Technically, Lonnie Carter the CEO of the nuclear utility Santee Cooper is retiring early. But most newspapers reporting on the 58-year-olds departure as the first casualty from the cancellation of the V. C. Summer nuclear power plants. It was a 75% over budget and at least 3 years behind schedule.
The person who should be getting fired is Tom Fanning the CEO of Southern Company. Fanning is dodging the opportunity to cancel these last two reactors under construction in the US when there are numerous justifications to get out of the project. Because of Fanning’s stubborn commitment to the Vogtle reactors, the rate payers of Georgia will pay dearly for decades for electricity that they don’t need and opportunities for climate disruption abatement will be lost as resources are misallocated to these reactors.
Can Vogtle learn from Summer? The Vogtle reactors are quite similar to the Summer reactors that Carter canceled this July. Both sites were adding two Westinghouse AP 1000 large conventional reactors (a design which has never successfully be completed). [Westinghouse went bankrupt in March of this year.] Both were expansions to existing plants. Both Summer and Vogtle started the licensing process in 2008, both began construction in 2013, both were supposed to be finished before 2020 to get a significant tax credit. Neither could make that deadline because they are both so delayed (costing ratepayers even more). Both were only possible because their respective PUC’s gave them nearly a blank check in that it let them start billing rate payers years and perhaps decades before the reactors went online. Both of them got offered billions for Toshiba (Westinghouse’s parent company) as a settlement (though it is unclear if Toshiba will stay in business long enough to pay anything). Both had huge still unresolved technical problems in building the plant.
So why is Fanning and Southern Company continuing this uneconomical reactor project? Because Fanning personally and Southern Company will benefit significantly even if the construction of these reactors lose money or if they are later abandoned. Despite Vogtle being over $3 billion over budget, the nuclear utility has already made over $1 billion in profits for this fiasco. This is because they are paid cost plus profit, even when the project is mismanaged and over budget. Fanning’s personal compensation increased 34% last year to over $15 million per year when the Vogtle losses and delays were well understood.
Southern Companies nuclear engineers are busy crafting lies to submit to the Public Service Commission (PSC). This PSC has already indicated that it will basically give them what ever they want. The form of this huge lie is that it will only cost $27 billion to complete this pair of reactors, nearly twice the original cost estimate. These same engineers were equally confident of their first cost estimate for this project. What will the actual cost of these reactors be? If it is average for US built reactors it will be closer to $42 billion, but it does not matter, for Southern Company has a whole collection of deceptions lined up to buttress their current lies.
Some lies are easy. Georgia Power has terrifically mismanaged the project, in part by their own design. They have flatly refused to use the computerized tracking systems (Integrated Project Systems – IPS) which are industry standards for large complex jobs of this type. They have completely captured the regulator who is doing basically no analysis of this project and simply granting delays and budget increases whenever they are asked for. The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) has not brought in outside experts to review the design or delays. The PSC continues to pretend that the sunk cost in this project matter, they do not economically only politically. They have not head public hearings. Nor have they listened to expert critics who were warning them of the myriad problems this project presents.
We will hear about how we need a mix of fuels (with no talk about how expensive they are). We will hear about how nuclear reactors are important for national security (despite years of denying the link between reactors and bombs). We will hear that these reactors will produce carbon free electricity (when renewables and battery storage OR energy efficiency would produce/save more power for less money, with a smaller carbon footprint). Finally, we will hear building reactors is important for the future of nuclear power in the US.
Let’s be clear, large scale nuclear reactor construction in the US is dead. Westinghouse bankruptcy is important. The recent canceling of the Summer, Levy, and Lee reactors brings to an end all likely full sized US reactor construction, except Vogtle. The nuclear Renaissance is over, we are hopefully heading into the nuclear dark ages.
This is the moment for the anti-nuclear movement and the citizens of Georgia to keep pounding on the door of the Georgia PSC and tell them we don’t want this failed project to waste more money and distract from the important work of climate disruption mitigation. Vogtle is a failed project being propped up by poor legislation and greedy utilities which don’t actually care about cost effective power generation or climate disruption.
As of this writing, over 2,000 people have been rescued from flooded areas and another 30K are expected to evacuate the US’s 4th largest city.
Harvey is being called a once in a 500-year storm. It is the third 500-year storm in to hit Houston in the last three years. And with other super storms like Sandy and Katrina in recent memory, it seems like something more than bad luck is going on. Is climate disruption responsible for Harvey? We can’t really know. But we know our activities are likely making things worse.
Penn State professor and climate change researcher Michael Mann, who led a recent study that found a human “fingerprint” on extreme weather events, wrote in The Guardian on Monday that while it’s impossible to say whether climate change “caused” Harvey, “[t]here are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding” in Texas.
While technically Exxon’s global headquarters is in Dallas, Houston boasts an Exxon Campus with over 4000 staff, with thousands more coming. Houston is often called the Oil Capital of the World, with over 5000 energy companies based in the city, the vast majority of them working on oil and gas. Exxon has been funding anti-climate disruption research for decades. Even when they knew that the science did not support them. Nor is Exxon alone, UCS found all 8 of the largest oil companies are involved in deceptive practices when it comes to reporting on climate disruption.
Here is the quote from the UK Guardian which I think is most important:
The storm ripped through the oil fields, forcing rigs and refineries to shut down, including those owned by some of the 25 companies that have produced more than half the greenhouse gas emissions humans have released since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Harvey has already closed Houston refining capacity of over 2.2 million barrels per day. Clean up will cost hundreds of millions, repairs could cost more.
But what of the irony here, that Houston is in the center of climate disruption denial and is now suffering from an unusual series of serious storms? No one deserves a climate crisis. But the corporate executives and the tens of thousands of oil company employees, who unlike the entire rest of the world denied the effect of their work, are paying the price for their lies and deception today.
Postscript: Houston itself votes Democratic in most political races (including the last presidential one), who are better than the Republicans on climate disruption issues. And none of the above criticisms are meant to discourage the current rescue efforts, which will most often benefit the economically disadvantaged in the area. And there will be lots of decisions as to what to rebuild in Houston and the area affected by Harvey. If we are unlucky or too quiet, then we will repeat the Shock Doctrine scenario, where capitalists profit and poor people are screwed over (as happened after Katrina). If we organize cleverly and apply immense political pressure, after the refinery clean ups are completed, we will focus on sustainable infrastructure and meet the needs of all the residents of the area.
Spoiler: This post has no descriptions of graphic sex.
“Can I kiss you?” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. It was asked across a cuddle pile in the midst of a party up at the conference site where several people were making new romantic connections.
“I don’t really know you very well.” Was the reply I was slightly surprised to hear. But then something really powerful and slightly profound happened. Nothing.
The mood did not change. No one got embarrassed and felt like they needed to leave. No one laughed at the rejection or felt sorry for someone. The party just moved on.
We think and talk a lot about consent culture in the communes. We do orientations for visitors and guests so they don’t make cultural mistakes around initiating intimacy, which is easy to do if you are just mimicking what you see others doing. We explore new types of agreements around boundaries. And the reward for our efforts is we get to take some types of risks, like my friend who got rejected from the make out session.
What this does is create comfort and safety. It makes people feel like their boundaries are going to be respected. This in turn often helps them to push limits out. This reveals new possibilities and new connections.
And thus the party drifted right up to the edge of becoming an orgy. As a funologist, this is something I want to understand. For when you push aside all the sophomoric jokes and embarrassment about what orgies are, assuming they are done in a healthy consent environment, they are daring and liminal events. They change peoples lives.
And in this case, the “almost” does not really matter. Everyone could feel the possibility, we had created the space that was that safe and daring.
If you live in community for a while, traditions form around you. And so it is with Hawina’s birthday. Part of the evenings festivities will be us singing the English translation of the Dutch birthday song. This is a song that is only sung this way here, Hawina imported it herself by accident many years ago when someone asked for her tradition to be adapted to local culture.
Werewolves is another birthday favorite game. Some people call this game Mafia. It is a good birthday game because it requires at least 8 people to play. In our first pass, we had 15 people and Sky played god. I was the first person killed. I did not even get a chance to accuse anyone else before i was silenced. I did not take it personally. Hawina won (except the last towns person (new member Emily) was “the Hunter” role, who gets to kill one person as they die, and thus killed Hawina who was the last surviving werewolf – so no one won).
In the second round of werewolves, i got killed in the first “evening” again! Now i had to take it personally. Hawina won again with Emily as her “lover” and they survived all the werewolves. [If you are unfamiliar with this game there is an interesting and exhaustive article on wikipedia on it.]
Part of the power of collective living is that we get to create our own holidays and rituals. After nearly two decades of doing birthdays, Hawina has this one just where she wants it.
Back in 2007 and 2008, it was heady times for the US nuclear industry. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were in power. Nuclear subsidies were large and generous and opportunistic nuclear utilities advanced plans for 31 new reactors to be built.
These heady days were not to last. Since then well over half of these 31 reactors have been canceled. Some, like the proposed North Anna 3 reactor, are going through the licensing process (at the costs of hundreds of millions of dollars) with little hope of ever being built. And the actual number of reactors which started construction in the US of this original 31? Just 4, until this week.
You have to have a special set of circumstances to build a reactor in the US. The first and most important thing you need is CWIP or its equivalent. CWIP is short for Construction Work in Progress. Under CWIP utilities are allowed to charge their current customers for projects which are not yet finished. Utilities claim that this reduces costs to customers. What it really does is ensure their profits, even if the project is never finished or tremendously late and over budget.
But this is hardly enough. When the project starts to go bad, you need an electricity regulator, typically the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), that will allow rates to be increased to cover the costs of construction mistakes. In the case of the two Summer reactors in SC, there have been 9 rate hikes since construction started in 2013 totaling over $1.4 billion added to rate payers rates. The overall cost of the project has ballooned to $25 billion, a 75% increase over the original contract. This abandoned project will cost each of the utility customers $21,000. It also appears that the utility did not have a specific timeline and thus may be liable for some of the rate increases and are having a class action suit against it.
The Bush administration tried to do everything it could for these new reactors before construction started. Most importantly, they put tremendous federal tax credits in place to encourage construction. There was a catch, however. The reactors needed to be completed and connected to the grid by 2020, otherwise, the tax credits would vanish. Because these reactors were repeatedly delayed, central to the utilities decision to quit the project was that it no longer believed it could make this connection deadline and thus would suffer even greater losses. Efforts to extend the tax credits died in the US Senate.
Now there are only 2 reactors under construction in the US, Vogtle units 3 & 4 in Georgia. They have many of the same problems that the Summer reactors do. They are also the AP 1000 design being built by now bankrupt Westinghouse corporation. They are years late and billions over budget. Specifically, more than doubling its original $14 billion contract price to an estimated $25 Billion (according to Southern Company). But perhaps, more importantly, the same new filing for these reactors says that they will not be operating until 2021 and 2022, which is after the 2020 tax credits expire. This project is further complicated by the $8.33 federal loan guarantee which the Obama administration offered out of the Bush energy bill. Toshiba (Westinghouse’s parent company) has offered $3.68 billion for the completion of these plants in the wake of Westinghouse collapse. [A similar $2.2 billion offer for the Summer reactors was not enough to convince management to continue.] But Toshiba has many problems of its own (largely sparked by Westinghouse’s $9 billion debt because of Summer and Vogtle) and may not be able to provide any support for these troubled reactors. The thing which stops cancellation from happening is that no matter how out of control the project goes, the utilities make a profit, over a billion dollars so far.
This month (August 2017) Southern Company and Georgia Power will decide the fate of these two reactors. With a bit of luck, they will see that these reactors will never pay for themselves and similarly cancel the project. This would be the end of new nuclear power in the US as well as the end of Summer.