Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category
Thursday, March 31st, 2011
March 31, 2011
From the Editors
Perhaps the best commentary to President Obama’s energy address yesterday came from the two cable networks, CNN and Fox, which both cut away after five minutes and went back to broadcasting local news.
The speech was such a yawner that even the President seemed bored. Even after choosing one of those college-freshman audiences (people who haven’t yet spent a lifetime listening to energy speeches), the President seemed completely abstracted, gazing off in the distance for long seconds as if he’d much rather be someplace else.
You can’t blame him. His address could have been given by President Nixon in 1974, President Carter in 1977, President George Bush, Jr. in 2001 and so on down the line. (Actually, President Reagan didn’t give energy speeches. He simply scrapped oil price controls, freed up domestic production and cut imports more than any other President in the last 40 years.) For those of you in the office pool on how long it would take the President to mention “energy independence,” it occurred at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into his speech.
So what did we get? Another vow as to how we’re going to get “70 percent of our electricity from clean sources by 2020.” That sounds ambitious until you realize – as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu points out – that we already get 50 percent of our electricity from nuclear, hydro and natural gas, all of which apparently qualify as “clean.”
The President also set a goal of reducing oil imports by one-third (what President hasn’t “set a goal” of reducing imports?) but that will involve electric cars. So far the Volt and the Leaf are selling miserably, even in the face of $4 gas. The President talked of running cars on ethanol and trucks on natural gas (electricity isn’t powerful enough to drive trucks) but those ideas have been on the table for decades and they never seem to get very far.
What had nuclear enthusiasts holding their breath was whether the President would back away from his recent support of the renaissance. He didn’t – or did he? The President said he was in favor of nuclear “as long as it’s safe.” What will that mean? Is Indian Point safe? Is Vermont Yankee? Will it take the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ten years to decide whether small modular reactors are safe? The devil will be in the details.
By this morning the story of the President’s energy address had disappeared completely from the Fox and CNN News websites. A Fox story headlined “Obama Lets Sunshine In” was about government transparency, not solar energy. The New York Times ran its story at the bottom of page 18.
The Moral Equivalent of War it wasn’t. People may be getting a little tired of energy addresses.
Read more about it at Politico
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
March 30, 2011
From the Editors
The President will make a major address on energy this morning at 11:20 am. That means it must be 1973, or, 1977, or 1994, or 2001 – oh, never mind.
For the umpteenth time in memory, the President of the United States will talk to the nation about energy, saying we have to have a “plan” and that we want to “practice conservation,” “reduce oil imports” and “develop new sources of energy.” Will nuclear play a part in this? Well, we’ve got a new strategy for that. Wait just a minute and you’ll see.
Meanwhile, here are some of the “talking points” the White House is putting out about today’s energy address, according to the White House briefing posted this morning.
· Expand safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production
· Secure access to diverse and reliable sources of energy
· Develop alternatives to oil, including biofuels and natural gas
· Expand biofuels
· Set historic new fuel economy standards
· Innovate our way to a clean energy future
· Cut energy bills through more efficient homes and buildings
· Stay on the cutting edge through clean energy research and development
Is there anything there that Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Clinton and the two George Bush’s haven’t said already?
Now here’s the kicker. Is nuclear going to play a part in any of this? Yes indeed, there are three references:
· “Build an international framework for nuclear energy.”
It’s anybody’s guess what that means, but it sounds like we’re going to be outsourcing our nuclear development to France and China.
· Generate 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035 – including renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower; nuclear power; efficient natural gas; and clean coal.
Since we already get 50 percent of our electricity from nuclear, natural gas and hydro, this isn’t all that implausible. Look for natural gas to play the leading role in the expansion.
· Fund “Energy Innovation Hubs” that explore building efficiency, fuel from sunlight, and nuclear reactor modeling and simulation.
Got that? While the Chinese, Russians and Koreans are building real nuclear reactors, we’re going to build computer models of reactors. It’s going to be like Facebook. In twenty years we’ll have virtual reactors that enable us to live in a virtual world.
Read more about it at Whitehouse.gov
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
January 26, 2011
From the Editors
Is the President and the rest of the “green energy” crowd ready to accept nuclear power as “part of the mix?” President Obama suggested so in last night’s State of the Union Address, but how this will play out in reality is still up for grabs.
“So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources,” said the President in what was definitely the high point of his address. “Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”
So far, so good. The 80 percent goal, of course, is wildly optimistic and – let’s face it – completely impossible if “clean energy” only refers to “renewables” such as wind and solar. California has set itself a goal of 30 percent renewables by 2020 and is already running out of room. All the new wind farms are being built in Oregon and Idaho and at some point these neighboring states are going to start to rebel at being the back rooms for California’s energy plans.
Carbon capture and storage is probably a non-starter. It’s never been done on a significant scale and will involve pumping earth-sized quantities of dangerous carbon dioxide into underground strata the size of oil fields under pressurized conditions. Imagine if these repositories ever sprung a leak. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and clings to the ground. It would kill every living thing for miles. Advocates gloss over this but as soon as the public finds out, people go nuts – as has already happened in Germany and several other locales.
Natural gas, on the other hand, could easily become our “national energy policy.” It’s already happened in California. Thirty years of pursuing “soft energy” have led the Golden State to a handful of wind farms and 40 percent natural gas – twice the national average. Environmental groups will not object to gas with the same vehemence they object to everything else and so most utilities are saying, “What the heck – put up natural gas and keep them happy. Add a few windmills for public relations.”
Natural gas may have its limits, however. Many analysts believe that current supplies are underpriced and replacement costs will rise far above the current level of $4 per mcf. Then there’s the problem of public opposition. Although environmentalists approve of burning natural gas, they sure don’t like drilling for it. The “fracking” techniques that have unlocked shale gas are coming under fire and New York State just placed off limits its entire portion of the huge Marcellus Shale. The move may seem utterly self-punishing – upstate New York is the most depressed area of the country – but remember the ANWR. Once a region becomes the “crown jewels” it may be hard to open it up again.
And so that leaves nuclear. With Al Franken recently announcing his support – after a conversation with Al Gore! – you’d think the tide might finally be turning. But the problem, as Obama phrased it, is not that “some folks” favor nuclear while “some folk” favor solar. The problem is “some folk” are opposed to nuclear and they have an enormous bureaucracy and legal system ready to reinforce their opinions. If it takes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission three years to decide that the Department of Energy was right when it proved an airplane will atomize when crashing into a containment-structure wall – as the 1990s test proved – then who knows how long it will take the Commission to decide anything else?
The default position on all energy matters has become stalemate. Everybody can stop everyone else’s projects by wrapping them up in red tape. It will probably take the galvanizing influence of the President to break out of this trap somewhere. Will his support of nuclear be vigorous enough to persuade the courts to dismiss the nuisance suits of anti-nuclear opponents or melt the iceberg at the NRC? That will be the follow-up story to this year’s State of the Union Address.
Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
January 18, 2011
From the Editors
The President of the United States took his case to the public this morning with an editorial in The Wall Street Journal promising a “21st century regulatory system” that will couple health and safety concerns with economic growth.â€¨
â€¨“[T]hroughout our history, one of the reasons the free market has worked is that we have sought the proper balance,” wrote the President. “We have preserved freedom of commerce while applying those rules and regulations necessary to protect the public against threats to our health and safety and to safeguard people and businesses from abuse.â€¨
â€¨“From child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to our most recent strictures against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.”
â€¨While citing instances where regulation is needed, the President said “we are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.â€¨"
â€¨“For instance, the FDA has long considered saccharin, the artificial sweetener, safe for people to consume. Yet for years, the EPA made companies treat saccharin like other dangerous chemicals. Well, if it goes in your coffee, it is not hazardous waste. The EPA wisely eliminated this rule last month.”â€¨
â€¨The editorial was part of on-going, post-election charm-offensive by the President to reach out to the business community and mend some fences in the wake of the health care battle and the EPA’s accelerating crackdown on all forms of pollution, including carbon emissions. Yet even the President’s one claim to regulatory improvement was met with skepticism. “The immediate claim of the article is disingenuous,” wrote Journal reader Ethan Farber in one of the 166 comments already posted early this morning. “Saccharine is classified as hazardous waste because it’s derived from coal slag. When we’re talking about this particular chemical being hazardous waste, we’re not talking about a few ounces of it getting spilled on a table, we’re talking about thousands of tons of it being spilled out in a vile pastiche of other coal-mining byproducts.”
â€¨â€¨Also left open was the question of whether the regulatory streamlining would lead to an improved business climate or simply more aggressive regulations. “One important example of this overall approach is the fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks,” wrote the President. “When I took office, the country faced years of litigation and confusion because of conflicting rules set by Congress, federal regulators and states. The EPA and the Department of Transportation worked with auto makers, labor unions, states like California, and environmental advocates this past spring to turn a tangle of rules into one aggressive new standard.” It sounds like the auto companies got outvoted.
For nuclear, of course, the big question will be: Can licensing procedures at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission be streamlined so that it doesn’t take the better part of a decade to approve the construction of reactors that are already nearing completion in other parts of the world?” Stay tuned.
Read more about it at the Wall Street Journal
Friday, December 31st, 2010
December 31, 2010
An unidentified source in a French news story says the Obama Administration may be holding back from awarding a federal loan guarantee to NRG’s South Texas project because it is in the Lone Star State.
"According to one source, the Obama administration would prefer the loan guarantee to go to the Calvert Cliffs project in Maryland, which is a Democratic state, rather than to NRG’s project in largely Republican Texas," says this report from Agence France-Presse. "According to the same source the DoE would also prefer the money go to EDF to avoid the risk of making the US nuclear sector over-reliant on Japanese technology."
The story is a boilerplate review for French readers spelling out Electricite de France’s difficulties in reviving Calvert Cliffs after its partner, Constellation Energy, dropped off the project two month ago. The comment comes far down near the end of the story. Still, it has a ring of plausibility, since the Obama Administration is about to square off with Texas over the authority to issue air quality permits regulating carbon, beginning January 2. On the other hand, it’s hard to see why relying on Japanese technology is any different from relying on French technology. The real problem is that there is very little American technology remaining since the roadblocks to nuclear development erected in the past 30 years have driven most of the industry offshore.
Constellation walked away from Calvert Cliffs after the Congressional Budget Office estimated the chances of a loan default at 50 percent and asked a $700 million fee in compensation. EDF has tried to revive the project but must find an American partner to satisfy a 1950s law saying non-American companies cannot own more than half of a commercial reactor. NRG’s South Texas project has had its own troubles, with the City of San Antonio pulling out of the project when it became too expensive. NRG is attempting to build two Westinghouse Advanced Boiling Water Reactors, a technology that is not the most advanced but has an old approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The more advanced technology, the Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000, now under construction at four sites in China, is still under review at the NRC after six years. EDF’s Calvert Cliffs project would be an Areva’s U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR), a duplicate of the European Power Reactor that Areva is constructing in France and Finland. The only remaining U.S. design, General Electric’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, is now being marketed in conjunction with Hitachi.
If the Obama Administration wants to promote American nuclear technology, it will have to do more than block loan guarantees at South Texas.
Read more at Agence France Presse
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
Caught between a rock and a hard place, President Obama has chosen the rock.â€¨
â€¨According to a report in Bloomberg News, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu told a Washington conference yesterday that the President will re-install the solar panels put atop the White House thirty years ago by President Jimmy Carter and rescued from a museum recently by global warming activists.
“The White House will lead by example,” Chu said. The panels only produce hot water. Chu said a set of photovoltaic panels to generate electricity would also be installed by next June. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there,” he said. President Ronald Reagan took down the panels after taking office in 1981. Ironically, President George Bush, Jr. had solar panels installed to heat some of the residence plus maintenance building but received neither credit nor opprobrium for the effort.â€¨
Unfortunately, environmental activists have called the President’s hand at the exact moment when he is being widely compared to Carter’s “failed Presidency.” Several magazines and cartoonists have recently offered illustrations of Obama looking in the mirror and seeing his Democratic predecessor from the 1970s. To his opponents, the solar panels could very well become a symbol of the continuity between the two administrations.â€¨
Obama has been put on the spot by global warming crusader Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staffer and author of The End of Nature and Eaarth, which argues that climate change has already altered things so much that the earth has become “a tough new planet.” McKibben lives for years in the remote Adirondacks before “returning to civilization” three years ago by taking a teaching job at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is the originator of 350.org and is now leading the “10.10.10” effort – a worldwide Internet-oriented day of recognition of global warming that will take place on October 10th.
Last year McKibben tracked down one of the original solar panels atop a cafeteria at Colby College in Maine, loaded them onto a trailer and made a much-heralded progression down the coast, headed for the White House. On the way he appeared on the David Letterman Show. When he arrived in D.C. last month, White House met with him but declined to accept the panels. Now the administration has changed its mind – obviously stung by recent restlessness in the environmental ranks.
Ironically, McKibben is one of those rare environmentalists who is willing to admit that nuclear must play a part in preventing global warming. Interviewed last July at the SolarFest in Tinmouth, Vermont, where he was the keynote speaker, McKibben said he knew nuclear was essential to reducing carbon emissions but didn’t like to say so in public. “It would split this movement in half,” he said, gesturing to the youthful crowd, many of whom had camped on a hillside farm for three days.
He was right. Half the gathering was there to celebrate solar energy while the other half was campaigning to close down Vermont Yankee, the state’s principal source of power.
Read more about it at Business Week and Politico
Monday, October 4th, 2010
With the failure of climate bill legislation in Congress, the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is determined to do the heavy lifting in regulating carbon emissions. This may haunt Midwestern Democrats in coming elections.
“Controversial rules covering everything from power plants to petroleum refiners, manufacturers, coal mines and farmers [severely affect] industrial and Midwestern states that carried Obama to the presidency two years ago,” reports Politico this morning. Even some Democrats in the coal states are upset with the proposed regulations and are campaigning to have them reversed by Congress.
West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, as reliable a liberal Democrat as anyone, was firing up a crowd of coal miners recently urging them to “Get mad” at the EPA effort. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri – all key electoral states – stand to be most affected by the regulations. In response, the EPA and environmental groups have trotted out the usual polls showing strong public support for dealing with climate change.
“A survey by Democratic pollster Joel Benenson and the Natural Resources Defense Council in late summer found that 60 percent of respondents supported government regulating greenhouse gases, with 34 percent opposed,” reports Politico. “As for the EPA, respondents gave a 51 percent favorable rating to the agency, compared with 40 percent opposed.” But of course talking to pollsters and casting a vote in the November elections are two entirely different things.
The dilemma reveals what is emerging as a national paradox – the failure of environmental groups to embrace nuclear in their campaign to cut carbon emissions. "Were there a dozen new reactors under construction in the Midwest right now, the prospect of shutting down aging coal plants and pushing up electrical rates wouldn’t be so threatening," said one nuclear energy observer. "As it is, nothing positive is happening. Even investment in dubious renewable energy projects has fallen off."
As a result, the Midwest and the EPA will probably end up locked in an ugly ground game over whether to allow 40- and 50-year-old coal plants to keep running for another few decades.
Read more at Politico
Monday, October 4th, 2010
President Obama’s public flirtation with nuclear energy appears to be on the wane. Although the President has advanced a good word or two in his State of the Union — and a couple sentences since — about nuclear over the past year, with the November mid-term election looming he appears to be returning to his Inaugural Address of a world run on “energy from wind, sun and soil.”
Following a major interview in Rolling Stone where there was no mention of nuclear energy in his climate platform, in his weekly address Saturday the President had lots of wonderful things to say about the future of wind and solar energy with nary a mention of nuclear power. “[S]ince we took office, my administration has made an historic commitment to promote clean energy technology. This will mean hundreds of thousands of new American jobs by 2012. . . . Jobs for engineers and construction crews to create wind farms and solar plants that are going to double the renewable energy we can generate in this country. These are jobs building the future.”
The President lamented how “we’ve seen companies produce new energy technologies and high-skilled jobs not in America, but in countries like China, India and Germany” – an interesting choice since Germany is now the only country in the world that exceeds the U.S. in anti-nuclear sentiment. China and India are dabbling with solar installations but mostly building these fixtures for consumption in the West. China is planning 60 new reactors and India also has an ambitious building program.
As a capstone to his energy treatise, the President cited “a company called BrightSource [which] plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant [in the Mojave Desert]. It’s going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it’s complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes – the largest such plant in the world.” The BrightSource facility will employ two square miles highly polished mirrors to produce 100 MW, about 1/10th the size of a standard nuclear reactor. The Green Path North, which would have carried this electricity from the Mojave to Los Angeles, was opposed by the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wildlands Conservancy and just about every municipal government in its path before finally being abandoned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last March.
Read more at E News
Tuesday, September 28th, 2010
Now we know where the term "environmental purity" originates.
A handful of environmentalist activists, still smarting because the Obama Administration was not able to push climate legislation through the Senate, have begun openly talking about fielding an "environmental candidate" for President in 2012.
Such talk is years premature, of course, but it’s a strong indication of how little the professional environmental movement understands about compromise and how cultish it can be in its behavior.
“Obama’s environmental record has been dismal, especially on climate, oil and endangered species,” Kieran Suckling, executive director at the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity, told Politico. But then the Center for Biological Diversity has done some pretty dismal things itself. For instance, it is one of the principal opponents who have managed to delay the Green PATH North Renewable Electricity Transmission Line, designed to carry wind and solar electricity from the California Desert to Los Angeles, for the past five years. [http://pnp.uschamber.com/california/page/2/]
What die-hard activists seem to be longing for is a European-style "Green Party" that would concentrate the 5 percent or so of voters who place environmental causes above everything else. In a European parliamentary system, such fractional minorities can play a key role – as Germany’s Green Party has proved. In the American electoral system, however, such splinter groups can only be counterproductive. After all, wasn’t Ralph Nader running on the Green Party ticket in 2000 when he mined Al Gore’s base?
As outlined on this site last week, the major reason environmentalist activists failed to get significant climate legislation is because they insisted on purity and refused to strike alliances with other clean energy sectors, notably nuclear energy. Had card-caring environmentalist been willing to acknowledge that only nuclear can replace coal for base load power, the political establishment might have taken them seriously. Even now, if they were going for a carbon-free clean energy standard for electricity instead of a limited "renewable" standard, it might have been possible to get some kind of clean energy mandate through the Senate — as yesterday’s Washington Post editorial suggested.
In July, Vinod Koshla, Silicon Valley’s most prominent investor in renewable technologies, suggested that a renewable mandate of 15 percent would easily become practical if it were expanded to include any low-carbon technology such as carbon capture or nuclear power. Within hours, Joseph Romm, the indefatigueable blogger on "Climate Progress," ran a critique entitled, "Is Anyone More Incoherent Than Vinod Koshla?" [http://climateprogress.org/2010/07/02/is-anyone-more-incoherent-than-vinod-khosla/] You can steer literally hundreds of millions of dollars into wind and solar projects, but if you once say something positive about nuclear power, you are immediately read out of the picture.
That’s what killed climate legislation.
Read more at Politico
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
To those who thought the Obama Administration was making progress in incorporating nuclear power into its energy plans, the Presidents speech last night came as a sobering wake-up call.
Once again, as in his Inaugural Address, the President was singing the virtues of wind and solar energy with nary a mention of nuclear. Twice he enumerated what he considers the clean energy economy and nuclear was not part of it.
Of course the Presidents mention of anything to do with generating electricity was controversial because, as commentators are already pointing out, putting electrons onto the grid has nothing to do with putting gasoline in your tank unless we are to start migrating to a fleet of electric cars, which is still far in the future. Strangely, the President didn‚t even mention biofuels, which however dubious their contribution is still the number-one renewable strategy for replacing oil. In the Inaugural, it was "energy from wind, sun and soil." Last night biofuels didn't even make the cut.
Fortunately, none of this will make much difference in policy. The $54 billion in loan guarantees are still in effect, site clearance at the Vogtle plant in Georgia continues and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is starting to feel the heat about getting some licenses out the door. The Kerry-Lieberman Energy Bill, which will presumably be the focus of any action in the Senate, contains a very powerful nuclear title.
Still, as the President continues to speak to the American people about all the difficulties we face in providing ourselves with enough energy, it would be nice to hear him utter the word "nuclear" once in awhile.
Read the whole speech at Reuters