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  • The End of the Nuclear “Renaissance” is Now

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on March 12th, 2011 (All posts by )

    I am a big supporter of nuclear power but have written numerous posts on the financial, regulatory and legal issues that make the “nuclear renaissance” in the United States an illusion that could be deflated by the simplest of journalistic research.

    One issue that I have touched on is “contagion” which basically means that the entire nuclear industry can be sent into a deep freeze by a single event hitting any nuclear plant anywhere around the globe. Mention “Three Mile Island” (which effectively halted new reactor construction in the US) or “Chernobyl” (which put a bullet in most reactors in the Western world) and you can see how a single event can dramatically impact the entire industry.

    With this single photo that I got from the BBC site here (I usually don’t put up other people’s photos but in this case the image will soon be so iconic I think it was appropriate) now you can see the end of the Nuclear Renaissance in the United States.

    That photo or some variant will be everywhere… the risk of a catastrophic event at a nuclear plant (even though the Japanese seem to be handling it well so far, all things considered) will be played up continuously, which will be more fodder for protests and will make financial executives think that much harder before committing all their company’s capital to such an uncertain venture as building a nuclear plant in the litigious USA.

    The inflection point of a major event is rarely so obvious as this. I guess the real issue is whether this is even an inflection point anyways, since nuclear activity in terms of new construction in the US was confined to a couple of units in Georgia, a couple in Texas, and one in South Carolina anyways. We’d be lucky if out of these 5 units even 3 saw the light of day and were commissioned (remember that even if built protesters can shut it down – see what happened to Shoreham in Long Island). As for new ones beyond these, it goes from unlikely to remote.

    All natural gas from here on out.

    Update – It only took a few minutes for the French “Greens” (I don’t know how they are against nuclear power and call themselves green but they are all really against any progress whatsoever) have already started their calls to end nuclear power – find it here and wait for a million more just like it.

    Cross posted at LITGM

     

    25 Responses to “The End of the Nuclear “Renaissance” is Now”

    1. Tom Holsinger Says:

      Don’t hold your breath. That was the blowout panels working as intended when superheated water coolant vaporized and released hydrogren, above the containment vessel, so that the cooling hydrogen gas then reacted with oxygen in the air to detonate in the presence of an ignition source.

      The report below is from an anti-nuclear website. The schematic, which did not come through, shows how the planned blowout system works.

      http://www.beyondnuclear.org/home/2011/3/12/fukushima-dai-ichi-unit-1-reactor-schematic.html

      “The schematic diagram above shows the GE Mark I BWR reactor building structure, the Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 1.

      The explosion at Fukushima has apparently disintegrated the upper third of the reactor building. The video and pictures currently available indicate that the “blow out panels” of the reactor building and roof cover were blown away by an energetic explosion likely due to a hydrogen gas detonation. The reactor core refuelling deck and the surface of the elevated irradiated nuclear fuel pool are now exposed to the atmosphere. Essentially, the photos show the remaining steel I-beam structure for the weather cover that was over the refueling deck and the top of the “spent fuel” pool. These panels are designed to “blow out” at overpressure.

      The actual structures credited for containment sit below this structure inside the concrete reactor building, namely the drywell and wetwell or “torus.”

      The status of the reactor containment below this portion of the reactor building remains unclear, but apparently remains intact. Fuel damage has apparently occurred because of elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium are being monitored outside of reactor containment.

      What is additionally unclear is how much cooling water is left in the fuel storage pools and whether or not there has been damage to irradiated fuel stored in that pool. There are reports of sea water being brought in to cool this facility.”

      If the plant personnel are in fact more worried about spent fuel rods being exposed to the air than about a core breach, and planning to add seawater to the spent fuel rod pool, it would be very encouraging news, as if, in an oil refinery fire, the plant personnel were more concerned about criminals breaking into cars in the refinery’s parking lot than of further damage from the fire.

      I’d be a lot more concerned if the plant personnel were planning to flood the reactor core with seawater. THAT might cause a further hydrogen explosion which might breach the core containment shell.

    2. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      I agree that the watermelons are going to go wild, and with the current Federal regime; anything that actually produces energy will face a certain veto on the principle that anything that weakens us is good.

      I just have to note one unbelievable bit of reality that will be ignored. These are 40 year old reactors which have just been hit with an unbelievable strong 9.1 earthquake that moved the Japanese coast near them 8 feet. And those 40 year old systems were robust enough that we are still fighting to control the reactor two days later. That was some amazing engineering.

      Subotai Bahadur

    3. hattip Says:

      Really? It would seem to be a vindication of the engineering to me. If we allow the left to cow us on this we deserve to be the third world nation that we will become. The rest of the world will continue along the nuclear path–they have to as there ARE no viable alternative. Most certainly, it will not be “All natural gas from here on out”. You will not see Japan deflect from this path.

      Remember that the game is not “save energy” or have “alternate energy”, it is te destruction of capitalism and individual liberty by controlling (and limiting) enery resources.

      The left lie through heir teeth here. We need to cal them on it.

      Show some more courage. You have given up the fight here before it has really started. The Left’s position is irrational and dishonest; it can be fought.

    4. David Foster Says:

      I wonder how the cost/kwh of a modern gas-fired plant, fueled at US prices, compares with the cost/kwh of a nuclear plant built to good standards but not crippled during construction by litigation & excessive regulation (as in France and perhaps China)???

      Countries with lower electricity costs are going to have a very significant advantage in several industries.

    5. Carl from Chicago Says:

      Hey it is nice to get these comments but I have been involved in nuclear power 20+ years.

      It was over before it even began when we abandoned our traditional financial regulations and moved to whatever it is that we have today (I wouldn’t call it de-regulation, more like de-investment).

      I never said that the engineering was bad or that they weren’t handling it well; I just said that with no decent financial incentives to take on the risk of building new plants it was a pipe dream in the first place; now with the US litigation community having this additional propaganda victory now the odds get even more remote.

      People need to face reality. Companies in the US aren’t going to pony up $10B plus (essentially the entire capitalization of most US electrical utilities) on such a high risk venture with few and far between exceptions.

      And this pounds the nail in the coffin.

      I am not saying that this is good; in fact it sucks; but it is reality.

    6. Tatyana Says:

      The minute I read it on BBC, I thought – I need to read Carl’s reaction to this.
      Sadly, I see my own suspicions coincide with your opinion – no matter how, in reality, the event has been rather a positive reinforcement to nuclear engineering, it will be span as a decisive negative argument and it might mean the end of nuclear energetics.
      (out of 4 reactors only 1 had a malfunction; it was not even with reactor itself or with nuclear components, the built-in multiple-level security measures worked great, the vent of short-lived gamma-radiation steam was a controlled engineering solution, the reason of malfunction were emergency diesel generators that stopped, not the system itself, that hours after incident the workers started to replace steamed water with fresh ocean water, etc)

    7. hattip Says:

      Carl: Then the recourse is regulatory relief of risk, at least in the near to near mid term.
      Further out technology and experience will lead to rational infrastructure and insurance outlays.

      As I said before, other nations will not turn form the path of nuclear energy. This points out the obvious truth: It is not ultimately a matter of “financial incentives” but of politics, and particularly the “lawfare” of the left and attendant looting by (mostly Democrat) litigators. The fact that you refer to this as a “propaganda victory for the litigation community” underlines this, but you have the culprit wrong. it is not the “Litigation Community” as such, which can not be said to have “propaganda victories” in any meaningful sense, but the Left. Political factions and sections have propaganda victories, not law firms. In this case, the “litigation community” is merely the operational arm of the Left’s war on Capitalism, Prosperity and Liberty. What can be bound politically can be unbound politically.

      Other nation will continue to use nuclear power. You can bet that France, China and Japan will not give this up–they are not that stupid. Even the Arab states will do so. Comically we may be shutting down our reactors at the same time Iran, of all places, is bringing up theirs. this proves, ipso facto, that it is wholly a political matter. You say “get real”, I suggest that you “get real” for this in the end is the reality of it all.

      The Left is out to destroy the nation–destroy its prosperity and ts very future==and on that grounds alone you need to see that we have stand up to them.

      Law can be changed. That is why we are here in the first place. My point still stands: You have given up the fight before it has started. The USA must have a strong civilian nuclear power industry and in fact must be a technological leader. That is reality. That is “getting real”.

      As for “deregulation”, well, that never really happened because of vested governmental and union interest in the States. One need not look further than CA to see this. This is a symptom of a problem and not a direct cause. The cause is the destructive (and suicidal) “energy polices” of the Left. If we do not overturn them, we will be back to the 19th century soon enough, or, should i say, we of the underclass will be in the 19th century as our socialist masters will have all the energy they could ever need. The game is to artificially make resources scare so to control them . We must resist this tyranny as we would any other.

      The solution is to fight and not to throw in the towel. As I said before, their arguments are irrational and dishonest. You seem to be saying that irrationality and lies must take the day. I say that this is not so.

      If it is so then we are doomed. This need not be. Man up and fight the good fight.

    8. hattip Says:

      “The game is to artificially make resources scarCe so to control them”

    9. Carl from Chicago Says:

      I don’t take on fights that are impossible.

      The real issue isn’t nuclear power per se it is how our electricity is provisioned on the state level.

      We abandoned our old system (which had many flaws) and replaced it with a state by state system that, for the most part, won’t incent companies to make large investments because they aren’t assured a regulatory return.

      Those that DO have power assets don’t need to invest much more because as assets become more scarce the value of their EXISTING assets just increases; they can make high profits without any capital risk.

      Talking about the world, blah blah is all useless here in the US. Obama brought a bunch of hot air about new technologies that was all crap and I wrote about it in a hundred posts here just look through the category or on my name.

      The first part of “winning” (sorry to quote Mr. Sheen) is recognizing reality, and working from there.

      1) No one (with a few, minor exceptions) has the financial ability to build nuclear plants in the US
      2) of those that COULD build a plant, most are in states that don’t support it financially
      3) of those that COULD build one and are in a FAVORABLE state, most are still smart enough not to take on this risk they’d rather just run existing assets full out and make lots of $ with no risk

      I don’t write crap blog posts that talk about a dream state or some version of alternate reality or fighting for a cause that is hopeless.

      To get that, go elsewhere.

    10. hattip Says:

      You keep on insisting that you are “dealing with reality”, but as I pointed out, you are dealing with a particular political climate, not some ultimate “reality”. Pointing out that this “reality” does not obtain in nations outside of the USA is not beside the point, it is profound evidence that proves the point. Obviously the fight is a political one, and, to the degree it abuts it, a cultural one.

      You talk about incentives, well as dire shortages show up there will be incentives enough. Your reponse here is irrational if for now other reason it confounds cause with effect. Your point is subsumed by mine, you just do not seem to admit it. You say that you will no take on “fights that are impossible”, but, as I pointed out, they are not impossible at all so long as you understand what the fight actually is. It is, again, a political one. You objection falls flat here and you have given up before the battle. Once the Left is removed from power, rational approaches can be found. Then the points that you have numbered can be mitigated. To say that that fight cannot be won is to say that eventually we must be slaves of the Left.

      There is nothing “dreamy” about this, and that you maintain otherwise again merely shows that you miss the point,

      Likewise, your assertion that it is not a matter of nuclear power per se, barring some broad technical revolution, also seems irrational. Competitiveness in the future is likely to hinge on our nation having a sound energy infrastructure. If nuclear civilian power appears to be the only economical large scale solution, particularly once we look past the resources of the immediate future, then, as a practical matter, is most manifestly is about nuclear energy. This is the crystal clear “reality” that our primary competitors see.
      Here too you are manifestly wrong. It is you that is “dreaming” to imagine that the issue of civilian nuclear power is not squarely at the center. Or enemies on the left see this clearly, which is rather the point.

      As to your notion of moving to a “state by state system”, well, this is at odds with the facts.

      Prior to the farce of “deregulation” we indeed had a “State by State” system. In fact, most utilities were either actual or quasi state enterprises (this is what “deregulation” referred to, after all). True, in some cases they might seem more “regional”, but this was more a case of the aggregation of the associated (smaller) states’ powers than a case of the distribution or weakening of those powers. What happened during “deregulation” was that it was incomplete. Incomplete inside some states, and incomplete across the country.

      Thus we saw some power companies become “producers”, such as Duke energy, produce energy used across the country, some utilities become essentially grid transporters sending it across the country, and some become these odd “virtual energy companies”, such as Potomac (or whatever they are calling themselves right now) who owned nothing but a billing apparatus. And, of course, you had hybrids on both ends like ConEd or PG@E, the latter of which behaving much like it was before “deregulation”. On top of that you have a load of other “regulation”, some of it from the Feds, layered on top of it all in the ensuing years (witness PG@E again).

      The reality was that now it was indeed, not State by State, or not uniformly. In places like CA, there was a push to keep it as a “crypto” state regulated utility. Now we have not really a deregulated market but a mishmash, a real mess with perverse and corrupt “incentives”. Again, this is due to Leftist (or statist) “policies”. As you rightly stated, this proved to be an incentive to dis-invest and not invest in new plant. As I said before, this is a political problem and not one of merely “financial incentives”. Solve the political problem and the proper incentives can be found and implemented. (I should note that I once worked in the industry.)

      As to the comment:


      I don’t write crap blog posts that talk about a dream state or some version of alternate reality or fighting for a cause that is hopeless.

      To get that, go elsewhere.

      This sort of thing is just avoiding adult argument and amounts to little more than a temper tantrum.

      It is beneath you, and I am frankly surprised at you. One expects this sort of foot stomping out of leftist. My points were perfectly rational, clear and cogent, and hardly the stuff of “dreams”. You might see that it you got off your hobby horses and actually tried to understand and address them. I hardly deserve such a response. That you give it relfect poorly on your argument and, at least momentarily, your character.

      Again, I implore you to not give up the fight.

    11. Jonathan Says:

      Hattip has a point. The central problem is our system of primary education which teaches people to be ignorant ninnies about science, technology, nature and risk. The situation is reversible: Americans weren’t always this way, not all of them are even now, and they don’t have to be this way in the future. It will take a lot of work to change the political culture to the point where matters like nuclear can be discussed rationally, but it can be done.

      The Left has learned to talk about incentives but they don’t mean the same thing that we do. We see incentives as reflecting the real world, real prices and values, real tradeoffs and therefore as guiding people to use resources efficiently for whatever goals they individually have in mind. The Left sees incentives as tools to be manipulated by central authority in order to get individuals to work toward the central authority’s desired outcomes.

    12. David Foster Says:

      “The central problem is our system of primary education which teaches people to be ignorant ninnies about science, technology, nature and risk”….the ironic thing is that the vast expansion of education funding following Sputnik was largely based on the argument that “we live in a technological society and people need to know about science” both for career purposes and for their roles as citizens.

    13. Carl from Chicago Says:

      I agree with many of his points but I am often confused about how people approach blogs.

      Fact – many people thought that when the government, analysts and newspapers said that we would start to invest in nuclear power and that plants would be built, that this would occur.

      I immediately and consistently pointed out that this would NOT occur because of financial constraints and incentives that are immediately obvious.

      Now, as I have listed in many posts, we started to build only a tiny fraction of the reactors once promised, and of this list, only a few will likely make it to fruition.

      I am surprised when people think that my job on this blog is to point solutions to completely complex problems, WHEN EVERYONE HAS BAD STARTING ASSUMPTIONS.

      My job is to point out that when your STARTING ASSUMPTIONS are erroneous, further analysis is useless.

      There aren’t a lot of people out there that immediately pointed out the flaws in the plans for growth in the US; in fact many / most newspapers and magazines wrote articles on how it was going to happen. I have relatives and friends who work for the US government that thought it might happen, too.

      But I have been consistently pointing out that it WOULDN’T happen, and why.

      Now I am pointing out that whatever feeble momentum that we might have had with nuclear in the US will likely deflate like a popped balloon with this episode in Japan, no matter how it ends up, because it shows the POTENTIAL danger in the eyes of the anti nuclear crowd.

      That is my goal. To point out reality.

      I am not an engineer. But I have vast financial experience directly related to this industry and follow it. Plants are cool to build, and it is nice to think of new designs, but I know how the financial people in this industry look at this and can point out that they aren’t (in general) going to take these risks. That is what I am pointing out. And now these risks are higher.

      Nowhere in the points in these posts do we talk about how we would have to re-structure the entire financial system for energy in order to fix these problems, across multiple states, and that this problem would likely be about as complex as re-doing the tax code, with many winners and losers. I am certainly not enough of an expert to think I know how to do this, or if it could be done, so I don’t mention it.

      From my perspective being a lone blogger pointing out facts CONTRARY TO THE POPULAR WISDOM of the financial and managerial press is enough.

      I don’t have solutions for this. I am too much of a realist and steeped in the past. The solutions – de-regulations on utilities – have pretty much failed on the electricity side (not so much for natural gas, that is going pretty well).

    14. Michael Kennedy Says:

      What is going to happen is that President Daniels will appoint VP Walker to take charge of the regulatory atmosphere of the nuclear power industry. Large majorities in both houses of Congress will pass legislation calling nuclear power a national emergency now that Saudi Arabia has fallen to the Islamic radicals.

      Walker will then propose a legislative remedy somewhat similar to the vaccine compensation act and then say to the anti-nuclear forces, including the 20 million lawyers who plan to profit; “Do you feel lucky, punks ?”

      “Make my day !”

      Oh well, it’s fantasy but it could be reality.

    15. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Seriously, why not go to pebble bed design, which I understand has far fewer issues with safety and geological accidents.

    16. Andrew_M_Garland Says:

      I agree with Carl. I read that it is very difficult to crete any large project, much less one that is feared as is nuclear power. Liberal regulation and law have reduced our ability to build or produce anything.

      Just Try to Get a Permit, I Dare You
      =====
      i-Pad sales so far have utilized something on the order of 100,000 man-years of manufacturing employment. If this were done in the US, it would have been more automated, but still it would probably have required at least 10,000 man-years of manufacturing labor.

      However, imagine trying to get permits from our bureaucrats to build or even refurbish a manufacturing complex for 10,000 jobs in this country on the required time-scale. The environmental impact report on traffic impacts alone would take several years, and a single law suit on one component of the supply chain would delay the entire project for years.
      ======
      (read the whole thing)

    17. Robert Schwartz Says:

      I have to agree with Carl. I am appalled by the level of hysteria, an almost fact free media is generating on the Japanese problem. My wife was getting agitated about it, and she only watches Fox. The idea of waiting a few days to find out what has happened is almost impossible to sell. Sigh.

      I am not so convinced as Carl that the regulatory structure makes new build impossible. I think that if the regulatory environment were stable and the last environmentalist were strangled with the entrails of the last lawyer, multi-billion dollar projects could get financed. But those two constraints are not achievable in the current political climate.

      I think though that another event has occurred which also impacts the desirability of new build Nuclear plants to utilities. That is the shale gas phenomenon. It turns out that drilling into shale formations more than a mile underground, can produce enough natural gas to decouple the price of ng from petroleum, and indeed could make the US a gas exporter.

      In 2005, both gas and oil prices were going up. In that year ng prices rose so much that despite the fact that oil traded between $60/bbl and $80, ng actually cost more per BTU than oil. (NG is traded per million BTU [1.055 GJ] oil is traded by the barrel [159 l or 42 usg] but oils are not uniform in their purity or density, generally 1 bbl oil = ~6 MMBTU). At that point things looked good for nuclear. Check this chart from 2007.

      However, NG prices and oil prices went in separate directions starting in 2006. Oil started to go up and gas down. In 2008, with the blow off bubble of the commodity boom, ng did go up, but not as fast and not as far as oil, which hit its (so far) all time high of $145. In 2009, oil began to recover from its post panic low and has now returned to the $100 level, and only the Good Lord knows where it is going. Gas, OTOH, clunked down to the $4-$6 range and has stayed there ever since. Right now $25 will buy you as much energy in the form of ng, as a barrel of oil. That is cheap.

      Look at this chart, and this article.

      What happened. Hydro-fracking of underground rock formations is not new technology. But, it was first applied to ng drilling in deep shale formations in Texas about a decade ago, with good results. Since then it has expanded to North Dakota and Pennsylvania, among other places. Not only have gas prices gone down and stayed down, despite a rough winter, but there is talk of exporting LNG.

      At these prices, no utility would invest in any form of generation other than ng. Of course, this situation threatens to ruin the watermelon’s energy squeeze (a/k/a let the bitter clingers freez in the dark). So a campaign against gas drilling has been mounted. There is a “documentary” movie called “Gaslands” that was nominated for an Oscar (it didn’t win), and a three part hatchet job in the NYTimes, that was responded to by the Democrat former governor of Pensylvannia:

      “Letters: Natural Gas Drilling, in the Spotlight” by Edward G. Rendell and John Hanger, respectively, former governor of Pennsylvania and former secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, in the NYTimes on March 6, 2011 at page WK9:

      * * *

      “If the goal of your report about natural gas drilling was to gratuitously frighten Pennsylvanians, then congratulations on a job well done. If it was to deliver an evenhanded examination of the critical balance that must be achieved between job creation, energy independence and environmental protection in regions with large natural gas deposits, then it was a mighty swing and a miss.

      “As the two people who enacted four regulatory packages strengthening drilling regulation and led the enforcement of the rules in Pennsylvania until January, we strongly disagree that there is lax regulation and oversight of gas drilling there.

      * * *

      All of this leads me to my real question, why is it that the Democrat party is so committed to chocking off development of energy supplies. I do not think it is part and parcel of leftism. Lenin after all said that: “Communism is Soviet power plus electricity”. Is it just sheer bloody mindedness?

    18. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “Seriously, why not go to pebble bed design.”

      There are many designs, some of them no doubt will light our grandchildren’s houses some day. Most of them are not ready for prime time, yet, because they need further R&D. But, the real problems are not technical, they are economic and political.

      First, we must kill all of the lawyers.

    19. guest Says:

      Maybe that’s correct for the states
      but they are just getting warm in China:

      The Energy From Thorium blog reports, ‘The People’s Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology. It was announced in the Chinese Academy of Sciences annual conference on Tuesday, January 25.’ The liquid-fluoride thorium reactor is an alternative reactor design that 1) burns existing nuclear waste, 2) uses abundant thorium as a base fuel, 3) produces far less toxic, shorter-lived waste than existing designs, and 4) can be mass produced, run unattended for years, and installed underground for safety. via Slashdot

      The day they start buying our reactor waste you will know they made it. And that will be a game changer.

    20. Jonathan Says:

      Carl, I agree with you under the current circumstances. My point is that if the political environment changes then things that are now unthinkable may become doable and even likely. Political environments can turn, if not on a dime then over a period of a few years when driven by unexpected events, and unexpected events have a way of happening. We take for granted environmentalist hysteria about nuclear energy and about energy development in general, but the hysteria might disappear as a political force if high oil prices and international instability change the public consensus. It’s not a good situation for the country, but it could be worse and there’s no reason to think it’s unchangeable.

    21. David Foster Says:

      Robert Schwartz..”why is it that the Democrat party is so committed to chocking off development of energy supplies. I do not think it is part and parcel of leftism. Lenin after all said that: “Communism is Soviet power plus electricity”. Is it just sheer bloody mindedness?”

      I think this points to an important distinction between the old Left and today’s “progressive” Left…Marxism was a bastard child of the Enlightenment; today’s “progressives” (like the Fascists before them) are counter-Enlightenment.

    22. Carl from Chicago Says:

      I didn’t say that it is unchangable. In fact it is likely to go from bad to worse. I will get off my duff and write about how the few new coal plants now are bogging down, and the public entities that built a lot of the coal and nuclear plants in the past (ones like the New York Power Authority, ones in Texas, in the Pacific West, etc…) are now effectively not investing anymore. And California is dead, focused on useless short term solar and geo projects with no transmission. And now Energy Futures Holdings is so loaded with debt in Texas that they are effectively bankrupt, otherwise Texas would be a place where I would be relatively optimistic.

      We essentially aren’t going to be investing in anything except natural gas anymore soon, and on a net basis we will see the share of nuclear and coal decrease as old units go out of service, which at some point they must.

      It isn’t necessarily the end of the world to bet our entire franchise on natural gas, and efficiencies which could help a bit on the margin.

      For me the down side in the future is the electric car – if this starts to grow that is a whole new monster our infrastructure has to support. Natural gas costs money continuously; it isn’t like nuclear or to a lesser extent coal.

      And for new transmission – that is dead as a doornail, just defunct. Forget about it. Costs are too high. You could certainly retrofit the existing lines for efficiency, but for new lines, not going to happen.

      The reason that fixing our electricity grid is a monstrous problem is that it requires state participation and Federal participation, and a long term planning horizon, and there are winners and losers.

      Remember – the Federal government effectively can do little right – look at Yucca waste storage – and most of the recent electricity deregulation efforts have been a disaster. The nuclear plant guarantees have helped only a tiny bit, but mostly just set up a storm of publicity that is now down to a trickle.

      What will happen is that our system will start to break down. It already has on the industrial side, as plants create their own power, and don’t rely on the grid for clean power. Soon buildings will have their own backup power, as well, and ultimately houses and upscale subdivisions.

      The future is FAR likelier to be worse than today, especially since most municipalities and states are broke in the first place.

    23. Dan from Madison Says:

      As for transmission, ATC (company formed by utilities to do a lot of the dirty work) is doing a great job here in Wisconsin getting projects done, even around insane Dane county. Yes that is a drop in the bucket, but progress nonetheless.

    24. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Carl: First, thanks for fixing the spam filter. “For me the down side in the future is the electric car – if this starts to grow that is a whole new monster our infrastructure has to support.”

      Not to worry. The BEV (Battery powered electric vehicle) is, one of those shiny technological baubles that the watermelons (environmentalists green on the outside, but really leftists red, on the inside) love to wave around hoping to distract the bitter clingers from the truth, which is that the watermelons are trying to impoverish and demoralize them.

      The BEV is a technology that held great promise at the beginning of the century — the 20th, 100 years ago. It has always been the case that a BEV requires many fewer moving parts than a ICE (internal combustion engine powered vehicle). And it would work very well and beat the ICE, were it not for the batteries.

      Batteries have all kinds of problems: e.g. weight, size, voltage, charging time. There have been a lot of improvements in battery technology in the last century, although some common battery types are still in use, such as the lead acid car battery. But, battery technology is old technology — the first batteries were built by Volta more than 200 years ago. And, there is very little technological head room for them. They are based on inorganic electrochemistry, which is a well ploughed field.

      My great-grandmother owned a Baker Electric back around the time of the Great War, when one third of the cars on the road were BEVs. They won’t be comming back, for the same reason they went away — they were not very useful compared to ICE.

      David Foster: “I think this points to an important distinction between the old Left and today’s “progressive” Left…Marxism was a bastard child of the Enlightenment; today’s “progressives” (like the Fascists before them) are counter-Enlightenment.”

      I think that the attempt to distinguish between Fascism and Communism is doomed. I believe that Jonah Goldberg is correct, both are branches on the Marxist tree. Both are anti-Liberal (and therefor anti-rational), and both owe more to Georges Sorel than to Marx.

      Still, I do not see an anti-technological bias in any of the ancestors of the modern left. The conscious opposition to technology and industry seems to me to more derive from Blake, the Pre-Raphaelites, Wagner, and other aesthetic sources than to any expressly political theory.

    25. Carl from Chicago Says:

      Dan, as you know, Madison is one of the few states that didn’t drop “traditional” regulation and they actually still try to get things done there, and try to strike a fair bargain with utilities. It helps that the utilities in Wisconsin have also historically been reasonably well run. That is why they can still get things done in their own backyard, at least.

      I guess part of the reason I have been dreading the write up of this issue is that it is a “state by state” problem with an “interstate” overlay for items like jointly owned plants and transmission lines, and then there is a “Federal” overlay for the things that they are doing or not doing (Yucca). On top of that are the non public entities like TVA and LADWP and many other entities that used to build new generation but now are pretty much just treading water for the most part and not adding net new generation, with a few minor exceptions.

      On top of all this is the fact that a bunch of the key entities essentially went “private” like the way Buffet bought up the old Iowa utilities I used to work at and TXU is now EFH which was the giant leveraged buy out which is now drowning in debt.

      And then the old “IPP” companies like Dynegy and Calpine and AES are still kind of out there trying to survive but their circumstances have mostly changed for the worse.

      The giant wild card going the other way is that natural gas is cheap which washes away many core problems, for now, at least, since that is all we can build, anyways. Natural gas has done well because it was mostly deregulated and the government didn’t f*ck it up, and they found all the new supplies. One other kind of wild card is the LNG ports that were built during the boom, meaning that our cheap natural gas could get shipped overseas in some circumstances and now for the first time a pretty big part of that market is open to world pricing, for better or worse.

      The electric car is bad in a natural gas fired world because the key assumption is that they would charge overnight when utilities had a low load and were basically just on with low demand, because you don’t want to turn large base coal and nuclear plants “on and off” cycling continuously. Those plants are basically high fixed cost low variable costs so you want to run them all the time. But in a natural gas world you have lower fixed costs and higher variable costs (depending on gas price) and then the electric car costs more to charge, even at midnight, because you would scale back that plant otherwise.

      In parallel to all this you have massive mergers that keep happening, and as these utilities get massive you get other changes. Some of them won’t overpay (Exelon) because they “are” the market and their re-investment decisions are complex.

      No one has figured out how to pay for new long transmission lines. That probably is dead.