NewEnergyNews: THE REAL COSTS OF COAL & NUCLEAR MAKE NEW ENERGY CHEAP

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • Weekend Video: The Ocean Speaks Out
  • Weekend Video: Adapting To The Inevitable
  • Weekend Video: The Joy Of Driving EVs Powered By The Sun
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-HOTTEST SEPTEMBER EVER; WORLD’S HOTTEST MONTHS STREAK AT SIX
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU WIND BEATS FOSSIL, NUKE ENERGY PRICES
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-DESERTEC SUCCUMBS TO MIDEAST TURMOIL
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-JAPAN UPS PUSH FOR GEOTHERMAL
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    GET THE DAILY HEADLINES EMAIL: CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Oct. 16:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE MILITARY FALLS FOR THE HOAX
  • TTTA Thursday-FORTUNE 100 BUSINESSES BOOST SUN
  • TTTA Thursday-IOWA UTILITY BUYS WIND TO CUT COSTS
  • TTTA Thursday-GETTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY FROM THE CLOUD
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: NEW ENERGY BECOMES PRICE COMPETITIVE
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 15: NEW NUMBERS SHOW BIG OCEAN WIND POWER; SOLAR TURNS IN A NEW DIRECTION; FUEL CELL MARKETS TO VARY, GROW
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: WORLD WIND COMES ON
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 14: THE UTILITY-SOLAR DEBATE OVER WHO PAYS; TECHNICIANS WANTED – APPLY TO WIND; MAKING MULTIFAMILY BLDGS MORE EFFICIENT
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: A LOOK AT THE FUTURE OF CONCENTRATING SOLAR POWER PLANTS
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 13: NUCLEAR FADING, NEW ENERGY COMING ON; THE ONE BIG ADVANTAGE OF SOLAR; HALF OF GLOBAL HEAT MAY BE HIDING IN THE OCEANS
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • Thursday, January 08, 2009

    THE REAL COSTS OF COAL & NUCLEAR MAKE NEW ENERGY CHEAP

    One of the most familiar canards about New Energy is that it is more expensive than traditional sources of electricity generation. Nothing could be less true. Wind, in particular, is cost competitive now and getting more so every day, though not always as a result of its own progress.

    The dreadful December 22 coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant revealed yet another way the power industry hides the true costs of using coal to generate electricity.

    U.S. coal plants put out 131 million tons of waste every year. 42% is recycled, creating $1 billion/year in revenues. The rest piles up.

    In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found ~25% of retention ponds and 57% of landfills did not have adequate protections. (A 2007 follow- up found some improvements.) Estimates put the cost of securing the 440 coal plants' 600 landfills and waste ponds at well over $1 billion and perhaps as high as $5 billion.

    Lisa Evans, attorney, nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice: “Right now, the cost is being borne by communities, by people drinking contaminated water…The cost should be internalized by the coal industry.”

    Environmental stewards are now pushing, in the wake of the disastrous coal-ash spill, for new regulations on waste storage. The industry opposes the idea, asserting it is unnecessary and would be excessively costly.

    Jim Roewer, executive director, Utility Solid Waste Activities Group: “This seems to be an engineering failure…I don’t think it represents a trend or an epidemic, nothing that would require federal intervention.”

    Uh, Mr. Roewer, the Tennessee coal-ash spill is the result of leaving the coal industry to manage its waste without federal intervention.

    Even so, fix the 600 potential engineering failures to the EPA’s satisfaction. Add the cost of doing it to the price of coal-fired power. Then, let’s see how costly wind power is in comparison.

    Oh, and then there’s the cost of coal's greenhouse gas emissions to consider, too, of course…


    A firsthand report on the spill. From RiverFox911 via YouTube.

    Maybe nuclear would be better?

    Georgia Power and Progress Energy Florida have recently proposed to contribute to the heralded “nuclear renaissance” with new plants. One small detail: They want the ratepayers to pay for the bigger part of the price of the projects and take the bulk of the risk.

    Why?

    Well, suppose an accident happens. It happened with coal 2 weeks ago. It happened with nuclear in 1979 at Three Mile Island and at
    Chernobyl in 1986. Another such incident could once again turn public opinion hostile to nuclear plants. The people who have decided to build these new nuclear projects can walk away. The ratepayers’ money would, of course, be lost, and they would still have to find a power plant to keep their lights on.

    Sounds like something plotted by Wall Street bankers, doesn’t it?

    Progress Energy Florida’s deal with Westinghouse Electric Co. and
    The Shaw Group Inc. includes the purchase of two 1,105-megawatt reactors. The first would theoretically go online in 2016, the second in 2018.

    Progress Energy Florida has already begun adding charges ($11.42/1,000 kilowatt-hours) to its customers’ monthly bills to pay for them.

    Total projected cost: $17 billion. In round numbers, that’s 7.7 million per megawatt.

    To be fair, the
    Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) technology is said to be far safer than that used in the Three Mile Island days - though that, too, was touted at the time as the latest, safest technology.

    The real problem with passing on the cost of building nuclear power to the ratepayer is that it hides the truth: The marketplace has rejected nuclear energy as a bad investment because of construction delays and cost overruns.

    The NGNP plant being built in Finland is Europe’s first new reactor in 20 years. It is 3 years behind schedule and 50% over budget. TVA (Yikes! They can’t be trusted with coal. Should they be trusted with nuclear?) recently doubled to $17 billion its budget for proposed nuclear plants that would use the same Westinghouse AP1000 reactors Georgia Power wants its customers to pay for.

    What this means is that construction delays and cost overruns must be expected in nuclear plant construction, despite the fact that ratepayers have no real control or recourse.

    This is like telling a house contractor nobody will be paying much attention to his work but go ahead and do the renovation because everybody on the block is chipping in to pay. Talk about a happy contractor!

    Regulators in Georgia have recommended against the Georgia Power plan, asserting the company should take a bigger part of the risk. It’s a reasonable point but it likely means the nuclear plant can’t get built because Georgia Power won’t expose its stockholders to such risk and isn’t likely to find investors to take on such big risk for such big money with such a long payback period.

    So why should the ratepayers?

    Meanwhile, back on the farm: The TransAlta Corporation’s 96-megawatt Kent Hills Wind Farm (randomly selected as the most currently reported wind installation to go online) began commercial operation on December 31, 2008, on time and on budget. It cost $170 million Canadian ($143 million U.S.).

    In round numbers, that’s $1.5 million per megawatt. Georgia and Florida ratepayers could build twice as much offshore wind capacity at twice the cost and wind power is still cheaper than nuclear.

    How much cheaper wind is than coal cannot be known until the real costs of coal become clear. That won’t happen until the U.S. puts a real price on greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for the costs of coal’s other toxic wastes.


    (click to enlarge)

    Oh, and speaking of toxic wastes, does anybody know how much it will cost to safely store nuclear waste? No, nobody does, because there is no known way to store nuclear waste safely.

    Want to know how much it costs to handle wind waste? It’s equal to the number of nuclear and coal plants it makes sense to build – ZERO – when the options of wind, solar and hydrokinetic energies are available.

    Footnote: Another post will take up the squandering of diminishing water resources on coal & nuclear energies. Wind and solar, of course, require virtually no water.


    click to enlarge

    Progress Energy To Buy And Build Nuclear Reactors
    Russell Ray, January 5, 2009 (Tampa Bay Online via MSNBC)
    and
    Advisory: Kent Hills Wind Farm begins commercial operation
    January 5, 2009 (CNNMoney)
    and
    Nuke revival puts all risk on customers
    Jay Bookman, January 4, 2009 (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
    and
    Coal-Ash Spill May Cost Utilities Billions in Rules
    Alex Nussbaum, Christopher Martin and Daniel Whitten, December 31, 2008 (Bloomberg News)

    WHO
    U.S. power companies; AEP; Georgia Power; Progress Energy Florida (Jeff Lyash, President/CEO); Westinghouse Electric Co.; The Shaw Group; TransAlta Corporation (TSX: TA) (NYSE: TAC); Japan Steel Works Ltd.; FLA State Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and FLA State Rep. Peter Nehr of Tarpon Springs

    click to enlarge

    WHAT
    - Regulation of coal wastes will add one of the costs of the spew to the cost of coal-fired generation, making New Energy one big step closer to parity.
    - Georgia Power and Progress Energy Florida propose to build nuclear reactors and finance them with fees on their ratepayers’ bills.
    - TransAlta Corporation’s 96-megawatt Kent Hills Wind Farm just went online, on time and on budget.

    WHEN
    - A Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on the TVA coal ash spill is scheduled for January 8.
    - Little needed discipline of coal waste sites has come from the Bush EPA despite a 2007 study identifying 67 sites with proven or suspected contamination.
    - Charges to ratepayers for the nuclear plants has begun in FLA despite the fact that no AP1000 reactor has ever been built for commercial service.
    - Georgia Power wants approval to build and start charging ratepayers by March.
    - The FLA project was approved by one regulatory agency in July 2008, expects another to rule in 2009 but may not get final approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before 2011.

    click to enlarge

    WHERE
    - The coal ash spill was at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, 35 miles southwest of Knoxville. - It covered 300+ acres of rural Roane County.
    - Georgia Power’s proposed reactors would be at its Vogtle plant on the Savannah River near Augusta.
    Progress Energy Florida’s reactors would be on a 5,100-acre site in Levy County.
    - The Kent Hills Wind Farm is 30 kilometres southwest of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

    WHY
    - Levels of arsenic and other metals are above drinking water standards in the region of the coal ash spill.
    - When coal waste is recycled it goes into a $1 billion+ market of gypsum wallboard, cement products, landfill for construction projects but environmentalists have questioned whether such recycled materials are safe because they contain some of the same toxins in the coal ash.
    - New regulations on coal waste would add to the costs of burning coal which are already due to rise from greenhouse gas emissions caps.
    - Many power companies that rely on coal, (including AEP, the biggest) store coal ash both in wet slurry ponds and in dry landfills.
    - Georgia Power’s share of the proposed nuclear project is estimated at
    $6.4 billion, just 45% of the cost.
    - Japan Steel Works Ltd. is the only company in the world capable of manufacturing the foot-thick reactor vessel needed in most nuclear plant designs. It is rushing to expand production from five vessels a year to 12 by 2012. 30+ new reactor units have been filed in the U.S. and more are coming. Such supply bottlenecks explain the inevitability of delays and cost overruns in nuclear construction. Competitors do not get into the market because it has no future.
    - Sen. Fasano and Rep. Nehr asked Progress Energy to suspend its plan to charge ratepayers for its nuclear project because it puts the burden on already-burdened consumers. Both lawmakers will bring legislation to stop the plan.

    From TheCleanDotOrg via YouTube.

    QUOTES
    - David Goss, director, American Coal Ash Association: “There have been a handful of smaller spills over the years, but nothing like this one…I expect the spill will raise a lot of questions about how coal ash gets stored. We could see new regulations at the federal level.”
    - Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman, AEP: “Some of these ponds have been operating for decades without a spill,” she said. “We have a regular inspection schedule for each site and the largest ones have instruments to tell us when there’s a problem.”
    - Jeff Lyash, President/CEO, Progress Energy Florida: "Expanding our nuclear capacity will ensure our customers will continue to have a reliable supply of energy, while reducing reliance on fossil fuels and helping to eliminate greenhouse gas from our environment…"
    - Tom Newsome, Finance Director, PSC: “No private-sector entity is investing in or proposing to invest in a new nuclear plant without direct or indirect support from the public…”

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