Category: Green Energy

Trump’s Assault on Solar Masks an Epic Crisis in the Nuclear Industry

1.25 solaman 4 hw

by Harvey “Sluggo” Wasserman

Originally published at Progressive.org on 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.

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-U.S. 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 U.S. 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 dropped from $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 U.S. 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 U.S. solar industry and increasing U.S. solar jobs.”


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.

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 atwww.solartopia.org, which will publish his America at the Brink of Rebirthlater this year.

In Maria’s Wake, Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green?

by

Originally published by The Progressive on September 28, 2017

Moca_Pueblo_Puerto_Rico_USE THIS

 

The ecological and humanitarian destruction of Puerto Rico has left the world aghast. But there is a hopeful green-powered opportunity in this disaster that could vastly improve the island’s future while offering the world a critical showcase for a sane energy future.

By all accounts Hurricane Maria has leveled much of the island, and literally left it in the dark. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid has been extensively damaged, with no prospects for a return to conventionally generated and distributed power for months to come.

In response Donald Trump has scolded the island for it’s massive debt, and waited a full week after the storm hit to lift a shipping restriction requiring all incoming goods to be carried on US-flagged ships. (That restriction is largely responsible for the island’s economic problems in the first place.)

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is a state-owned operation that hosts a number of solar and wind farms, as well as a network of hydroelectric dams. But the bulk of its energy supply has come from heavy industrial oil, diesel and gas burners. It also burns coal imported from Colombia at a plant in Guyama.

The fossil burners themselves apparently were left mostly undamaged by Maria. But the delivery system, a traditional network of above-ground poles and wires, has essentially been obliterated. Power authority officials say it could take at least 4-6 months to rebuild that network.

And of course, there is no guaranteeing such a pole-and-wire set-up would not then be obliterated by the next storm.

Among the most serious casualties have been the island’s hospitals. According to reports, 58 of Puerto Rico’s 69 medical facilities have been blacked out. At least two people died when intensive care units went dark.


But therein lies the opportunity. With solar panels and battery backups, every one of those hospitals could be energy self-sufficient. Throughout the U.S. such technology is now being applied at medical facilities, data processing and storage facilities, and other critical units.

According to Mark Sommer, a California-based energy expert, Puerto Rico could safeguard such critical facilities and far more quickly restore its power by letting go of the old paradigm of central-generated and distributed electricity, and moving instead to a decentralized network of green-based micro-grids.

In terms of cost, immediacy, immunity from the next hurricane and long-term sustainability, this is a tragic but unique opportunity.

Micro-grids are community-based networks that power smaller geographic and consumer areas than the big central grids like the one that served Puerto Rico. Mostly they are based on decentralized generation, including networks of roof-top solar panels. As Sommer puts it: “renewably powered microgrids are a relatively simple and already mature technology that can be deployed in months rather than years and once the initial investment is recovered deliver dramatically lower energy bills.”

Because Puerto Rico is mountainous and hosts many small, remote villages, the island’s best hope for a manageable energy future is with decentralized power production in self-sustaining neighborhoods. Built around small-scale wind and solar arrays, with battery backups protected from inevitable floods and hurricanes, Puerto Rico could protect its electricity supply from the next natural disaster while building up a healthy, low-cost energy economy.

The island is also a good source of sugar cane and other fast-growing tropical vegetation, making a strong case for bio-mass sources like ethanol. Much of Brazil’s automobile fleet runs at least partly on fuel produced by fermenting bagasse, a by-product of the country’s huge sugar cane crop.

With local financing and ownership, the prospects for a sun-drenched eco-system like Puerto Rico’s to go to renewable-based micro-grids are overwhelming. In terms of cost, immediacy, immunity from the next hurricane and long-term sustainability, this is a tragic but unique opportunity.

There is little precedent for an entire geographic entity to lose 100% of its grid. We can expect a deaf ear on this from a Trump Administration dominated by the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.

But to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid in a traditional centralized fashion would only prolong Maria’s agony while leaving the island deathly vulnerable to the next big wind storm.

Puerto Rico’s best hope for a safe, prosperous, sustainable energy future is to take control of its power supply with a mix of renewable generation, protected backup storage, and a decentralized, local-based network of community-owned microgrids.

““““““““

Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter: @Solartopia

© 2018 Solartopia.org

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑