Tag: renewable energy

4 Dying Nuke Plants vs. Fleet of Gigafactories: Which Will Gov. Cuomo Choose?

By Harvey Wasserman and Tim Judson

Originally published at EcoWatch

3.30.HW.ecowatch

Elon Musk’s SolarCity is completing the construction of its “Buffalo Billion” Gigafactory for photovoltaic (PV) cells near the Niagara River in Buffalo, New York. It will soon put 500 New Yorkers to work inside the 1.2 million-square-foot facility with another 700 nearby, ramping up to nearly 3,000 over the next few years.

The production of some 10,000 solar panels per day will put thousands of New Yorkers to work doing the installations. The panels will produce electricity cheaper, cleaner, more safely and more reliably than any fossil or nuclear source of power, including fracked gas, thus fueling a bright industrial future for the state.

With a little common sense from the governor, upstate New York could have many more of these massive factories, create many thousands of good, stable, high-paying jobs and solve its energy problems along the way.

All he has to do is shift over the absurd, wrong-headed $7.6 billion hand-out he now wants to give the Illinois-based Exelon Corporation for continuing to run four extremely old and dangerous nuclear reactors.

Those four reactors employ a total of about 2,100 people. They came online in 1969, 1970, 1975 and 1988 respectively. Aside from being dangerously decrepit, they run the risk of early shutdown because of general mechanical deterioration, rising maintenance costs, a shortage of replacement parts and the likelihood of major component failures.

At some point all operating reactors will also face escalated safety standards certain to result from the next Fukushima-like disaster, an ever-more likely reality as the global nuke fleet ages and deteriorates. Because the nuclear industry is failing throughout the U.S. and Europe, there is an ever-narrowing pool of workers qualified to keep the plants going. Because the electricity they produce is so expensive, they will drain a huge pool of resources from a state-wide economy in desperate need of industrial rebirth.

By contrast, SolarCity’s solar panel plant will be productive for decades. It’s called the Gigafactory because it will produce a gigawatt’s (1 million kilowatts) worth of solar panels every year, about the same as a nuclear reactor. (Depending on climate and sunlight, PV capacity produces electricity equivalent from about a half to a third of the capacity from an atomic reactor, assuming the reactor doesn’t blow up, melt down or shut for other reasons).

The cells produced at “Buffalo Billion” will spread throughout New York and the nation, revolutionizing our energy system. The energy those cells will produce will create far more jobs than subsidized nukes and would emit no greenhouse gases. The nukes they’d replace currently emit billions of gallons of hot wastewater annually, a major contributor to climate chaos.

Should the money Gov. Cuomo has earmarked for those old Exelon nukes be shifted to solar, New York’s economy would be revolutionized.

The template for such a plan has already been established by Pacific Gas & Electric at California’s last two reactors. Surrounded by earthquake faults at an oceanfront site nine miles west of San Luis Obispo, the Diablo Canyon nukes are being phased out in an agreement between the state, the utility, environmental, labor and local government groups.

Pacific Gas & Electric has admitted that the power Diablo produces can be replaced with 100 percent renewables. The company has also agreed to retain the plant’s 1,200 workers through the phase-out and retrain them for jobs in the renewables industry at when the plant shuts down. Surrounding communities will also be compensated for lost tax revenues.

Gov. Cuomo should take heed. The $7.6 billion he’s earmarked for these four upstate nukes comes with a price tag of $3.64 million per retained job. But in the solar/efficiency field, the state is producing jobs manufacturing clean energy technology with far better long-term prospects for just $148,000 per job.

Rather than having all the jobs in the nuclear basket, that $7.6 billion could also help fund a diversity of facilities that have an actual future in a global economy experiencing a revolutionary green transformation.

SolarCity’s Gigafactory in Buffalo will cost the state about $750 million to build. SolarCity is investing another $900 million for manufacturing equipment and build-out.

At full capacity, the PV Gigafactory and its local suppliers will employ 2,900 workers, almost 40 percent more than all four old nukes combined. It will support about 2,000 more jobs statewide. Thus the SolarCity facility will account for about 5,000 jobs—close to three times as many as at the four old reactors. Its cheaper, more reliable energy will fuel a far healthier economy, free of the worry of catastrophic melt-downs and explosions.

Right now some 8,000 New Yorkers work in the solar installation business. They are too often installing imported panels because China has made a huge investment in its PV export business. Panels made in Buffalo will keep that money in New York.

Meanwhile a plant making solar panel wafers in Rochester, built for about $700 million, employs about a 1,000 workers. The Soraa LED lightbulb plant in Syracuse has created 420 permanent local jobs.

Tesla is now pouring thousands of high-efficiency batteries out of its $3.5 billion state-of-the-art facility in Nevada. By mid-2017, it will employ 1,700 workers and about 6,500 when the plant is running at full capacity in 2020. Such a factory could easily be built in New York, again at a fraction the cost of Cuomo’s nuke bailouts.

Worldwide, nuke power is in an advanced state of collapse. Westinghouse, the proud purveyor of the first electricity to come from Niagara Falls, has been bankrupted by its failed nuke construction projects and may take Toshiba down with it.

Those uninsurable old upstate nukes, three of them nearly a half-century old, could do the same to New York. The choice being made here is between a failed technology in the process of collapse or a 21st Century industry in the process of remaking the world.

If Gov. Cuomo wants to take New York forward, instead of locking it into a failed radioactive past, he’ll follow California’s lead. A small fraction of that $7.6 billion could retain and retrain the workers at those four upstate nukes and compensate the local communities and help them rebuild their economies and tax bases. As the results from a 2015 report by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Alliance for Green Economy show, supporting reactor communities and workers should cost far less than any bailouts.

The rest of those billions can then create tens of thousands of solid, state-of-the-art jobs producing cheap, clean, safe green energy components in factories and installation sites sure to guarantee New York state a modern, competitive industrial future.

It’s an easy choice, Gov. Cuomo. Fund four dying nukes with 1,100 jobs or a prosperous Solartopian future for New York state with tens of thousands of permanent positions in a a booming sustainable economy.

####

Wind Power Guru: Nukes Fail to Gain Traction in Monumental Paris Accord

by Harvey Wasserman

January 4, 2016

Paul Gipe is one of the world’s great Solartopian pioneers. His early work on wind power helped make the industry possible. His website publishes some of the most up-to-date and reliable information on the wind and solar industry. His books form the basic library for the progress of wind energy. His newest book, Wind Energy for the Rest of Us: A Comprehensive Guide to Wind Power and How to Use It, will be available in mid-2016.

i want to live

Based in Bakersfield, California, Gipe is known throughout the business as a brash, independent straight shooter with an incorruptible vision of a green-powered economy and how to best get there.

So when I interviewed him recently on my Solartopia radio show, I was curious to hear his reactions to the Paris accord, since some time has passed to let the dust settle.

But Gipe’s take on this landmark agreement comes from well outside the mainstream. Gipe is devoted to community-controlled energy and to the integrity of the green technologies that will take us there.

Gipe minces no words about the horrors of nuclear power. And recent reports of a rising death toll of “Nuclear Gypsies” being sacrificed at Fukushima have not made things any better.

But for Gipe, “Paris was a watershed event,” especially with the failure of the nuclear industry to gain real traction there.

Gipe said:

“The world, for the first time, agreed there is a problem with climate change and that we should do something about it. This occurred despite two decades of a sophisticated campaign to downplay and even deny that climate change was occurring.

“Further, several states, regions and provinces agreed for the need to put a price on carbon and numerous cities announced plans to meet 100 percent of their energy needs with renewables.

“There appeared to be a consensus that renewable energy’s time has come and that renewables are the future. Regardless of a massive lobbying effort by the nuclear industry there was a sentiment that nuclear is too little, too late and too expensive.

“Another indication of the success of Paris in drawing attention to climate change and need for action has been the shrill cry of right-wing shills for the fossil-fuel industry calling the event a ‘sham’ because COP 21 didn’t include binding targets. They know what happened in Paris and like cornered beasts are reacting with tooth and claw to slow or stop progress toward our renewable future.

“Of course, Paris could have done much more, but considering the opposition of the most powerful corporations on Earth and the nations that profit from the burning of fossil fuels reaching agreement on the need for action is historic.

“Quickly on the heels of Paris, the U.S. Congress, where the party in power in both chambers publicly denies climate change, voted overwhelmingly to renew and extend the subsidies for solar and wind energy. While the wrong policy, the vote revealed that the party’s rhetoric about its opposition to subsidies and subsidies particularly to renewable energy is simply a charade.”

Gipe concluded though that there’s ample room for skepticism. He said that there’s no doubting which way the future is going. The Koch Brothers with their fossil/nuclear investments have a lot of clout. But time is not on their side. And when the GOP sides with the renewable energy industry, it’s only because there’s sufficient financial clout to drive it there.

“There’s money to be made in renewables and a lot of it as the world moves toward renewable energy,” Gipe said. “Even the Republican party sees that.”

And if the Republican party is lining up even partially around renewables, the end for King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas) has surely drawn near.

Here’s the link to my interview with Paul Gipe

 

UN Panel: Renewables, Not Nukes, Can Solve Climate Crisis

 

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has left zero doubt that we humans are wrecking our climate. It also effectively says the problem can be solved, and that renewable energy is the way to do it, and that nuclear power is not. The United Nations’ IPCC is the world’s most respected authority on climate. This IPCC report was four years in the making. It embraces several hundred climate scientists and more than a thousand computerized scenarios of what might be happening to global weather patterns. The panel’s work has definitively discredited the corporate contention that human-made carbon emissions are not affecting climate change. To avoid total catastrophe, says the IPCC, we must reduce the industrial spew of global warming gasses by 40-70 percent of 2010 levels. Though the warning is dire, the report offers three pieces of good news. First, we have about 15 years to slash these emissions. Second, renewable technologies are available to do the job. And third, the cost is manageable. Though 2030 might seem a tight deadline for a definitive transition to Solartopia, green power technologies have become far simpler and quicker to install than their competitors, especially atomic reactors. They are also far cheaper, and we have the capital to do it. The fossil fuel industry has long scorned the idea that its emissions are
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disrupting our Earth’s weather. The oil companies and atomic reactor backers have dismissed the ability of renewables to provide humankind’s energy needs. But the IPCC confirms that green technologies, including efficiency and conservation, can in fact handle the job—at a manageable price. “It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” says Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, an economist who led the IPCC team. The IPCC report cites nuclear power as a possible means of lowering industrial carbon emissions. But it also underscores considerable barriers involving finance and public opposition. Joined with widespread concerns about ecological impacts, length of implementation, production uncertainties and unsolved waste issues, the report’s positive emphasis on renewables virtually guarantees nuclear’s irrelevance. Some

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climate scientists have recently advocated

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atomic energy as a solution to global warming. But their most prominent spokesman, Dr. James Hansen, also expresses serious doubts about the current generation of reactors, including Fukushima, which he calls “that old technology.” Instead Hansen advocates a new generation of reactors. But the designs are untested, with implementation schedules stretching out for decades. Financing is a major obstacle as is waste disposal and widespread public opposition, now certain to escalate with the IPCC’s confirmation that renewables can provide the power so much cheaper and faster. With its 15-year deadline for massive carbon reductions the IPCC has effectively timed

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out any chance a new generation of reactors could help. And with its clear endorsement of green power as a tangible, doable, affordable solution for the climate crisis, the

pro-nuke case has clearly suffered a multiple meltdown. With green power, says IPCC co-chair Jim Skea, a British professor, a renewable solution is at hand. “It’s actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living.”

Solartopia! Winning the Green Energy Revolution

High above the Bowling Green town dump, a green energy revolution is being won. It’s being helped along by the legalization of marijuana and its bio­fueled cousin, industrial hemp.

But it’s under extreme attack from the billionaire Koch Brothers, utilities like First Energy (FE), and a fossil/nuke industry that threatens our existence on this planet. Robber Baron resistance to renewable energy has never been more fierce. The prime reason is that the Solartopian Revolution embodies the ultimate threat to the corporate utility industry and the hundreds of billions of dollars it has invested in the obsolete monopolies that define King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas). The outcome will depend on YOUR activism, and will determine whether we survive here at all. Four very large wind turbines in this small Ohio town are producing clean, cheap electricity that can help save our planet. A prime reason they exist is that Bowling Green has a municipal­owned utility. When it came time to go green, the city didn’t have to beg some corporate­owned electric monopoly to do it for them. In fact, most of northern Ohio is now dominated by FirstEnergy, one of the most reactionary, anti-­green private utilities in the entire US. As owner of the infamous Davis­Besse reactor near Toledo, FE continually resists the conversion of our energy economy to renewable sources. Except for the occasional green window­ dressing, First Energy has fought fiercely for decades to preserve its unsafe reactors while fighting off the steady progression of renewable generators. FE’s obstinance has been particularly dangerous at Davis­Besse, one of the world’s most profoundly unsafe nukes. To the dismay even of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other notoriously docile agencies, undetected boric acid ate nearly all the way through a reactor pressure vessel and threatened a massive melt­down/explosion that could have irradiated the entire north coast and the Great Lakes. FE’s nuke at Perry, east of Cleveland, was the first in the US to be substantially damaged by an earthquake. Both Perry and David­Besse are in the stages
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of advanced decay. Each of them is being held together by the atomic equivalent of duct tape and bailing twine. A major accident grows more likely with each hour of operation. Small wonder the nuclear industry has been shielded since 1957 by the Price-­Anderson Act, which limits corporate liability in any reactor disaster to less than $15 billion, a drop in the bucket compared to what has already happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima, and could happen here. Should either of those reactors blow, FE and other investors will simply not have to pay for the loss of your home, family or personal health. Should that federal insurance be removed, the reactors would shut soon thereafter since for the last 57 years, no private insurers have stepped forward to write a policy on these reactors. As for the wind turbines in Bowling Green, there are no such problems. With zero federal insurance restrictions, they initially came in ahead of schedule and under budget. They have boosted the local economy, created jobs and produced power is that is far cheaper, safer, cleaner and more reliable than anything coming out of the many nearby trouble­plagued burners of fossil and nuclear fuels. Throughout the world similar “miracles” are in progress. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 92 percent of the new electrical generating capacity installed in the US in the first two

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months of 2014 was renewable. That includes six new wind farms, three geothermal facilities, and 25 new solar plants. One of those wind installations is a 75 megawatt plant in Huron County, Wisconsin. Four solar arrays will produce 73 megawatts for Southern California Edison, which was just forced by agrassroots upsurge to shut its two huge reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego. SoCalEd and the people of southern California are now in the process of filling that void with a wide range of renewable installations. Many home owners will be doing it by installing solar panels on their rooftops, a rapidly advancing technology that is proving extremely cost-­effective while avoiding production of millions of tons of greenhouse gases and radioactive waste. By comparison, according to one report, new development in “fossil fuel ­based infrastructure was almost non­existent for January and February, with only one natural gas facility brought on line.” Across the nation, public opinion polls show an accelerating embrace of renewables. According to a Gallup Poll taken last year, more than 70 percent of Americans want more emphasis put on solar and wind power, well over twice as many as embrace coal (31 percent) and nearly twice as many as those who support new nukes (37 percent). And here Wall Street agrees with Main Street. Despite gargantuan federal subsidies and its status as a legal fiefdom unto itself, major investors have shunned atomic energy. The smart money is pouring toward Solartopia, to the tune of billions each

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year in new invested capital. There have been the inevitable failures, such as the infamous Solyndra which left the feds holding more than a half-­billion in bad paper. But such pitfalls have been common throughout the history of energy start­ups, including all aspects of the fossil/nuke industry. And in solar’s case, Solyndra has been dwarfed by billions in profits from other green investments. Ironically, one of the biggest new fields ­­­advanced bio-­fuels ­­­is being opened by the legalization of marijuana and its industrial cousin, hemp. Hemp was the number two cash crop (behind tobacco) grown in the early American colonies. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were enthusiastic cultivators. Jefferson wrote passionately about it in his farm journal, and Washington took pains to import special seed from India. As a crop with many uses, hemp has been an essential player in human agriculture for 50 centuries. In early America, hemp’s primary early service was as feedstock for rope and sails for ships. But it was also used to make clothing and other textiles. Ben Franklin processed it in his first paper mill. And it has wide applications as a food crop, especially thanks to the high protein content of its seeds, which are also a core of the bird feed business. Some of the early colonies actually required farmers to grow hemp. During World War II the military commandeered virtually the entire state of Kansas for it, using it primarily for rope in the Navy. But since then it has been almost everywhere illegal. There are many theories behind why, including a belief that the tree ­based paper industry does not want to compete with hemp feedstock, which­­­ as Franklin knew­­­ makes a stronger paper, and can be grown far more cheaply and sustainably. China, Japan, Germany, Rumania and other nations have long been growing hemp with

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great profit. Canada’s annual crop has been valued at nearly $500,000,000. Estimates of its domestic consumption here in the US run around $550,000,000, all of it imported. The US hemp industry is widely regarded as an innocent by­stander in the insane war against marijuana. (Some believe that because it threatens so many industrial interests, hemp is actually a CAUSE of marijuana prohibition). But because marijuana prohibition seems finally to be on the fade, the laws against hemp cultivation are falling away. The national farm

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community is in strong support, for obvious reasons. Hemp is extremely easy to grow, does not require pesticides or herbicides (it’s a weed!) and has centuries of profitability to back it up. When Colorado legalized recreational pot it also opened the door for industrial hemp, with the first full­ on crop now on its way in. Washington state is following suit. In Kentucky, right ­wing Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell both strongly support legalization. The federal law against its cultivation in states where it’s being legalized has now eased. Hemp’s role in the Solartopian revolution is certain to be huge. The oil content in its seeds make it a prime player in the booming bio-­fuels industry. The high cellulosic content of its stems and leaves mean it might also be fermented into ethanol. (The stalks and stems are also highly prized as building materials and insulation). There has been strong resistance to bio-­fuels now derived from corn and soy, for good reason. Those are food crops, and their use for industrial fuel has pitted hungry people against automobiles and other combustion technologies, bringing on rising prices for those who can least afford them. Corn and soy are also extremely inefficient as fuel stocks (corn is far worse). In a world dominated by corporate agri­business, they are generally raised unsustainably, with huge quantities of pesticides, herbicides and petro-­based fertilizers. None of those are required for hemp, which is prolific, sustainable and can be raised in large quantities by independent non­corporate growers. Along with on­going breakthroughs in other feedstocks (especially algae) hemp will be a major player in the Solartopian future. As pot inches its way toward full legalization, we can reasonably expect to see a revolution in bio­-fuels within a very few years. Likewise wind and solar. Windmills have been with us for at least five centuries. Coming from the plains of Asia, they covered our own Great Plains in the Great Depression and have rapidly advanced in power and efficiency. Newly installed turbine capacity is far cheaper than nukes and has recently surpassed all but the dirtiest of fossil fuels. As at Bowling Green, installation can be quick and efficient. Actual output often exceeds expectation, as do profits and job­creation. But the real revolution is coming in photo­voltaics (PV). These technologies ­­­and there’s a very wide range of them ­­­convert sunlight to electricity. Within the next few decades, they will comprise the largest industry in human history. Every home, office, factory, window, parking lot, highway, vehicle, machine, device and much more will be covered and/or embedded with them. There are trillions of dollars to be made. The speed of their advance is now on par with that of computing capability. Moore’s Law ­­­which posited (correctly) that computing capacity would double every two years ­­­is now a reality in the world of PV. Capacity is soaring while cost plummets. It’s a complex, demanding and increasingly competitive industry. It can also be hugely profitable. So there’s every technological reason to believe that in tandem with wind, bio-­fuels, geo­thermal, ocean thermal, wave energy, increased efficiency, conservation and more, the Solartopian revolution in clean green PV power could completely transform the global energy industry within the next few years. “Only flat­earthers and climate­deniers can continue to question the fact that the age of renewable energy is here now,” says Ken Bossong, executive director of the Sun Day Campaign. But there’s a barrier ­­­King CONG, the Robber Baron energy corporations. In fact, the Koch Brothers and their fossil/nuke cohorts are conducting a vicious nationwide campaign against renewables. It puts out all sorts of reasons for the bloviators to blurt. But the real motive is to protect their huge corporate investments. Because what’s really at stake here is the question of who will control the future of energy ­­­King CONG, or the human community. Though it would seem it could also be monopolized, Solartopian energy is by nature community ­based. Photovoltaic cells could be owned by corporations, and in many cases they are. But in the long run PV inclines toward DG (distributed generation). The nature of roof­top collectors is to allow homeowners to own their own supply. The market might incline them at various stages to buy or lease the solar cells from a monopoly. But in real terms, the price of PV is dropping so fast that monopolization may well become moot. As futurist Jeremy Rifkin puts it more generally his “Rise of Anti­Capitalism.” “The inherent dynamism of competitive markets is bringing costs so far down that many goods and services are becoming nearly free, abundant, and no longer subject to market forces. While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring those costs to near zero.” But that’s what’s starting to happen with photovoltaic cells, where fuel is free and capital costs are dropping low enough that the utility industry and its fossil/nuke allies can’t quite grab control. When individual building owners can generate their own PV power, when communities like Bowling Green can own their own windmills, when small farmers can grow their own hemp­based fuel, who needs King CONG? We know this powerful beast will fight against the renewable revolution right down to its last billion, especially now that American elections are so easily bought and stolen. Defending the green ­powered turf will not be easy. But sooner or later, if we can survive fracking, the next few Fukushimas and the oil spills after that, Solartopia must come. Our economic and our biological survival both depend on it. See you there!

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