SunZia: The Making of a Slave State, First Power then Transmission

Why does Arizona tolerate it? Why do its citizens tolerate it? Who benefits by creating a slave-state status for Arizona?

by Russell Lowes, http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org and

Energy Chair for the Sierra Club Rincon Group, August 9, 2012

Some states in this fine nation export goods in such a way as to benefit all or many within the state. Let’s take the examples of maple syrup from Vermont, fish catch from Alaska, honey from Utah, or high-technology solutions from California. All of these examples incur some handsome benefits for many or all of the state population in export revenue. That revenue can come in the form of tax revenue or in the form of business income, and perhaps high numbers of jobs provided or even more intangible benefits, like crop pollination.

Not so with energy exports of Arizona. With more than a third of our electricity being exported, there is very little benefit to any significant population of this state. Sure there are some construction jobs that actually don’t go to out-of-state construction workers, and really do go to in-state residents. Sure there are some maintenance jobs for running these plants that also go to in-state residents of Arizona.

However, there are a scant number of jobs in coal, gas or nuclear power production. For every million invested in coal production, only 6 jobs are produced. Fossil-fuel and nuclear plants are capital intensive industries, where the money goes largely for capital-intensive power plant and construction components, many of which are produced overseas.

In contrast to 6.9 jobs for coal and 4.2 jobs per million dollars spent on nuclear energy, solar energy installation produces about 13 jobs per million dollars spent.  Whenever you put money toward low job-producing options, you deplete funds for higher jobs-producing options. To put money into coal and nukes reduces overall employment, because that money would have gone to other projects, or perhaps even just into more discretionary spending, which has a much higher jobs output than 4.2 or 6.9 jobs per million dollars spent.

Energy exports from Arizona are not taxed in any significant way that would bring further benefits to the state, except for property taxes that benefit the local areas a bit.  We do not tax the payroll that goes for power plant components from out-of-state -– and mostly out-of-country -– workers who create these parts and machinery for the coal, nuclear and natural gas plants. We do not put a sales tax on the exported energy. We do not tax the income of the out-of-state corporations like Bechtel, GE-Hitashi, Toshiba-Westinghouse or others who build these plants.

Then comes SunZia, which some think of as Sunzilla, a monster transmission facility. This system would transport electricity from coal and natural gas producing plants right through Arizona. The company behind SunZia, SouthWestern Power Group, would have you believe that the 16-story high transmission lines would primarily transmit renewable energy. However, every one of their many options for routing their transmission lines goes by a planned fossil-fuel plant in southeastern Arizona and other potential gas plants in New Mexico.

The owners of the Bowie, AZ fossil-fuel plant and SunZia apparently own no renewable energy facilities to speak of. This is a good example of green-washing, where they promise renewables and then you actually deliver dirty energy. Explicitly put, they are using renewables as a cover to deliver their dirty fossil fuel plant.

It is SouthWestern Power Group that wants to build a large natural gas plant north of the Chiracauhua Mountains, near Bowie. It would pollute the air of Chiracauhua National Monument, the Coronado National Forest lands, the Wilcox Playa and the Wilcox area. This plant is east of Tucson, toward the New Mexico boundary line.

The wind from this facility would blow pollutants to Tucson during our hot summer months. This fossil-fuel plant would pollute a large region including parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.  Of course, winds don’t stop at boundary lines, so the pollution, like all pollution of fossil and nuclear plants, would thin out and spread globally.

There is no need for this huge transmission line. Instead, there is a large precedent for energy efficiency improvement in the U.S., in the Southwest and in Arizona. The Arizona Corporation Commission, which is a top regulator for electricity and its transmission in Arizona, has established a requirement for Arizona of 22% reduction in power production in Arizona by 2020. This large electricity reduction is going to make new transmission lines much less viable. On the other hand, to build transmission lines essentially refocuses attention on production, rather than reaching our energy efficiency potential.

All the while, if Arizona were to use its energy as efficiently as California, which has focused on EE programs for a long time, it would reduce its overall electricity production by 52%!

Source: New Rules Project, Energy Self-Reliant States, October 2009, p. 25. http://www.newrules.org/sites/newrules.org/files/ESRS.pdf

With all this energy reduction going on, why would it be beneficial to build SunZia?  It is highly beneficial for out-of-state and overseas corporations. For typical Arizona residents, it is the opposite of beneficial.

Arizona stands to lose environmental quality, and the economic negatives that go along with these environmental quality reductions. The towers and lines themselves contribute to visual blight of the beautiful natural settings of Arizona, and New Mexico. The lines will contribute to transporting more electricity from natural gas – an absolute certainty, with the tie-in to the natural gas plant near Bowie.

Economically, this is not the way to go. Many studies have been done on the average cost of natural gas electricity, on coal electricity, on wind and on the cost of energy efficiency. Here are rough cost estimates for each of these delivered electricity options, or in the case of energy efficiency, saved electricity costs:
 

Costs Per Kilowatt-Hour of Newly Constructed Power Plant Electricity Delivered or Electricity Saved
Coal               13 cents per kilowatt-hour
Natural Gas    11 cents
Nuclear           24 cents
Solar PV          6-12 cents, depending upon solar gain for each area
Wind              11 cents
Energy Saved/Efficiency   3 cents (yes, as in one eighth the cost of nuclear energy or one fourth of coal)

We have enough base load electricity generators for our current use in Arizona, regionally and nationwide, on average, already. We will have even more than enough base load electricity generation with the reduction in load that will occur with nation-wide and state-wide energy efficiency portfolios.

The least-cost approach is energy efficiency. The next least-cost approach is EE mixed with renewables that are distributed generation, in other words, renewables that are generated and distributed locally.
The federal Bureau of Land Management is the agency that is controlling this environmental impact statement (EIS) process. The Draft EIS for SunZia has been done now. It is very biased. For example it makes the claim that this line is for renewable energy transmission, without any significant justification for this claim. The BLM is clearly in cahoots with the company promoting this highly profitable but destructive energy system.

I ask the BLM to clarify what the cost is of the “no-build” option for Arizona and New Mexico, compared to the cost of the SunZia project. I want the BLM to go back to the drawing board and get perspectives on what a no-build option would ultimately do to the total energy cost outlay from the citizens of Arizona and the region. The BLM should contract with reputable firms that do not have a hand in perpetuation of the 20th Century technologies of coal, nuclear and natural gas electricity production. They should consider companies like Synapse, the New Rules Project and others that are not enmeshed in the technologies of the past.

The BLM knows that this system has variable boundaries, as electricity marries electricity, once it gets on the western grid system. However, the BLM also knows that it can reasonably quantify what electricity will cost with a system that is unneeded versus what it will cost with a grid system that is not unnecessarily expanded. The BLM knows that if we put the energy dollars into energy efficiency and distributed generation renewables, the overall cost of energy to citizens in the West will be lower.

So, is Arizona headed to becoming a resource-depleted slave state, a third-world country-like state? Is this beautiful state going to be beholden to outside interests that profit from this potential deterioration? Or is Arizona going to start taking the reins in hand and steer away from this outside domination?

Do we want to go down the tired path of fossil and nuclear energy, or do we want to ramp up our energy efficiency and blend it with renewables, cleaning our environment and reaping economic benefits of cheaper energy costs and more jobs?

A deadline of August 22nd has been set for this important phase of opposition to this project.

To let the BLM know what you think about this project, you can go online to download a comment form at:  http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/nm/programs/more/lands_and_realty/sunzia/sunzia_docs.Par.1056.File.dat/SunZia-Comment_FINAL.pdf
This form has directions on where to send it, or you can e-mail your comments to: NMSunZiaProject@blm.com
You can also obtain a good perspective on this project at the website of the Cascabel Working Group, where you can obtain the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (in numerous pieces, several hundred pages of primary sections and addendums) at: http://cascabelworkinggroup.org/links.html

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America has saved more energy than you might think. YOU are saving more energy than you might think.

Saving Energy Comes in Many Forms
“Saving Energy Series, Part I”

by Russell Lowes, April 2, 2011

In 1973, at the height of the OPEC Oil Embargo, America was coming to grips with the concept of limited oil reserves. During that year, all companies, citizens and governments in the U.S. used a total of 77 quads of energy—that is, 77 quadrillion British thermal Units (Btu).(1) 

Thirty-eight years later, the country’s annual consumption is 98 quads,(2) only 27% more than in 1973.
 

“Wait a minute,” you might ask, “our economy has expanded much more than that, right”?  You would be right. Our economy expanded from $4.93 trillion to about $13.19 trillion. These figures are in 2000 dollars with the inflation adjusted out.(3) Yet, all of the energy that we use as Americans — living in houses, driving everywhere, producing goods and services, governing our nation, states, counties and cities — adds up to just 96 quads, just 27% more than almost 4 decades ago.

That means that we had a 267% increase in economic output, an increase that is radically more than the 27% energy growth.  When you factor in our conversion from a medium manufacturing country in 1973 to a lighter manufacturing country today (manufacturing uses more energy than services) the energy equivalency needs to be adjusted downward. However, still, our improvement in energy consumed per dollar of economic output since 1973 is undeniably impressive.

This is illustrated by the table below.


So how did we do that? How did we increase our economic activity with so little energy expansion? We did so by saving energy. Saving energy falls into two categories: energy conservation through cutbacks in the use of energy, and what I will call energy efficiency, through improving the way goods and services are produced.  This article and the table above, address only energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency includes producing more services like delivering packages around the country for less energy. It also includes producing more goods for the same buck, like reducing the plastic and metal in a radio that performs the same function.

How Are YOU Saving Energy Through Energy Efficiency?

In all likelihood, you are contributing to this increased energy efficiency.  You may not even know that you are buying something that has been manufactured in a way that has improved in efficiency. 

Take the clothes you are wearing. Since 1973, that first year of increased energy awareness in the U.S., clothing has been dyed using more effective technologies, like using electrostatic adherence techniques. That has allowed manufacturers to use less dye, which means producing less dye and reducing all the energy that used to go into manufacturing. You may not have even known it.

On the other hand, if you have changed the type of light bulbs you use, you probably do know that compact florescent lights save about 75% of the energy that old-fashioned incandescent bulbs use. These CFLs have improved in recent years to give better lighting.  For example, the U.S. Government Energy Star-rated CFLs now start out with the same amount of light almost the instant you turn them on, the amount of mercury has been reduced, the light spectrum has improved, and the annoying hum has been eliminated.

Even some power plants have contributed to our energy efficiency gains.  These power plants have increased their thermal efficiency, which means that for every 100 units of heat they produce, they now convert more of that heat to electricity.  That reduces the need to produce so much heat (raw energy production) and pump so much water to cool these plants, which uses a tremendous amount of energy.

With that in mind, below is a graphic of the energy efficiency categories that will be helping America reduce its energy use per dollar of economic activity, or per average item bought. This is a projection of what might happen between now and 2020. The point of presenting this is to show the vast array of efficiency techniques that we both have been using and are still improving upon.

The improvement in energy efficiency since 1973 has saved more energy than all the additional energy expansion since that year. This will continue on into the future, and negate the need for additional power plants and oil consumption for transportation and more.


Above table: McKinsey Report finds that U.S. could save $1.2 trillion through 2020, by investing $520 billion in improvements. Kate Galbraith, “McKinsey Report Cites $1.2 Trillion in Potential Savings from Energy Efficiency,” New York Times, July 29, 2009,

————

(1)    U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.doe.gov/…/All_25th_Anniversary.xls and http://www.eia.doe.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/mer.pdf
(2)    Data360, http://www.data360.org/dataset.aspx?Data_Set_Id=354

Beating the Heat: Evaporative Coolers vs. Refrigeration

by Roy Emrick and Russell Lowes, May 3, 2010

An earlier version of this article appeared in the April-June 2010 Sierra Club Rincon Group Newsletter.

Which cooling system is best for energy use? Which is best for water use? Which is best for reducing CO2 output of electrical plants?

For several years, a business columnist at the Arizona Daily Star regularly berated evaporative coolers as water wasters and outmoded technology. He said refrigeration was the way to go in the modern world. Many readers disagreed with him but they gave only qualitative arguments. We decided to see if we could find some quantitative data to compare the two systems. We put together our data on our own rooftop systems. One of us (Roy) has had only evaporative coolers since he came to Tucson in 1960. The second author (Russell) has a combined evap/air conditioner/heat pump unit.

Russell’s combo “piggyback” evap cooler/A/C Heatpump system                           Photo by Russell Lowes

Although evaporative coolers used to be the standard cooling device for Tucson homes, they are less common today, so a brief description of how they work is in order. You’ve probably noticed that even on a very hot summer day, when you come out of swimming pool you find yourself shivering. This is because it takes energy to evaporate water (or any liquid for that matter). This energy, called the latent heat of evaporation, comes from your body and cools it. The evap cooler uses the same principle. It is a box with a tank of water, pads of aspen fiber, corrugated paper, or composite (MasterCool), a pump to distribute water to wet the pads, and a blower fan to pull air in through the pads and force it into your house. The air is  cooled as it flows through the pads by the evaporating water. On a hot, dry summer day, this method of cooling is very effective; however, because less water evaporates when the air is more humid, these coolers are admittedly not as effective during the humid monsoon season.

Also, as you probably know, Tucson’s water contains lots of dissolved minerals. These minerals precipitate out on the cooler pads eventually making them useless. To combat this problem, the more modern coolers have pumps that empty out the water tank every eight or twelve hours of operation, thereby purging the salty water. This is good for cooler pad life but uses more water. Because this latter type of cooler is more  common today, we included the use of this pump in our experiment.

Refrigeration or “air conditioning” systems are based on the Joule-Thomson effect: a gas cools when it expands. For example, when you let air out of a tire, it is cool. Here a mechanical pump compresses a gas (usually Freon), which warms it. It then goes through a copper coil where air cools it until it condenses. The resulting liquid then flows through a small opening and expands, causing it to cool, and chill your house.

In the table above, we summarize the energy and water consumption of the two types of coolers. Since our electric bills are usually the first concern, we start there. Our data in column 2 are taken from a number of research papers. There is an amazing spread of water usage, almost a factor of ten, in usage for similar houses, so we have used mid-range values that would apply to Tucson. The $0.113/kWh (kilowatt hours)used in Column 3 for calculating the energy cost comes from dividing Roy’s last July bill of $42.91 by the 380 kWh used.

Next we determined the cost of the water used by the evap cooler. Tucson water has a lower rate ($1.39/ccf) for less than 15 ccf (hundred cubic feet – 748 gallons) and much more ($5.14/ccf) for over 15 ccf. We assumed that folks would use some amount of water that fell into the higher category, so estimated $3/ccf as a reasonable average. This results in the total cost for the two systems in Column 9.

The trickier part was figuring the total water usage, Columns 4, 6 and 9. It may come as a surprise, but air conditioning or heat pump refrigeration is not a water-free process. Water—lots of it— is used in the generation of electricity. You may have noted clouds of steam coming from the cooling towers at power plants. Much of the cooling water is recycled, but even so about 0.5 gallon of water is used to generate one kWh of electrical energy at the Tucson Electric power plants.

Hydropower is even more water consumptive, as a huge amount of water evaporates from the reservoir behind the power dam. Lakes Meade and Powell lose almost a million acre feet per year and although some of this must be budgeted to irrigation, recreation, and flood control, at least 4 gallons/kWh could be attributed to hydropower. Nuclear power is even more water intensive than coal plants. Since we are on the Western Power Grid, it is difficult to say what fraction of our local power comes from which source. Once again, we used an average, and calculated 0.8gal/kWh as a reasonable estimate.

There are also indirect water consumption and environmental factors associated with electricity that must be taken into account. Electricity production uses water in the coal and uranium mining process. Extraction of water at these mines often devastates the local environment around the mines. Another area of environmental impact is that of CO2 production. We address this in the last column of the Table. Here you can see that the evap uses so much less electricity that the CO2 impact is 75% lower than refrigeration.

The Table reflects these assumptions on energy and water consumption. It also compares the total energy and water consumption for a typical home in the Southwestern deserts. Depending on the assumptions, the results are quite variable. For example, if you predict that the energy costs per kilowatt-hour in this area are going to increase, which many energy analysts project, then the evap cooler gains favor. If you plan to buy a super-efficient A/C, then this option gains favor. We did assume a high efficiency A/C, but there are even higher efficiency units becoming available.

There are also other factors not considered in this analysis. For example, some people do better, health-wise, with an evaporative cooler, while others do better with A/C. All air contains bacteria, mold and fungi. These microorganisms can even be beneficial for your health, but some people have problems with the very dry air an A/C produces, while others have problems with the moister air an evap produces. To most people it does not seem to make that much difference, except that in the driest conditions, many people say they like the moisture of the evap for their skin, hair and overall health.

Ultimately, the data seem to suggest that environmentally evaporative is the better choice, but using A/C during the most humid times, and using the evap the rest of the time is still a responsible option. Perhaps the most important lesson is not to use either unnecessarily – turn down the thermostat. That didn’t used to be an option for the old evaportative coolers—they were either on or off—with a high or low option. The modern evaps, however, offer affordable thermostats which pre-wet your pads, turn the system on and off like an A/C thermostat, and allow you to program the hours of startup and shutdown. These thermostats let you further reduce your water and energy consumption.

As for initial cost of system, and of repairs, refrigeration systems are much higher in cost than evaps. Evaps take more maintenance, but the routine maintenance is significantly lower in cost than the infrequent maintenance needs for refrigeration units.

What Can Homeownders Do to Reduce Energy and Water Consumption in Cooling Their Homes and Businesses?

Homeowners have several options if they want to reduce energy and water consumption and still cool their
homes during our hot summer months. If you are willing, like Roy, to weather the humidity, then the lowest cost option is the good ol’ evaporative cooler. If you aren’t quite that tough, you can do what Russell has done and install a “piggyback” unit, or cooler/heat-pump-A/C combo. This allows you to use the evaporative cooler during the drier months of April through June and September through October. It also allows you to use the evap during the drier parts of the days July through August. However, when the humidity increases and evap is no longer cooling efficiently, you can turn it off and the A/C on. If you do get a piggyback,

it is important to get a “barometric damper” which swings freely to open to whichever system you turn on. These allow you to not do anything but shut one system off and the other on. If you have a piggyback, you never want to run both systems at once (see picture of piggyback).

Home insulation is also important, especially with refrigeration. Some of the wide variations in experimental results for cooler energy use are no doubt due to the quality of the insulation of the house. Finally, note that in this article we are discussing retrofitting existing buildings. If you are building new, there are many ways to reduce your heating costs to nearly zero and greatly lower your refrigeration or evap consumption. But, that is another story—or at least another article!

References:

For evaporative cooler water use:

Public Service of New Mexico, PNM, has a study at http://www.pnm.com/environment/cooling.htm

MM Karpiscak, et. al, Evaporative Cooler Water Use in Phoenix, Journal AWWA, Vol. 90, Issue 4, April 1998, pp. 121-130, at: http://apps.awwa.org/WaterLibrary/showabstract.aspx?an=JAW_0048135 (for a fee)

For general info on how evaps work:

http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/consumer/az9145.pdf

For water consumption at coal mines:
Black Mesa Project Final EIS, Vol. I Report, DOI FES 08-49, OSM-EIS-33, p. 11, November 2008
http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/oil-gas/publications/AP/IssuesforFEandWater.pdf
http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy00/phy00211.htm
http://www.bhpbilliton.com/bbContentRepository/Reports/
NorwichParkHSECReport2005.pdf
http://www.csrm.uq.edu.au/docs/MCA_SOTA.pdf

Re-Think Nuclear

Presented as a one-page primer for the Sustainable Tucson Newsletter

By Russell Lowes, February 27, 2010

The real choice is not nuclear versus coal, but nukes & coal versus the reasonable alternatives. 

There is massive opposition to coal now, which comprises about 45% of U.S. electricity. You can see smoke from the stacks or read about its CO2 emissions.

Opposition to nuclear energy is also amassing. Nuclear also produces CO2 emissions, which are growing ever-greater. It emits invisible radioactivity, uses even more water, and is much pricier. Here are some of the problems with nuclear energy.

Safety Issues Persist: The world has 436 reactors. In order to have a significant contribution to world energy, 1000 reactors are projected. Even if future reactor accidents improve by a factor of 10, the chance of a reactor meltdown would be roughly one more Chernobyl-like “sacrifice zone” by 2050.

Terrorist Issues: Shortly after the 9/11 New York jetliner crashes, the NRC corrected itself saying that airliners could destroy U.S. reactors. There is an even greater threat at the adjacent spent fuel cooling pools, housed in non-hardened buildings which, if breached, could create a meltdown.

Poor Economics/Subsidies Required: Nuclear electricity would run about 25 cents per kilowatt-hour to your meter. Current Tucson electricity is about 11 cents. New coal would be about 16 cents, wind at 12, solar photovoltaic at 24, gas at 13. The best option, however, is reducing energy with better lighting, architecture, insulation, A/C efficiency, etc.  Energy efficiency averages about 3 cents. Numerous nuclear industry officials have said they will build no new reactors without taxpayer loan guarantees.

Two Ways to Worsen Global Warming: Investing 1 dollar in nuclear rather than energy efficiency, you forgo saving 8 times the electricity. In other words, you can invest 1 dollar in nuclear and get 4 kilowatt-hours – or you can invest in energy savings and get 33 KWH. Investing in nuclear energy will dominate energy dollars, setting back the real options.

Second, nukes produce about 110 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. This is 11 times the CO2 of wind, double that of solar, and many times that of energy savings/efficiency. It gets worse if you include 1 million years of waste storage.

Water Consumption Is Highest: Water lost to the environment at Palo Verde is about 0.8 gallons per kilowatt-hour. Coal consumes 0.5 gallons. With solar PV, wind and energy savings, water use is negligible.

National Security Is Diminished: We import 80-92% of our U.S. nuclear fuel. Energy independence is set back with nuclear.

Waste Legacy: The U.S. courts have ruled that nuclear waste much be safeguarded for 1 million years, 25,000 times the 40-year operating life of a reactor.

Russell Lowes is Research Director for http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org. He was the primary author of a book on the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the largest U.S. nuclear plant upwind of Tucson about 125 miles. This book was used in a campaign to successfully stop two reactors at this now three-reactor complex. You can contact Russell Lowes for presentations or for questions at russlowes@gmail.com  Documentation to this article can be found at http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org

With the New Energy Bills in Congress, the U.S. Government May be the Biggest Thing Between Us and a Renewable Future

By Russell Lowes, February 11, 2010

It shouldn’t be this way. The Government should be part of the solution – not a handicap. However, this is how the landscape has been settling and it is becoming apparent that with the influence of special interests, nuclear energy is going to get a huge amount of our tax dollars, while other, much cheaper energy strategies, are shorted. With so much potential for energy efficiency, this would give us time to make the transition to renewables.

With the new bills in Congress EE by state Graphic2 DOWNSIZED

Some people say that nuclear energy has become outdated. I would go so far as to say it was never in vogue, in a valid way. It has always cost too much. It has always taken too much water. It has always had too many environmental impacts. And, it has always had too many security risks. I could go on.

Nuclear energy is so expensive compared to the realistic options, like a blend of renewables and  energy-saving efficiencies, that we do not need any more nukes anywhere in the world. I cannot emphasize this enough.Yet, the current energy bills in Congress promote nuclear energy to the tune of a 150% expansion.(1)

To fully appreciate the wrongheadedness of this policy, it is important to understand the actual cost of nuclear power per kilowatt generated. Here are the details:

Construction costs: Nuclear plants cost a lot to build. A nuclear plant in the last round of nuclear reactor construction cost $3100 per kilowatt to install in 1988, running out the inflation with an online inflation calculator (like the Bureau of Labor Standards’ http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl) yields $5642 in 2008 real (adjusted for inflation) dollars.

Any nuclear plant that is being planned today will not be finished until 2022 or so, which if a 4% inflation is run out from the $5642, it comes to $9003 per kilowatt installed. This figure is probably low, as many plants that were canceled in the late 1980s were going to be much higher than the average $3100, but let us use this figure.

The next step in projecting nuclear costs includes projecting capital payback, meaning what the annual capital payback is over 30 years, the interest associated, plus fees and taxes. To make this simple for analysis, this is put in terms of a capitalized payback or levelized fixed charge rate of 14% per year for 30 years. So $9000/kilowatt of capacity times 14% equals $1260 to be paid per year for 30 years, for a total capital payback of $37,800 for each kilowatt of capacity, plus some fees for the last 10 years which I will ignore here.

The next step is to project the lifespan and the average percentage that the plant will deliver energy at (or capacity factor). I have looked the literature over extensively and believe the best estimates are 40 years and an 85% capacity factor. So take that 1 KW capacity times the 40 years times 8766 hours per year times 85% and you get the number of kilowatt-hours (KWH) that you are likely to get from that 1 KW of capacity, or 298,044 KWH. Divide this KWH figure into the capital cost of $37,800 and you get 12.7 cents per KWH for construction and related payback costs alone.

Operation and maintenance: Nuclear power plants are expensive to operate. After the initial outlay to build the plant, there is the additional cost of fuel,operation and maintenance, which an inter- disciplinary industry report called the Keystone study(2) found to be at 4.3 cents per KWH for the future. To take the capital cost of 12.7 cents per KWH and add the operating cost of 4.3, you get 17 cents per KWH.

Transmission and Distribution: Finally, you have to add in a transmission and distribution cost, which should be about 7-9 cents per KWH in the future, which bring us to about 25 cents per KWH. When you compare that that 25 cents per KWH cost of generating nuclear energy to the cost of saving energy, there is an over 8:1 ratio.(3) Surveys of our nation’s states that have energy efficiency programs show it costs $0.03 to save energy per kilowatt-hour saved. This is one eighth the cost of nuclear energy’s $0.25/KWH, not counting the long-term or other hidden costs of nuclear energy.

Energy efficiency includes all sorts of things, for example:

• Compact florescent lights (CFLs) replacing incandescent light bulbs;

• Improved refrigerator efficiency for households;

• Improved air conditioning efficiency for businesses and households;

• Reduction of raw materials to be manufactured to make the same products; and

• Improved architectural design.

A number of U.S. states have statewide programs that promote the use of energy efficiency. The success hasbeen most pronounced in California. See the accompanying U.S. map that tells you how much energy could be saved if each state simply went to California’s current level of energy efficiency.(4) Note that California is still dramatically improving. So for Arizona as an example, we will be able to save more than the 52% listed.

With such a stark reduction in energy consumption, many of our current electrical plants could have their useful lives stretched out, until renewables and other technologies come into play. That is why it is so outrageous that Congress is supporting an expansion of nuclear energy as a “solution” to our energy problem. First, after so many of your tax dollars have been spent by our government on nukes, it is outrageous that nuclear energy is still so expensive. Second, it is outrageous in a good way that energy efficiency is so cheap. Third, it is outrageous that since this price differential is so high that we would even be considering new nuclear – or coal – plants as an option any more.

(1) EPA Analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, 6/23/09

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/economics/pdfs/HR2454_Analysis.pdf

(2) Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding, The Keystone Center, June 2007,

http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/rpt_KeystoneReportNuclearPowerJointFactFinding_2007.pdf

(3)American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy,

http://www.aceee.org/press/u092pr.htm,

also Saving Energy Cost-Effectively: A National Review of the Cost of Energy SavedThrough Utility-Sector Energy Efficient Programs, Katherine Fiedrich, et al., Sept. 2009,

at http://aceee.org/pubs/u092.pdf?CFID=4417970&CFTOKEN=99602900

(4)New Rules Project, Energy Self-Reliant States, October 2009, p. 25.

http://www.newrules.org/sites/newrules.org/files/ESRS.pdf

Pro-Coal and Pro-Nuclear Congressional Energy Bills on Crash Course with Environment, U.S. Economy and the Public

By Russell Lowes, November 22, 2009
 
This may seem like blasphemy: the House Bill on energy known as The American Clean Energy Act is the most detrimental bill the House has passed since the Patriot Act. Like the Patriot Act, it is not what it says it is. It should never become law.

        It is not a clean energy bill.

        It is not a pro-solution climate bill.

        It is not a pro-American bill.

 

        It is an energy giveaway bill.

        It is a bill that deletes Clean Air Act authority for the Environmental Protection Agency over nearly 50 coal plants.

        It is a bill that sets up an unfair energy tax system called cap & trade tax (CTT).

        It is a bill that sets up CTT, that doubles as a financial derivative, which would be responsible for economic deterioration of U.S. economy, just like the CDOs and CDSs that helped cause the current economic downturn.

Further, the Senate bill versions are just as bad or worse.

At issue is a battle that has a huge bearing on the United States and world’s environment, economy and social order. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACESA, has passed the U.S. House and is now in a number of different forms before the Senate.  With the change in the administration and increased majorities in Congress, we had all hoped that the 111th Congress would act fast to implement a new climate bill to start controlling our pollution output like carbon dioxide.

The House Bill (HR 2454), however, is replete with problems, as are the Senate versions currently being drafted. While it is significant that a house of Congress has, for the first time, passed an energy & climate bill, it is also important that the bill that Congress ultimately enacts imposes a tax on energy in a way that will discourage excess energy use.  That is because energy use analysis indicates that price increases are the most effective way to curtail energy use, improve the way we use energy and decrease pollution.

THE PROBLEMS WITH ACESA

There are numerous problems with the 1428-page House Bill (HB)1, so I do not attempt to address all of them.  Rather, I will highlight three main areas that need to be corrected in a final bill if it is to be effective: 

 

ACESA implements cap & trade tax and financial derivative system instead of a simple carbon tax.

 

 

Emissions trading, also known as “cap & trade tax” is a way of controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.  Under “cap & trade tax” the government sets a limit, or “cap” on the total amount of a pollutant that can be emitted.  Companies or other groups are issued permits that give them the right to emit a certain percentage of that amount of pollutant (“credits” or “allowances”).  The total amount of credits or allowances cannot exceed the cap.  Companies that need to increase their emission allowance can buy credits from other companies who don’t need all of their credit because they pollute less.  This transfer is the “trade.”  Thus, companies have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of pollution they emit and a disincentive to exceed their set allowance. 

While cap & trade is a tax in that the U.S. Government will be collecting auction fees/taxes, it is also a financial derivative, in that the certificates issued through auction will derive their value from the sold “right” to pollute.

ACESA includes a cap & trade tax system where the certificates would be issued through an auction.  By requiring companies to buy their certificates, the government forces them to pay for the “right” to pollute.  When he was campaigning for the presidency, candidate Obama promised that under his cap and trade plan, 100% of the certificates would be auctioned—in other words, no one would get a free ride to pollute. 

 

Unfortunately, the house bill only requires 15% of the emissions certificates to be auctioned, or paid for, during the first year.  That figure will increase to only 70% by 2030.  Obviously, this reduced auction amount is a major disappointment to those of us who want to see polluters, not the public, bear the financial burden of their pollution.  

 

The reduced auction amount isn’t the only problem with the cap & trade provision in the bill. Although cap & trade systems can be effective they are also susceptible to abuse.  Opportunists are able to take advantage of the complexity of the mechanism to “game the system.”  To curb this potential problem, the House Bill sets up an oversight committee under the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to regulate hedge fund and other derivative-related aspects of cap & trade. However, it is only a cursory oversight arrangement and there is legitimate concern that it would not prevent market manipulation, which in turn could lead to a new economic bubble in this new speculative market and ultimately hurt the U.S. economy. Illicit cap & trade tax schemes have already been exposed in Europe.2

 

All of these problems with the cap & trade tax approach could be eliminated by implementing a simple carbon tax.3

 

ACESA Eliminates EPA Clean Air Act authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

 

The House Bill is also problematic because it proposes to strip EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.4  This authority was only recently recognized by the United States Supreme Court, and EPA is only now moving toward exercising it; however, the House Bill would reverse that progress. 

 

At least one analysis of the House Bill indicates that this proposed de-authorization of the EPA would mean that 47 coal plants will be able to be built without EPA regulation.  Clearly, that outcome is contrary to any meaningful goal to reduce carbon emissions. 

 

ACESA Funds coal and nuclear energy more heavily than increased efficiency and renewables.

 

Finally, the proposed funding under the bill for new technologies has misplaced priorities and incentives.  Under the House Bill, $60 billion would be allocated for “clean coal” carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. CCS is a technology that would capture the carbon coming out of the coal stack and then sequester it so that it does not get into the atmosphere.

 

There are a number of CCS different possibilities in the process of being developed, but none has been demonstrated on a commercial scale, and it is unlikely that CCS will be economically practical.  Yet, this is the largest chunk of money directly listed in the bill for any one technology. While energy efficiency and renewable energies get $90 billion by 2025, or $6 billion per year or so, that is only a fraction of the amount that coal and nuclear energy will get.

 

One of the Senate bills includes loan incentives that would give nuclear and coal CCS hundreds of billions of dollars in aid.  The decision to disproportionately encourage these two technologies with financial aid and incentives in a “clean energy” bill is simply baffling.  Keep in mind that nuclear has been shown to be an uneconomical technology, and that coal CCS, even if it works, will lead to much more coal mining. The truth is, there is no clean coal, nor would any reasonable person consider nuclear energy a “clean” fuel given its significant waste problem. 

 

Yet the bill’s definition of clean energy is so loose, under it coal CCS and nuclear energy will be considered “clean.”  And here’s the kicker–these two technologies, coal CCS and nuclear, are so expensive (in the range of 25-35 cents per kilowatt-hour for new units) that if we put our dollars into them, they will suck so many dollars away from energy efficiency and renewables (in the range of 2-25 cents per kilowatt-hour) that there would not be enough money to solve the climate solutions we desperately need.

 

In summary, here is what needs to happen to make these bills a positive force: 1) restructure cap & trade tax or, better yet, replace it with a simple carbon tax; 2) do not remove the Clean Air Act authority from the EPA; and 3) define clean as clean, and re-design this bill to fund the technologies that are truly clean.

 

You can call your senators and stress how irresponsible the cap & trade system is. If it passes the Senate, you can then call your Representatives and Senators to ask them to block the authorization of the reconciliation of these two terrible bills.

 

———————-

Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in the Sierra Club Rincon Group newsletter, under my new appointment as Energy Subcommittee Chair for this Group.

1Available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090701/hr2454_house.pdf

2Associated Press article in Arizona Daily Star (AP), Fight Against Global Warming Spawning New Type of Crime: Carbon-Permit Fraud, 8/22/09, p. A12, http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/news/305938.php

3See http://carbontax.org

4See analysis at http://www.psr.org/take-action/senate-letter-climate-legislation.html

John McCain’s 45/100 Whim for Nuclear Power

By Russell Lowes, June 22, 2008

Senator McCain announced a new prescription for energy for America in a recent speech. He is now calling for 45 nuclear reactors to be completed by 2030 and an additional 55 reactors to be completed thereafter.(1) He had been promoting nuclear energy as a solution to global warming for years. But now. . .

So much for nukes being the solution for global warming. With McCain's 45/100 nukes, even if we had  100 nukes tomorrow and even IF THEY DID reduce carbon emissions, 100 nukes would not be enough to play a significant role.

However, John McCain probably wants to get his foot in the door and push for many more, eventually. The infamous 2003 MIT study postulated 1000 nukes.(2) Some organizations and individuals since then have postulated many more.

The reason that 100 nukes will amount to about a drop in a bucket is this. The United States generates about 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.(3) Even if that electrical production was used to displace coal, and CO2 production of the twenty steps of the nuclear energy cycle was not counted, then it would save coal plants from putting about 400 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. 400 million is only 7% of 6 billion U.S. CO2 emissions.

However, much of this nuclear capacity would displace solar, energy efficiency technologies, natural gas, etc. These technologies produce far less CO2 than coal, so the displacement would be much lower.

It is important to remember that nuclear energy has twenty steps of CO2 production, from mining to waste management. It produces a huge amount of CO2.

Let’s focus on the costs of McCain's 45/100 Rx.

In the early part of this decade, nuclear reactors were projected by the industry to cost $1500 to 2000 per kilowatt of capacity. Then about two years ago, a utility put the cost at $2600. Then estimates started really climbing. Over the last two years, estimates have increased all the way to $10,000 per kilowatt, 5-7-fold what the projection was just a few years ago.

With these new cost estimates flying out of the utilities' planning staffs, the 100 reactors would cost about $9-10 billion each if they averaged 1000 megawatts each. Most reactor designs these days are larger, though, ranging from 1100 to 1600 megawatts. So let's say the average size changes from the current 1000 to the future 1350 MW. At the most recent utility estimate of $10,000 per kilowatt, 100 reactors would total $1.35 trillion.

If these plants were all finished in the same year, to make it simple, and the payback (levelized fixed charge rate) was 15% per year, the annual payback would average $202.5 billion per year. If we shared that expense over 350 million U.S. citizens over 30 years, that would be $579 per person per year for each of those 30 years.

To put this into another perspective, the total energy bill for our country is about $900 billion per year. That is for gas for our cars, electricity, all manufacturing, commercial and residential consumption for heating, cooling, everything. Just for this measly 100 reactors, with a boost from 19% of energy to probably 25% or so (considering we won't have any money left to spend on energy efficiency or renewables, so energy growth will remain high), there will simply not be enough benefit to outweigh the costs.

All this nuclear plant capacity for $579 per citizen of the U.S. for 30 years, and we haven't even put on the costs of fuel, operation and maintenance, waste storage, environmental remediation from terrorist or other environmental breaches!

–Russell Lowes

1) Public Record, at http://www.pubrecord.org/index.php?view=article&id=144%3Amccains-nuclear-power-policy-identical-to-bush-administrations&option=com_content
2) Energy Information Administration at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/flash/flash.html
3) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Future of Nuclear Power, 2003.