentially free energy, so the wind is taken whenever it is available (subject to transmission availability) and the hydro is scheduled to deliver maximum value to the system (to the extent possible). The plants with the lowest capacity factors (combined cycle, combustion turbines, and oil- and gas-fired steam boilers) are operated as peaking and load-following plants and essential capacity resources.

This quote confirms exactly what Brand is saying about baseload and it’s coming from the technology’s own promoters. As well, on page 9, the Lovins study said this:

capacity factor averaged 35–37% for 2004–08 U.S. wind projects, is typically around 30–40% in good sites, and exceeds 50% in the best sites. Proven and cost effective bulk power storage is also available if needed. [emphasis added]

Wait, Stewart Brand said wind and solar CAN be baseload if “some sort of massive energy storage is devised.” Is Lovins confirming Brand’s claim here by saying that “bulk power storage” can supplement wind if needed? What does Lovins mean here by “if needed”? Here, the Lovins study again misinterpreted what Brand had to say about energy storage and looks like ended up agreeing with Brand in this case.

As well, Lovins exaggerates the performance of wind here. According to his source (p. 40), wind’s capacity factor has ranged between 35-37% when in fact the average has been declining every year over the past four years.

Lovins goes on to praise the virtues of solar while again not even rebutting Brand’s claim that solar is not baseload. Here are several nuggets from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation report on integrating solar and wind (pdf) that confirm Brand’s and Craven’s definition that solar is not baseload:

(p. 25) Under certain weather conditions, PV installations can change output by +/- 70% in a time frame of two to ten minutes, many times per day.

(p. 27) PV systems can experience variations in output of +/- 50% in to 30 to 90 second time frame and +/- 70% in a five to ten minute time frame. Furthermore, the ramps of this magnitude can be experienced many times in a single day during certain weather conditions.

This solar variability is not a characteristic of baseload electricity, which Brand and Cravens describe as “consistent, around-the-clock.” Yet again, the Lovins study didn’t even bring up this variability of solar and sidetracked with a bunch of stats that don’t go to rebut Brand. Lovins also cited this same NERC report yet cherry-picked it only for a piece of data related to energy storage.

Wrap-Up

After wasting six pages of space attempting to rebut Brand, the Lovins study didn’t even make the case that wind and solar are baseload. The study did make the case that wind and solar can be integrated highly into the grid, even as much as nuclear. Yet, anyone who’s read the latest NERC report on integrating high levels of variable technologies (pdf) knows they have to take Lovins’ claims with a grain of salt. That’s because the NERC report asked way more questions than it had answers to when discussing how to integrate variable technologies.

NERC is currently researching and formulating ways on how to integrate wind and solar. According to their latest assessment report from last month, though, the variable technologies are having a bit of a tough time reliably integrating large amounts of capacity into the grid (start with page 31 to see what I mean, pdf).

As the wind report cited by both Lovins and me stated quite clearly, nuclear and coal “are the workhorses of the system because they produce relatively low-cost baseload energy and are fully dispatchable.” Variable technologies aren’t even described as workhorses yet even by the technology’s own promoters. Thus, it’s quite a bit premature on Mr. Lovins’ part to declare that variable technologies “properly used, can actually become major or even dominant ways to displace coal and provide stable, predictable, resilient, constant-price electricity.”

The next piece from us to look out for in response to Lovins’ latest claims will be on the need for all emission-free technologies to mitigate climate change (or at least the need for nuclear).

Friday, November 06, 2009

Building a Building

800px-Detroit_GM_headquarters One of the issues in getting the nuclear renaissance rolling – but one that is particularly responsive to capitalist imperatives – is the manufacturing of pieces that make up a plant.

After all, it’s been a long time since an American nuclear plant has been built and a lot of the action moved overseas - to France and Japan, in particular. But it’s not as though America doesn’t have a work force with considerable skill at this type of work – hmm! where might that be?

Michigan needs to get on the nuclear power train because it's getting ready to leave the station -- and take the jobs with it.

No, this isn't a call to green-light yet another nuke plant here. It's a reminder that the Big Mitten still has the ability to make things. Climate-change politics and surging demand for electricity around the world are powering a nuclear renaissance, and states like Michigan -- deep in engineering expertise, surplus industrial capacity and an established transportation infrastructure -- could get a piece of that multi-billion dollar business.

This is from columnist Daniel Howes at the Detroit News. If he coined the term The Big Mitten, points to him. More points for an excellent, though very obvious, suggestion. But:

"I can't make Michigan become a key supplier of nuclear components," Dan Roderick, senior vice president for nuclear plant projects at GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Inc., told a "nuclear renaissance" seminar this week organized by DTE Energy Corp. "You can. How much of this do you want? Someone's going to come and get it."

Howes further makes the case:

The Environmental Protection Agency predicts the nation will need to build 187 new nuclear reactors, partly to replace existing ones that have reached the end of their functional lives and partly to meet the expanding power needs of a deeply electrified society. Add electrified transportation, and the demand grows even more.

"We've got available capacity and available skills" in Michigan, says Gerry Anderson, chief operating officer of DTE Energy. "If we want to stake a leadership position, we've got to move now."

DTE Energy certainly sees the opportunity, so we paid a visit over there to see what they’re up to. Here DTE makes the pitch:

Michigan has the transportation infrastructure to move parts anywhere in the world ... and we have the engineering and manufacturing capability to meet the needs of the nuclear power industry as it grows globally.  We need to leverage these resources now to stake a leadership position for Michigan as a supply hub to this industry.

And it looks like it wants to get the ball rolling:

If your Michigan business is interested in becoming a nuclear construction and/or maintenance supplier, we encourage you to complete and submit this pre-qualification survey.*

It’s a seven-page form, very detailed and seemingly aimed at retrofitting existing factories rather than building new ones. But you’ve got to start somewhere. Let’s see if – or rather, when - some ambitious entrepreneurs in Michigan step up.

The Detroit skyline.

Without You: Climate Change Bill Bypasses GOP

inhofe We can’t really call yesterday’s passage of the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee tainted, because the bill itself is almost pristine. No amendments were added to it, nothing was removed. But the process lacked a – certain – something:

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported out a climate change bill on Thursday despite a boycott by Republican members, who had required a complete analysis of the measure before participating in the committee debate.

The Republicans bailed out because they wanted a full EPA analysis of the bill before proceeding. Neither Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) nor ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have put up press releases about Boxer’s maneuver yet. However, Inhofe did issue a statement:

"The Republicans offered a clear path forward to a bipartisan markup, but it was summarily rejected by Chairman Boxer.[Boxer] decided to ignore the entreaties of all 6 ranking members from Senate committees with some share of jurisdiction over climate change legislation, as well as leading moderates in the Senate. Her action signals the death knell for the Kerry Boxer bill," he added.

We’ll see about that death knell. After all, the Finance Committee will have a run at it – Max Baucus (D - Montana), who chairs that committee, was the one vote against it in the Energy committee – and all the Senators will be able to festoon it with amendments once it hits the floor.

But for now, the bill, including the rather empty nuclear title, is the same as when the committee presented it for hearings. We await the next move.

Sen. James Inhofe would like to make a point.

Beaming Through Grime

Anita-2 We have to give our friends in the coal industry credit – it has had a pretty good showing in the climate change bill, even if the goal of the bill builds on the hope that carbon capture and sequestration proves itself, and it survived the widespread attention given to the clean coal carolers, a well-intended Flash animation that was bound to bring down criticism.

However, here’s the thing: coal miners don’t deserve, and for most part haven’t received, the criticism that industry touts might receive. These are folks doing a job many would not consider doing and take a considerable amount of pride in the doing of it.

So we were delighted to see an initiative to celebrate coal miners, with West Virginia based photographer Thorney Lieberman putting together a show of photographic assemblages spotlighting these workers.

Here’s how he describes the project:

The project I am proposing would entail my travel to several mining communities, where I would set up a temporary studio in a community space – a school or church gym, for example - and photograph approximately 30 men and women who mine coal.

Initially, I envision making photographs of them in the clothes and equipment that they wear to work, but as my approach is often guided by the subjects themselves, this could vary. Similarly, while I see the images primarily in black & white, some could be done in color should that become desirable and is deemed appropriate.

Lieberman picked up sponsors for the project, including Appalachian Power, Prichard Mining Co., the International Coal Group, A.T. Massey Coal Co., Natural Resource Partners, Petroleum Products, the United Mine Workers of America, the Bituminous Coal Heritage Foundation Museum and many others.

This is exactly the kind of project these organizations ought to support, if the value proposition is that it transmutes the stuff of work into art. That’s clearly Lieberman’s intention.

But let’s allow that such sponsorship carries a decided risk:

These monumental portraits reveal the human essence of the coal industry and their exhibition will celebrate and honor these men and women as contemporary American heroes.

Well, no, they’re not “contemporary American heroes,” any more than any other contemporary American.

Still, Lieberman really does capture the pride that goes into work, even if the work, as the photos show, leaves one caked in grime and soot. No one, anywhere along the ideological spectrum, would care to say that hard work that leads to a perceived positive outcome is not worth doing.

And because coal has become more controversial, the look of pride on these faces conjures up considerable ambiguity: because Lieberman has made these assemblages life size, you’re confronted with the whole person. So what do you say to them? What can you say? Your good intentions and their good intentions may not meet in the middle and, in any event, do not put you in a very good position. They’re the ones beaming through dirt. You may be left a little embarrassed.

As a photographer – and only seeing the work online – Lieberman seems a technically proficient but not extraordinary talent. But the idea is brilliant and very well executed. The project might qualify as coal industry agit-prop, but it’s a league beyond the clean coal carolers. So credit where it’s due.

Anita Cecil, one of the subjects of Thorney Lieberman’s Honoring America’s Coal Miners project.

Amory Lovins vs. Stewart Brand - Part One (The “Land Footprint Myth”)

Three weeks ago Mr. Amory Lovins released a very pointed critique of Stewart Brand’s chapter on nuclear in Brand’s new book, Whole Earth Discipline. After reading both Brand’s and Lovins’ pieces, I understood why Lovins was so critical of Brand. It was because Brand was quite critical of Lovins in his book (p. 99):

In early 2009, in Ambio magazine, Amory Lovins declared: “Nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete.”

How can someone [Lovins] so smart be so wrong about a subject he knows so well? [Emphasis added]
Ouch. It’s now clear to us why Mr. Lovins came out with his critique of Brand when he did.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been able to digest Mr. Lovins’ latest claims in his new study (pdf) and have generated quite a few thoughts to share. In Lovins’ response to Brand’s chapter on nuclear, Lovins takes Brand to task on four issues he believes are myths about nuclear: baseload energy, land footprint, the need for all options, and the role of government. Because there is a lot to discuss about each topic, we’re going to present blogposts addressing each of the myths to show how Lovins’ latest critique is nothing more than the usual cherry-picked junk that we’ve always seen from Lovins.

Lovins’ supposed “footprint myth”
One issue the Lovins clan has with Brand is the claim that wind and solar generating facilities need a tremendous amount of land to produce the same amount of electricity as nuclear plants. Here’s the quote from Brand (p. 81):
As for footprint, Gwyneth Cravens points out that “A nuclear plant producing 1,000 megawatts takes up a third of a square mile. A wind farm would have to cover over 200 square miles to obtain the same result, and a solar array over 50 square miles.”
Here’s what the Lovins study says in response after making their own calculations (p. 16):
windpower is far less land-intensive than nuclear power; photovoltaics spread across land comparable to nuclear if mounted on the ground in average U.S. sites, but much or most of that land (shown in the table) can be shared with lifestock or wildlife, and PVs use no land if mounted on structures, as ~90% now are. Brand’s “footprint” is thus the opposite of what he claims.
When comparing land footprints among the three technologies, the Lovins study used a total nuclear lifecycle footprint of 119 square meters/GWh from a study written by two national lab scientists (Fthenakis and Kim). As usual, the new Lovins study cherry-picked only one chart from F&K’s study and that was a chart showing the amount of land nuclear plants need during the entire life cycle of a nuclear energy facility (mining, power plant, etc.). F&K’s study, however, didn’t just look at nuclear, they also showed the amount of land needed for the life cycle of all other technologies. Below is the chart:
As can be seen from the chart highlighted in red, nuclear’s life cycle land use requirements come in several orders of magnitude lower than wind’s and solar’s. Yet this chart and the study’s conclusions are ignored in Lovins’ paper and only the number for nuclear is used.

As well, if we continue to use the 119 square meters/GWh land use for nuclear, other studies cited in the Lovins paper also show nuclear uses much less land than wind and solar. Below is a chart from the source the Lovins study uses for its solar number (pdf). Even using the lowest range of land needed per year from the last column shows that solar needs at least 42 times and wind needs more than 1,100 times the amount of land as a nuclear plant.
For wind’s footprint, the Lovins study cited “the Bush Administration’s 20% Wind Energy by 2030” study but again cherry-picked the data to support its claims. Here’s the full paragraph from the wind study (pdf) of which only the last half was mentioned in the Lovins study (p. 110-111):
Wind development also requires large areas of land, but the land is used very differently. The 20% Wind Scenario (305 GW) estimates that in the United States, about 50,000 square kilometers (km2) would be required for land-based projects and more than 11,000 km2 would be needed for offshore projects. However, the footprint of land that will actually be disturbed for wind development projects under the 20% Wind Scenario ranges from 2% to 5% of the total amount (representing land needed for the turbines and related infrastructure). Thus the amount of land to be disturbed by wind development under the 20% Wind Scenario is only 1,000 to 2,500 km2 (100,000 to 250,000 hectares)…
So, for 305 GW of wind, the required area of land is estimated to be 50,000 square kilometers or 19,300 square miles. Dividing 19,300 by 305 GW, we find that a wind farm requires 63 square miles of space per GW. If we multiply that area by three to account for wind’s 30% capacity factor compared to nuclear’s 90%, we find that a wind farm requires nearly 200 square miles of land “to obtain the same result as a [1,000 MW] nuclear plant.” Close to what Brand and Cravens said.

Yes, the actual land “disturbed” by a wind turbine is only 2-5% of that, however, a wind turbine needs a huge amount of open area to produce meaningful quantities of electricity. This requirement can’t be ignored, even though Lovins calls it “erroneous,” else wind turbines would be stacked right next to each other. It would be disingenuous to tell the Iowa farmers that a wind farm doesn’t take up much land when all they need to do is walk outside their homes and see their entire horizon blanketed by turbines.

Further, on closer look at Lovins’ sources, cherry-picking again appears. On pages 13 and 14, Lovins cites a study written by Spitzley & Keoleian (pdf) which Lovins picks a few convenient nuclear numbers and ignores the rest. Yet those authors also wrote a study analyzing all technologies, not just nuclear. Below is a picture of S&K’s page 31, which shows the amount of land needed for all technologies. Highlighted in red are the numbers that show nuclear uses much less land than wind and solar.
Three sources cited in the Lovins study concluded that nuclear uses much less land than solar and wind. Clearly, the authors of those studies consider the open areas between wind turbines and the large arrays for solar plants a requirement to function. Yet the Lovins study clearly manipulated the numbers from those sources to fit its own beliefs. Thus, it’s not Brand and Cravens who believe in a land footprint “myth”, it’s Mr. Lovins.

Stay tuned as we’ll get into what qualifies as baseload energy.