Friday, July 31, 2009

USA Importing Gasoline from India

"Reliance Industries Ltd., the Mumbai-based refiner seeking to compete overseas, has sent its first shipment of gasoline in two years to the U.S. [to New York] from its new plant..." according to a July 15, 2009 report. The ship contained 676,000 barrels of gasoline according to the report.

This is interesting (perhaps curious is the better word) because U.S. refineries are operating far below capacity, somewhere in the low 80-percent range. Yet, gasoline and gasoline component imports into the U.S. are running at approximately 1 million barrels per day. This import volume represents approximately one-eighth or 12.5 percent of the US gasoline demand. There are at least two plausible explanations for this, and each has implications.

First, it may be cheaper to import gasoline from India than it is to import crude oil and refine it into gasoline with refineries in the U.S. This may be true. India is just a short distance from the Middle East, and Mumbai is on the west coast. The additional journey from the Middle East ports to Mumbai, and then to New York would add only a small amount to the already low transportation cost. Plus, once the oil is refined in India, only the gasoline must make the long trip around Africa, up and across the Atlantic and into New York. The other products can remain in India, or be sold into Asia. America's refineries are struggling mightily at the moment, and some are likely to shut their pumps for a long time, perhaps forever. With a new round of onerous regulations facing them in the form of cap and trade (already law in California, and pending at the national level), some refineries may just hang it up. This is how the U.S. refining industry went from 300-plus refineries around 30 years ago to 146 today (more or less, they keep starting and stopping some). Environmental regulations forced refining companies to invest billions in the plants without producing any more product, and about half the refineries elected to shut down rather than invest to comply. In contrast, the Reliance Industries new refinery is huge and enjoys economies of scale, plus its investment cost was approximately one-half what it would have cost if built in the USA. I am not familiar with its operating costs, of which energy consumption is a large part, but if it was designed and built to conserve energy, it has very low operating costs compared to the older, less efficient refineries in the USA. Also, the labor cost is likely less in India.

Second, the product slate from U.S. refineries is such that too much gasoline is produced from each barrel of crude oil. On average, gasoline represents approximately one-half the yield of refineries in the USA. In contrast, other refineries in the world typically yield somewhat less gasoline and more distillate such as diesel and home heating oil. Before the great recession of 2009, there was a shortage of diesel fuel in the world market and prices were high. U.S. gasoline production peaked in 2006, while diesel production continued to increase until very recently. The implication is that U.S. refineries are no longer optimally configured for the domestic market: they should produce more diesel and less gasoline from each barrel of crude. This is not good news for refiners at a time when profits are down or negative, and additional regulatory burdens are being added (see AB 32 in California, plus cap and trade, above). The funds to build the processing units to change the overall yield in refineries may be difficult to find, or impossible.

The portion of the crude barrel at question here is known by the rather cryptic name of "gas oil." Gas oil is a fairly heavy component produced by an atmospheric crude unit and vacuum crude unit. In order of thickness, or heaviness, the products from a typical atmospheric and vacuum unit are naphtha, jet, diesel, gas oil, and heavy fuel oil. The gas oil is either cracked to gasoline in a Fluid Catalytic Cracker, or to a combination of gasoline and diesel in a hydrocracker. Changing the overall yield to produce more diesel requires investment in hydrocrackers, which are very expensive process units.

The next year should bring clarity to the U.S. refining industry, as the industry may be waiting for the recession to end and demand for products to grow. But with refineries like India's Reliance Industry ready, willing, and able to export products, it is very likely that several U.S. refineries will be shut down. Their boards of directors may have no choice, since they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize income. Failure to rationalize their refining portfolios may result in shareholder derivative suits or proxy fights for changed board membership.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Refinery On Schedule and Budget

Marathon's refinery in Garyville, Louisiana is undergoing a multi-billion dollar, major project that some refer to as an expansion, but in reality it is the equivalent of building an entire second refinery. The finished project will double the throughput of the current refinery, plus upgrade the processing capabilities.

The remarkable thing is that the $3.2 billion project is being executed on schedule, and with a very modest cost overrun of approximately 25 percent. Such is the experience in an industry that has a learning curve, and actually learns from experience. In fact, no refinery project of this scale has been attempted in the U.S. for more than 30 years. Other new refineries have been built around the world in the intervening period, and some refinery expansion projects have been built in the U.S. I was personally involved many years ago with a major refinery expansion on the Texas coast, which at the time cost approximately $200 million, if memory serves. That project did not expand the crude capacity, but added downstream processing capability.

The same cannot be said for nuclear power plants, of course. The new-generation French nuclear reactor under construction in Finland is a prime example, as it is many years behind schedule and already is experiencing substantial cost overruns measured in the billions of Euros.

The Marathon refinery project was originally expected to cost $2.7 billion in 2006, and that was increased by $500 million to $3.2 billion prior to construction due to escalating costs of materials. There was a world-wide building boom at that time, and costs of cement, steel, and other materials was increasing. The original scheduled completion time was fourth quarter of 2009, just a few weeks from this writing. Recent publications and interviews with the refinery manager indicate that the project is on schedule and will start up later this year. A final cost estimate was reported as $3.4 billion, for a cost over-run of only 7 out of 27, or 25 percent. However, using a more realistic measure, where materials cost escalation are uncontrollable, the cost over-run was 2 out of 32, or approximately 7 percent. Having a major project finish with less than a 10 percent cost overrun is good, and something nuclear power plant builders can only dream of.

In contrast, the last round of nuclear power plants built in the U.S. were many years late in startup, and had cost over-runs measured as multiples of the original estimate. In fact, the notorious South Texas Nuclear Project had a final cost of SIX times the original estimate, $5.5 billion final compared to $900 million initial.

One must wonder what is the reason (or reasons) for one industry having great success at building multi-billion dollar and multi-year projects with a modest cost overrun (25 percent is well within expectations), while another having demonstrated zero ability to control costs (indeed, even to estimate them in the ballpark) or to construct on schedule.

One reason for the nuclear power industry's poor performance given by its apologists are that few nuclear power plants exist, and there is not much experience. But is this a valid reason? There are approximately 436 nuclear power plants operating at this time, with 48 more under construction worldwide. In contrast, there are 676 oil refineries operating worldwide, with a handful under construction. One would think that, after building 436 nuclear plants, some learning would have occurred. But then, apparently not.

One reason could be that nuclear reactor technology changes, and that must be taken into account, as the nuclear apologists are quick to point out. Indeed, the nuclear reactors' design are changing over time. But then, so does the technology for oil refineries. A Hydrocracker has at least six or seven different possible configurations, and Fluid Catalytic Crackers have at least four. Catalytic Reformers also have three or four different designs. Crude Units also have widely different designs, and are almost unique as to each. These are the most expensive process units in a refinery, so these changes matter. These different technologies or designs evolved over the years, just as nuclear reactors evolved. Therefore, changes in design are not the reason.

Perhaps the reason is the regulatory agencies are more strict with nuclear power plants and more lenient with oil refineries. One could make an argument that nuclear power plants have less of a regulatory burden in the area of air and water pollution, as their advocates insist at every opportunity that they do not emit anything into the air except water vapor from the cooling towers, and nothing into the water. Except of course, when they spring a leak and emit radioactive tritium into the groundwater supply. The nuclear apologists do not like to talk about that. Refineries, on the other hand, must obtain air pollution permits for NOx, SOx, and install particulate recovery systems for catalyst particles, to name only a few of the air permits. Water permits are also required for several components in the water streams that exit the refinery. The environmental permitting process is not easy, nor cheap, nor quick for a refinery. Nuclear plants must, however, satisfy the requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose job it is to ensure the plant will not explode, or melt down, or otherwise poison the local and greater community with deadly radioactive particles. Each has its own problems obtaining permits to build, neither are easy. The very near-miss at Three Mile Island had much to do with the NRC's regulations, as that power plant experienced a reactor core meltdown, and very nearly poisoned the Atlantic seaboard. All the while up to that time, nuclear plant designers had insisted that nuclear plants were safe and should be built by the thousands. One shudders to think what would have happened without the vigilance of the NRC.

Perhaps, as some suggest, the issue is that nuclear power plants cost so very much more than does a refinery, and this leads to problems associated with mega-projects. As the Marathon refinery project shows, however, the project average expenditures was $1.7 billion per year ($3.4 over two years). The latest cost and schedule estimate for the South Texas Nuclear Project expansion is a cost of $13 billion and completion in only six years. Leaving aside the fact that both of those figures are wildly optimistic, and the final cost will be on the order of $25 billion and the duration will be 10 to 12 years, the result is just over $2 billion per year ($13 over six years). There is very little difference between $1.7 billion and $2 billion per year in a major project. Thus, it cannot be the money spent per year as a factor.

What it really comes down to, and properly in my view, is that refineries provide a much-needed and clean-burning suite of products, from propane, gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, home heating oil, lubricating oil, greases, waxes, and petrochemical feedstocks that do not get burned but are converted instead into highly valuable chemicals that produce an incredible number of essential products in the modern world. Plastics and pharmaceuticals are just two of the thousands of products. Refineries are viewed by the courts as ordinarily hazardous, but nuclear power plants are viewed as ultrahazardous. (I plan to have much more to write on this distinction very soon). This results in more lawsuits from anti-nuclear groups, however, refineries also experience lawsuits for their construction projects from anti-refinery groups.

Also, for whatever reason, it appears that nuclear power plant construction teams cut corners with the result that the work is shoddy and must be torn out and rebuilt according to appropriate codes and design specifications. One wonders why the construction teams do not simply do the job correctly the first time, demonstrate that their work meets the inspectors' requirements, and move on smoothly to the next item on the schedule. This is how refineries are built, and this is no secret.

The ultimate test is building a modern, new-generation nuclear power plant in the U.S. under the auspices of the NRC, and not compare the activities overseas such as South Korea, China, or France. One would expect that, with 48 nuclear plants under construction world-wide at this time, and some only recently started up, that the cost estimating and construction scheduling would be honed to a fine science. All the rest is just talk.

The first such nuclear power plant in the U.S. may actually be the expansion of South Texas Nuclear Project, which is planned to have reactors 3 and 4 added to the existing 1 and 2. The project proponents claim they can build the expansion for $13 billion, as stated above, which I do not in any way believe. The actual cost will be approximately $25 billion, and its owners will have serious problems selling the power from the plant. The reactors are to be 1,350 MW each in size, for a total of 2,700 MW. Per solid and reliable cost estimating methodology presented by Craig A. Severance, CPA, the STNP expansion will cost $10,000 per kW, or $27 billion. Of course, as the project experiences delays in construction, interest costs will mount and the cost could easily exceed $30 billion. Also, Mr. Severance's cost estimate did not include (because the new requirement was not yet law) the design to withstand the impact from a large commercial aircraft, for the reactor dome, the cooling system, and spent fuel storage areas. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, that is a tall order (and very expensive) if the cooling towers must withstand a large aircraft impact. By large, the regulation refers to a fully loaded Boeing 747 or an Airbus 380.

The people of San Antonio, who are supposed to own a large portion of the STNP expansion, will pay very high power costs, perhaps the highest in the nation, if the expansion is built. This does provide a silver lining, as the high power costs will give great incentives for electric customers to install self-generation systems, such as cogeneration, combined heat and power systems, solar panels, and wind-generators where appropriate.

It is also quite instructive that the STNP is located only a few miles from Corpus Christi, and that offshore Corpus Christi for 50 miles out into the Gulf, and 75 miles south, lies one of the U.S.' greatest and consistent wind resources. The wind there averages a Class 5, or 20 miles per hour. The U.S. MMS is preparing to lease that offshore area to wind-power developers.

It is also quite instructive that the leading competitor to nuclear power, natural gas-fired plants, are having a banner time due to the very low prices of natural gas. The current economic recession is only a small part of that, what is a major reason for low gas prices is the discovery and production of huge amounts of gas from shale formations, and the LNG plants that are now online and producing around the world. Natural gas is easily capable of base-load power generation, and more importantly, in load-following.

These are interesting times, and if indeed the STNP expansion obtains its financing, and construction permits, it will be fascinating to see who remains as a customer 10 years later. And, when STNP fails, other utilities around the nation will take note. This could be the last nuclear plant built in the U.S., ever.

UPDATE 1, August 3, 2009: Today Marathon announced the project will cost $3.7 billion and is 91 percent complete with startup scheduled as planned for 4Q 2009. Therefore, cost overrun is 10 out of 27, or 37 percent. The additional costs ($300 million) are for materials price escalation. Link is here.

UPDATE 2, October 30, 2009: The Marathon Garyville refinery is in the startup phase, indicating on-schedule completion. Good job, guys. Now, if only nuclear power plant builders (a far simpler, less complex process) could learn a few lessons from the oil refining industry. Apparently not.

At latest press, STNP expansion is now projected (by Toshiba, the reactor vendor) to cost $17 billion - not $13 billion as previously stated by them - representing almost a 33 percent increase. This expansion project has yet to turn one shovel of dirt. One would think that Toshiba would know the cost, as their technology is loudly touted as "proven." Again, apparently not.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Energy and Climate Change Attorney

Friday, July 24, 2009

Natural Gas Vehicles and Hurdles to Achieve This

This week saw movement in the national Congress on increasing the number of vehicles that run on natural gas, either CNG or LNG. This is a good thing, as natural gas burns much cleaner than does diesel or gasoline, and is much cheaper per mile driven.

The price of natural gas is low at $4 per million Btu, and is expected to remain low for many years. The reason, of course, is abundant, indeed, excessive supplies of natural gas and LNG world-wide. The reasons for the excess supplies are to a small extent the economic recession (this simply reduced demand a bit), but to a much greater extent the recent successful drilling of gas wells into gas-bearing shale formations. ExxonMobil just two weeks ago announced a big gas reservoir in the Horn River Basin in Canada. Several shale formations in the U.S. also are producing great volumes of natural gas, including the Marcellus shale in and near Pennsylvania, and the Barnett shale in Texas.

LNG plants are delivering cargoes of liquefied natural gas, and this has several implications. First, a new LNG terminal in England will provide natural gas to the country, thus reducing any impacts from shut-offs by unfriendly neighbors. Second, LNG is delivered to the west coast of Mexico just south of California, but piped into California. This gas will be essential to meeting California's power plant demand and CNG cars and other vehicles.

If California continues the trend of more CNG vehicles and fewer gasoline vehicles, (a big if as explained below), the existing gas pipelines from Texas will require upgrades to provide additional capacity.

California's regulations currently are somewhat onerous for CNG vehicle conversions, which should be revised. This should be a priority for the Air Resources Board. The ARB has a valid concern that back-yard mechanics should not be converting vehicles to CNG like they swap out a carburetor or install performance headers. Adding the proper modifications for CNG includes, at a minimum, a CNG fuel tank, throttle valve, piping, and other engine modifications. If the vehicle is to have dual-fuel capability, the control system must undergo changes.

Natural gas is the logical fuel for producing electric power and propelling vehicles. It is abundant, cheap, clean-burning, and much of it is produced in the U.S.A. One can only hope that the national Congress will pass the CNG legislation, that the legislation makes sense and is not just a big show, and that President Obama has the good sense to sign it into law.

One other thing about importing LNG, especially into the Gulf of Mexico. Re-gasification requires great quantities of heat, and that heat is derived from ocean water in some processes. The ocean water cools in the process. This is just the opposite of how power plants heat a local body of water with once-through cooling for their steam condensers. It may not be enough to notice or even to measure, but it could help cool the surface waters so that hurricanes (which require warm water to sustain their winds) decrease in strength or even disappear. Another benefit in the Gulf of Mexico might be that cold water absorbs more oxygen compared to warm water, and that could help the notorious "dead zone" in the Gulf.

The floating LNG regasification system referenced above uses a two-tier vaporizer with a closed-loop system of propane vaporizing the LNG, then ocean water is used in the second tier to warm the cold propane. The net effect is colder ocean water with high-pressure natural gas produced for moving via a pipeline to shore.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Nuclear Plants on Islands - A Nutty Idea

Nuclear advocates (nuts, in my opinion) are always running on about how affordable nuclear power is, and how cheap it is to generate. They blather on about total production costs of 3 cents per kWh. One would expect that, if any of their claims were true, then the islands of the world with suitable populations to support demand from a nuclear power plant would have nothing but nuclear power plants. After all, the islands usually have very high electric power prices. Oahu, in the Hawaiian Island chain, has costs of around 26 cents per kWh.
A quick check of the nuclear power plants around the world, just more than 400, shows that none are built on an island. Not a one.
How about finding an island, say, one that has a demand during peak hours of 1,000 MW? That would be a perfect fit for a 1000 MW nuclear power plant. GE has them ready to sell, just place a phone call.
Then, ask the islanders why they have not built just one solitary nuclear power plant, as that is “obviously” (according to the nuclear nuts) the most economic source of power? Surely, it will be less costly than importing diesel fuel for diesel-generators, or importing LNG for natural-gas fired power plants. Or importing coal, if that is what they are using, or oil…
Does anyone know of such an island?
Here’s your chance, greenies and nuclear advocates. Show me the island. Let’s help these islanders obtain the “cheapest source of power there is.” After all, that is the prevailing wisdom from the pro-nuclear crowd!
Only a couple of rules, here. First, the islanders alone must pay for the nuclear-generated power. No subsidies allowed. Second, no selling any power to any other off-island customers. All power is to be consumed strictly on the island.
I can’t wait for this one.
[It turns out there are currently approximately 15 islands that meet the above criteria, with Oahu in the Hawaiian Island chains prominent among them. The entire list is, by estimated population (and hence power demand):
Island ……………….population, millions
Hong Kong……………….1.18
Xiamen Island…………….1.08
Sao Luis Island……………1.08
Trinidad…………………...1.03 (this island has abundant natural gas, so of course is not a candidate)
South Island (NZ)………1.008
Grand Canary……………...0.815
Reunion (France)………….0.793
Note that none of the listed islands has power provided by a nuclear power plant. This is rather curious, as it should be obvious to the nuclear proponents that these are ideal candidates for a solo, single-reactor nuclear power plant. After all, these unfortunate islanders are paying some of the highest prices for power in the world – Hawaii residents pay 26 cents per kwh in 2009, as just one example. Following France’s example, one could build a nuclear power plant on Oahu, and sell the power for 7 cents per kwh (all this according to the nuclear proponents, of course – not my view at all). The lucky residents of Oahu would see their utility bills drop by a factor of almost 4! (26 / 7 is roughly 3. 7)
It is curious, because I just do not read anywhere about nuclear power plants under construction on any of these islands, nor any plans to do so. Why is that, one must ask? Perhaps a nuclear proponent can correct this serious injustice, or just explain it to me.
For anyone reading this who, at this point, believes I am serious about building a nuclear power plant on an island, let me explain why that will not happen. First, an island’s power system follows a typical demand curve, with high demand during the day and low demand at night. The power plants must follow the demand curve, as at this time it is impractical (but not impossible) to store power in massive quantities for later use. Nuclear power plants just do not have the ability to follow the load. Second, as I have written many times, the power from a new nuclear plant is very expensive, at 30 to 40 cents per kwh. Islanders such as Oahuans, who pay 26 cents for power, would not find that an attractive deal. Third, many islanders are serious about their environment, and abhor nuclear fission in any form. I like islanders, and become one (at least as a visitor) as often as possible.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grid Scale Energy Storage Flywheel

There was a major
breakthrough announced this week in grid-scale energy storage. From the news release dated July 13, 2009, "Power Tree Corp. said they have started building a 30 GW energy storage device designed to help implement the smart grid." That is 30,000 MW or roughly the output of 30 nuclear reactors at 1,000 MW each. The amount of power stored per the announcement is somewhat questionable, as it should likely read 30 GW-hrs. If this is a bona fide project, the Grand Game has changed. Wind power can then be stored as much as needed for as long as needed. Same with solar and wave. Nuclear power may be done for; all this depends on the cost of the storage flywheel and how well it actually works.

As I wrote earlier, "The promises that were made in the 1950's by the nuclear power engineers regarding abundant power, that is too cheap to meter, will finally be realized. However, it will not be nuclear power providing that cheap energy, it will be a mix of renewable energy sources coupled to reliable energy storage systems. No matter how cheap uranium is, nor how efficient it is at producing electrical power, nothing is cheaper than free. Wind is free. Sunshine is free. Ocean currents are free. Rain is free. Those are worthy goals for renewable energy, and CO2 has nothing to do with any of it. The engineers are close, and getting closer."

It is quite tempting to state that the day has come, but it is better to wait and see if this super-storage device actually works, and at what price to build and operate.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Nuclear Plants US Scorecard

Well, it has been quite an interesting few days for me. As my two regular readers will have observed, some nuclear nuts are in an uproar over my blog post (from April 8, 2009) titled Nuclear Nuts. Apparently, they are unhappy with the graph I posted that definitively shows a state's electric power price increases as the percent of power from nuclear plants increases. They are also dumbfounded that the state with the highest percentage of nuclear power, Vermont, has one of the highest power prices in the country. All these facts go against their long-held beliefs.

Facts are stubborn things.

There is also some controversy over the construction cost of new nuclear power plants, with some nuclear nuts claiming the costs as put forth by Craig Severance were discredited. Perhaps so, but only in their own minds and to their own satisfaction. I have, as I wrote elsewhere on my energyguysmusings blog, carefully checked Severance's figures and agree that he has it just about right.

Further, major utilities have published their own cost estimates for new nuclear power plants in the U.S. and their numbers are not far below those of Severance.

Therefore, I set up this blog post to keep score, as it were. The proposed nuclear power plants in the U.S. will each get a paragraph or maybe more, and a summary table will show the estimated cost and initial schedule for completion, then cost increases as time passes, and the final cost plus years behind schedule.

I will also keep track of the investments in each new nuclear plant's customer base of non-grid-based power, such as wind, solar, cogeneration, distributed generation, and combined heat and power. If any new nuclear plants ever do start up, there will be a rude awakening for the nuclear plant owners. Their customers will not pay for their outrageous power price, but will instead self-generate via the many alternatives now available. The nuclear plants' owners will be in quite a fix, as their customer base shrinks and shrinks. Their only move at that point is to increase their power prices to their remaining customers, thus giving even more incentive to go off the grid and self-generate. Thus, the nuclear death spiral occurs again as it did in Louisiana in the 1980s.

To begin the listing, here is the summary table.

Plant Site .......State.........Output...Cost Estimate.....Final Cost....Years Late

South Texas
Nuclear Project......Texas......2700 MW.....$10 - 1317 Billion..... Later..... Later

Florida Power
and Light...............Florida.....2200 MW.....$17 Billion............Later .... Later

Georgia Power
Vogtle Plant..........Georgia...2200 MW......$14 Billion...........Later..... Later

Individual Plant summaries.

STNP is proposed as a doubling of the existing plant, by building two new reactors not far from Victoria, Texas, just a small distance from the mouth of the Colorado River. This plant is controversial because it consumes precious and scarce river water in drought-stricken South Texas. Thirsty people get rather cranky, especially when they know that their local nuclear power plant is literally vaporizing vast quantities of fresh water into the air. This plant is also infamous, as the original two reactors cost SIX times the initial cost estimate ($5.4 billion final cost vs $900 million initial cost) and was several years late in completion. Lawsuits were filed all around. Currently, a Japanese company who sells reactors and reactor technology is part of a joint venture to build the new reactors. Their cost estimate is $5 billion each, or a total of $10 billion - yet that was recently updated (increased) to $13 billion, to account for interest during construction. They also state they will complete the plant expansion in four years after receiving their COL (Construction and Operating License) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We shall see. UPDATE: San Antonio city leaders are receiving loud and numerous messages to not buy into the STNP expansion. Oct 13: CPS Energy's board, the San Antonio municipal utility, voted to issue $400 million in bonds to fund development of the expansion, but passed a resolution to reduce the city's ownership to 20 to 25 percent, rather than 40 percent. The city council will vote on this (ratify) on October 29. This puts NRG, the project proponent, in the bad position of having to find a buyer for the remaining 20 percent. Will be interesting to see who is willing to do this, and if the San Antonio city council votes to approve or deny the city's participation. (Oct 28, 2009): The price just went up by $4 billion, now at $17 billion. Toshiba apparently cannot agree on the price - and City of San Antonio is re-thinking this - and postponing their decision. This is absolutely amazing, since nuclear proponents insist (indeed, shout it from the rooftops!) that Japanese nuclear plants are old technology by now - with modular construction and known costs. Apparently not! Stay tuned in Texas!

And now (Jan 21, 2010), City of San Antonio via its CPS entity is suing the venture of NRG and Toshiba. Never a good sign when the supposed partners in a multi-billion dollar venture go to court so early in the game. This project may not yet be fully dead, but it is certainly comatose. The price issue was to be resolved sometime in January, 2010, which is any day now.

FP&L is proposed as a two-reactor plant at Turkey Point with each reactor 1,100 MW. This was recently approved (August 2009) by the state of Florida, and now awaits approval for COL from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Florida is interesting because of the vast potential for power from the Gulf Stream offshore Miami. Such a power plant could easily provide all of Florida's power forever, with zero risk of radiation, and zero operating cost except for maintenance.

FP&L was dealt a serious blow this week (Jan 21, 2010) when the Public Utility Commission denied their $1.3 billion rate increase request, and instead awarded approximately $75 million. This effectively kills the nuclear project, or at the best (for nuclear proponents) postpones the project for a few years. The price will only increase with time, as materials and labor costs increase.

Georgia Power's Vogtle plant is also a two-reactor plant with each reactor 1,100 MW. This plant recently (August 2009) received an Early Site Permit from federal regulators, which merely allows some preliminary site preparation to commence. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to issue a COL. However, the utility states they will be finished with construction by 2017. Such optimism, both on the cost estimate of $14 billion, and the schedule!

Stay tuned, sports fans. This game will take a while to play out, but the action is bound to be interesting!

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sanity in Developing Countries

Did the world show a bit of sanity this week? One can hope. The facts are that 1) the U.S. Senate postponed debate and the vote on their version of a Climate Change bill that would cripple the U.S. economy and kill jobs by placing some price on CO2 emissions; 2) the global summit in Italy of the G-8 nations ended with no agreements for developing nations to reduce CO2.

The insanity prevailed, though, with the developed nations pledging (whatever that means) to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050. As I have written elsewhere, this is completely nuts, as this is not an accurate depiction of what is to happen. If Obama's remarks indicate that 2050 emissions are to be 80 percent below the 1990 level, then this requires a 93 percent reduction from the business-as-usual case in 2050. In other words, by 2050 each country can emit only 7 percent of the CO2 that they would have absent any agreements. This requires either reverting back to Stone-Age lifestyles, or massive improvements in renewable energy storage systems, or incredible breakthroughs in hydrogen from solar. The first alternative is not palatable and would result in mass revolts, the second is not here, and neither is the third.

UPDATE 1, July 23, 2009: India showed more sanity this week. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited India, their government basically said that India refuses to restrict their economic growth and improvement in quality of life by cutting their carbon emissions. Secretary Clinton apparently advised India to [my paraphrase here], Not make the mistakes that Western nations made by growing too fast and using too much fossil fuel that harms the planet.

Good for India! If only the West had such common sense, and the ability to objectively look at the data on global temperatures (they are dropping, and remained stable from about 1945 to 1985), compared to CO2 in the atmosphere (steadily rising). They can clearly see there is zero correlation - let alone causation, and thus curbing CO2 emissions is completely useless if one even believes in man-made global warming and wanted to do something to arrest it.