Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive – 2018-06-01 01:02:44
Trump Has Plenty of Accomplices in His Reckless Energy Policies
Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive
(May 24, 2018) — Some 360,000 Americans now work in the solar industry, more than in nukes and coal combined. In fact, more Americans are now working in California’s solar industry than are digging coal nationwide. And the US wind business now employs more than 100,000 people.
But President Donald Trump wants to change that. He has already slammed the solar industry’s growth by slapping a 30 percent tariff on imported Chinese panels, slowing installations nationwide.
He’s also contemplating using an obscure Korean War-era “emergency” ordinance that would let the government bail out money-losing coal and nuclear plants at the expense of renewables.
The idea was presented to Trump while he dined with a lobbyist from the infamous Akron-based FirstEnergy, whose bad business decisions have hung it with four crumbling, money-losing nuclear power reactors and some eighty obsolete coal burners.
More than half the nation’s ninety-nine licensed commercial reactors are now losing money. FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse, near Toledo, Ohio; Perry, east of Cleveland, Ohio, and Beaver Valley 1 & 2, outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are bleeding radioactive red ink. One might expect “free market” corporate executives to cut their losses and let competition determine how our energy will be generated.
But FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones (annual salary: $8.7 million) has begged Ohio’s legislature and regulators to slap consumers with billions in higher electric rates. So far he’s failed, which is why he sent his lobbyist to dine with Trump.
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Already, governments are doing what they can to prop up the nuclear power and fossil-fuel industries and damage the cause of renewable power.
Three nuclear reactors in Illinois have been granted a $200 million annual handout for the next decade. Pennsylvania and Connecticut may soon get soaked with massive rate hikes to keep reactors running there.
The New Jersey legislature has just approved spending $430 million over the next decade to run three more uneconomical reactors there, two at Salem and one at Hope Creek. Activists including actor Alec Baldwin have urged that state’s new Democratic governor to veto that proposal.
Throughout the United States, owners of even those few reactors that are still making money are poised to scam their way into compliant legislatures to see how much they can grab.
But the biggest nuke scam of all has been rammed through state regulatory agencies by New York’s “liberal” Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo backs the 2021 shutdown of two decrepit reactors at Indian Point, saying they are too close to Manhattan to be considered safe.
But Cuomo wants ratepayers statewide to cough up a staggering $7.6 billion for four upstate reactors whose owners had them slated for decommissioning. To the astonishment of economists, ecologists, business and ratepayer groups, Cuomo’s hand-picked regulators approved the rip-off last year.
Nuclear opponents have gone to court to stop it. They argue that while less than four thousand jobs are tied to the reactors, many thousands more would be created by replacement wind and solar projects.
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FirstEnergy’s scam is even more brazen. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the average reactor generally employs between four hundred and seven hundred workers. Some workers stay on long after shutdown to deal with issues of decommissioning and waste management.
But along with bailing out its four dying nukes, FirstEnergy wants a staggering $8 billion per year in above-market ratepayer fees for some 80 coal burners.
Rightwing think tanks like Heritage have joined financial and business groups in warning such rate hikes could decimate the area’s economy.
Meanwhile, a bitterly disputed “set-back” law has stopped some $4.2 billion in proposed wind projects along Ohio’s “north coast,” which is flat, windy, well-wired and full of farmers desperate for the projects to begin. But repeal has stalled, with tens of thousands of jobs and billions in income hanging in limbo.
They’ll all disappear if Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry approve FirstEnergy’s “emergency” bailout.
Last September, the Trump Administration approved another $3.7 billion in federal loans, on top $8.3 billion approved in the past, to sustain a scandal-ridden nuclear project in Vogtle, Georgia.
More recently, on May 10, Congress passed a new attempt to open the proposed Yucca Mountain waste dump. The plan to store some 70,000 tons of high-level commercial radwaste in an earthquake-riddled dormant volcano is overwhelmingly opposed by Nevadans and had long since been written off.
But a bi-partisan House vote of 340 to 72 mandated that within 30 months the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must decide whether to license the facility. It now heads to the Senate, where Republicans may be hesitant to act because their cohort, Dean Heller of Nevada faces a tough re-election battle in a state where the dump is extremely unpopular.
As all of this plays out, tens of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. The nation’s entrenched fossil-nuclear corporate elites are more focused on propping up the industries of the past than embracing the technologies of the future.
Harvey Wasserman’s radio shows appear at prn.fm and KPFK-Pacifica, 90.7FM, Los Angeles. His America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Life & Death Spiral of US History from Deganawidah to the Donald will soon be published at Solartopia.org.
Trump’s Assault on Solar Masks an
Epic Crisis in the Nuclear Industry
Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive
The shutdown of four more major reactors
would be a huge blow to the downwardly
spiraling atomic energy industry
(January 25, 2018) — As Donald Trump launches his latest assault on renewable energy — imposing a 30 percent tariff on solar panels imported from China — a major crisis in the nuclear power industry is threatening to shut four high-profile reactors, with more shutdowns to come. These closures could pave the way for thousands of new jobs in wind and solar, offsetting at least some of the losses from Trump’s attack.
Like nearly everything else Trump does, the hike in duties makes no rational sense. Bill McKibben summed it up, tweeting: “Trump imposes 30% tariff on imported solar panels — one more effort to try and slow renewable energy, one more favor for the status quo.”
The administration’s public excuse for imposing these tariffs is to “defend American workers,” and foster the production of panels here at home. The political impetus came primarily from two manufacturers — Suniva and SolarWorld — that manufacture in the United States, but are principally owned by foreigners. Ironically, a majority of Suniva is actually owned by Chinese investors, and the company is currently involved in a tortuous debt dispute that has clouded its future.
SolarWorld’s parent company, based in Bonn, Germany, has been involved in bankruptcy proceedings that prompted its owners at one point to try to sell the company’s American holdings, primarily a manufacturing facility in Oregon.
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China’s record on renewable energy is mixed. The nation has long been committed to nuclear energy, and currently has thirty-eight reactors in operation. After the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, China staged a major re-examination of its new reactor projects, but has since committed to building another twenty.
But China has also poured immense resources into leading the world in photovoltaic cell production. It flooded the field with below-cost, government subsidized panels that helped drive the photovoltaics giant Solyndra into bankruptcy. Solyndra defaulted on a $500 million Obama loan, prompting a high-profile assault on renewables from fossil and nuclear advocates.
In 2011, then-US Senator Sander Levin of Michigan charged the Chinese with unfair trade practices, saying in a statement, “China is systematically deploying an arsenal of trade distorting policies to corner the global market in green technology products, whether it be electric cars, wind turbines or solar products.”
But in the years since, the burgeoning US market for cheap Chinese panels has birthed a very large industry. More than a quarter-million Americans now work in photovoltaics, with most of the jobs in building desert arrays or perching the panels on rooftops. Except for the very marginal pressure from Suniva and SolarWorld, solar advocates have focussed on the rapid spread of low-cost panels, even if they come from China.
Powered largely by Chinese product, the cost of a solar-generated watt of power has droppedfrom $6.00 in the late 1990s to around $0.72 in 2016. Further drops are considered inevitable. At that price, there is virtually no economic margin for any other new energy production construction except wind and natural gas. Even gas — with its uncertain long-term supply — is on the cusp of being priced out.
Thus, the industry’s reaction to Trump’s solar panel tariff has been fierce.
“We are not happy with this decision,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the American Solar Energy Association, told Reuters. “It’s just basic economics — if you raise the price of a product, it’s going to decrease demand for that product.” Trump’s move is predicted to drop upcoming solar installations by 10 to 15 percent and cost some 23,000 jobs.
Sustainable energy professor Scott Sklar, in an email to The Progressive, estimated that Trump’s 30 percent tariff will, after four years, “retard the solar market by 9 percent, cause the loss of thousands of US jobs, and not save the two companies that brought the anti-competitive tariff request initially. The tariff was a political statement to China rather than specifically addressing the health of the US solar industry and increasing US solar jobs.”
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Two major developments in the nuclear power industry further illustrate the absurdity of Trump’s decision.
In California, the Public Utilities Commission has gutted a major agreement that would have kept two mammoth reactors at Diablo Canyon operating for several more years. The landmark deal — cut between Pacific Gas & Electric, the host communities around San Luis Obispo, the reactors’ union workers and two environmental groups — called for PG&E to collect some $1.3 billion from ratepayers.
But the California commission cut PG&E’s take to about $300 million. To continue running the two fast-deteriorating old reactors would require massive capital repairs. The company also has admitted that all of Diablo’s power can be otherwise produced with zero- and low-carbon green technologies.
While Trump’s tariffs may slightly alter the math, they’re not expected to make photovoltaics, wind, geothermal, or increased efficiency more expensive than the power Diablo might generate in the coming seven years. Thus, Diablo opponents like Linda Sealey of the San Luis-based Mothers for Peace are extremely hopeful for early shutdowns.
“We think this makes it likely they’ll shut as early as 2020,” she told me January 18 on California Solartopia at KPFK radio in Los Angeles. “They just can’t compete.”
A parallel fate may soon overtake Ohio’s ancient Perry and Davis-Besse reactors on Lake Erie. Because the increasingly decrepit nuclear plants have been priced out of the market and face huge capital repairs, their owner FirstEnergy has been desperately begging the Ohio legislature for massive bailouts, which it has so far resisted.
As a result, FirstEnergy is poised to go bankrupt, and may soon be bought out by financiers expected to insist the two reactors finally shut. A decision is expected in April.
The shutdown of four more major reactors would be a huge blow to the downwardly spiraling atomic energy industry. California’s booming solar business employs more than 100,000 Americans, more than are currently digging coal nationwide. The void left by Diablo’s shutdown would generate thousands of Golden State jobs and billions in renewable revenue.
In northern Ohio, massive wind potential is also poised to create far more jobs than are currently in place at the two reactors, with energy to be generated far more cheaply. Overall, the closure of these four high-profile plants would thus accelerate the already rapid run away from nuclear power toward renewable sources, regardless of any attempt by the Trump Administration to alter the course.
Harvey “Sluggo” Wasserman’s “California Solartopia Show” is broadcast at KPFK-Pacifica 90.7FM in Los Angeles. His “Green Power & Wellness Show” is podcast at prn.fm. His History of the US and Solartopia! are at www.solartopia.org, which will publish his America at the Brink of Rebirth later this year.
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