Posts Tagged ‘South Texas Project’

The following editorial from the San Antonio Express News is an excellent take on the issue of the South Texas Project nuclear expansion. Kudos to Carlos Guerra!

Expert offers uniquely Texan power solution

Carlos Guerra – San Antonio Express News

With a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from UC-Berkeley, Arjun Makhijani has followed energy issues and innovations for decades. But with his uncanny understanding of economics, and a willingness to put a pencil to what comes along, when he says something, you listen.

Or, at least, you should.

Makhijani’s most recent book, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free” is now a must-read on emerging energy solutions. And last fall, he studied CPS Energy’s plans to participate in the doubling of the South Texas Project.

Among other things, the engineer concluded that the two new reactors would cost more than twice what was projected.

CPS’ latest forecasts now almost echo Makhijani’s.

And Wednesday, he advised CPS to closely re-examine its drive to expand the STP and, especially, its latest twist in the deal: to sell excess electricity on the wholesale market to offset the regular rate increases that would be made necessary to pay for the new reactors.

“Especially in a deep recession, when demand for electricity is going down throughout the country, and nobody has any idea when it will recover,” he said, “for San Antonio to say they are going to sell electricity on the open market at rates that will benefit ratepayers is gambling with public money.”

Makhijani did compliment our utility’s newfound commitment to promoting greater efficiencies and relying more heavily on wind energy. But he also offered alternatives to the pricey investment in nuclear power that he says would be better and safer — economically and environmentally — and yield better results more quickly.

“The combination of efficiency, storage and wind, and concentrating solar thermal energy would be the right mix,” he said. “And the pace at which you do that should depend on the economic circumstances. You shouldn’t be overbuilding anything, not wind, solar or whatever.

“In San Antonio, the first thing to do is to start making money on efficiencies so bills don’t go up for consumers,” he continued.

“That will lay the foundation for a solid electricity sector that will be modern and that can accommodate changes.”

And since CPS leads Texas in its commitment to buying wind energy, it should incorporate storage strategies so it can purchase excess electricity when it is cheapest, and distribute it to augment other electricity sources when demand — and other electricity prices — soar.

The Japanese, Makhijani noted, are already using large industrial sodium-sulfur batteries to do just that with wind energy.

But in Texas, storing energy as compressed air in massive underground caverns — as is done with natural gas — might make more sense. And it is a proven technology.

Then, when energy demand peaks, the compressed air is heated with small amounts of natural gas and used to drive turbines to generate electricity that can help meet the peak-load demands.

When you think about it, that would be a perfectly Texan solution. When temperatures soar and air conditioners are cranked up, we could solve our peak demand problems with natural gas and a lot of hot air.

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After CPS Energy unveiled its optimistically low $13 billion proposal for South Texas Project reactors three and four, I decided to look into the history of the construction of the first two reactors. What I found was troubling, but it seemed to be pretty much in line with my understanding of problems with nuclear projects during the 70s and 80. Here is a brief time line:

1971: Houston Lighting and Power presents proposal for South Texas Nuclear Project, with an estimated cost of 1 billion dollars for the entire project.

1973: Construction begins, with contractor Brown and Root. A $1 billion cost is agreed upon and the first reactor is projected to be finished by 1980 and the second by 1982.

1979: Brown and Root Inspector Dan Swayze gives interview with CBS Magazine, discussing his decision to stop inspecting concrete pours after a 1977 incident at STP in which concrete workers at STP threatened his life and physically assaulted another inspector. “They beat the hell out of him” -Swayze

1979: Estimated costs rise to $2.7 Billion and completion of the reactors is postponed

to 1984 for the first and 1986 for the second.

1979: Three Mile Island accident. San Antonio reevaluates its role in the project.

1980: After 3,000 complaints reports of work deficiencies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues a report citing 22 violations and fines HL&P $100,000 and issues a “show cause order” requiring the company to explain why the project should be allowed to continue.

1980: HL&P voluntarily stops work after problems are discovered in the welding and concrete. The projected is rated below average by Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass Energy Project. It is ranked among the top 4 worst ongoing projects.

1981: HL&P fires original contractor Brown and Root (who had no previous experience with nuclear reactors) and replaces them with Bechtel Corporation. Estimated completion costs increase to $4.5 billion.

1985: Brown and Root looses a $750 million law suit, filed by Houston Lighting & Power, San Antonio City Public Service, Central Power, Light of Corpus Christi and the city of Austin. At the time this was the largest cash legal settlement in U.S History.

1987: HL&P receives low-power operating license for Unit 1 nuclear reactor.

1988: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducts last minute inspection of facility after hundreds of allegations of poor construction, over 50 of which were made by plant workers through the Government Accountability Project. Among the allegations was a claim that roughly 20% of the plant’s safety valves were installed backwards. This was never corrected after it was concluded that the plant could still function with backwards safety valves.

1988: Completion is announced 7 years late and 500% over budget.

1989: City of Austin files lawsuit against Houston Lighting and Power for unexpected expenses and delays during the construction of STP. Texas Court in Dallas Rules in HL&P’s Favor.

Since 1990: STP and other nuclear plants spend an average of $45 million each year disposing of waste. To clarify that is average is per plant.

CPS energy is giving an optimistically low estimate of the total cost of the project.  Estimates that consider the cost overruns and construction delays that plagued STP and similar projects last time  peg the plant at no lower than $17 billion. This look at STP’s history provides a good example of what can happen when we don’t recognize the likely additional expenditures an expensive project like this will have and operate on an unrealistic time frame.  San Antonio is on the verge of repeating many of the mistakes of the past, and it is the citizens that will have to pay.

The Disappointed Environmentalist

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Last week San Antonio’s CPS released their cost estimate for the proposed South Texas Project Nuclear Expansion, and we found their numbers naive optimistic ignored history wanting.  To find out why, check out this Guest Column, printed in today’s San Antonio Express-News, from Public Citizen’s own Energy Policy Analyst Matthew Johnson.

Matthew Johnson: Why not cheaper, safer sources of energy?

Matthew Johnson: Why not cheaper, safer sources of energy?

Nuclear reactors too expensive

By Matthew Johnson – Express-News Guest Voices

CPS Energy announced its cost estimate for two more nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project near Bay City last week. The $13-billion price tag is the latest estimate in a sustained and systemic low-balling by utilities wishing to receive government subsidies.

CPS’ partner, NRG Energy, recently pegged the cost of units 3 and 4 at $10 billion, a figure that has jumped nearly 50 percent from its original estimate of $5.4 billion.

Other analyses, however, have estimated the cost of two new reactors to be nearly 100 percent higher than the CPS estimate. Former Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel official Clarence Johnson recently estimated the cost of STP expansion to be $20 billion to $22 billion, while nuclear engineer and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Dr. Arjun Makhijani estimated a cost of up to $17.5 billion in 2008.

A new study by Mark Cooper, of the Vermont Law School, analyzed numerous cost estimates of the so-called nuclear renaissance beginning around 2001. He discovered that early estimates of new nuclear reactors were made predominantly by industry and academics and were optimistic and eager to rejuvenate the industry.

Since then, utilities’ estimates have shown similar wishful thinking, but continue to rise. Independent analysts and Wall Street, Cooper shows, offer the most realistic estimates that are much higher.

The history of the STP expansion effort follows this pattern. CPS and NRG have been attempting to gain support in federal, state and city government since they submitted their application to build two new reactors to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2007.

Wall Street estimates also place a similar and continuously rising price tag on new reactors. The bond-rating agency Moody’s predicted $5,000-6,000 per kilowatt for new reactors almost two years ago, which translates to $16.2 billion for STP expansion, and recently indicated that it could downgrade bond ratings on utilities constructing new nuclear reactors.

The federal government established an $18.5 billion subsidy to back loans taken out to construct new reactors. STP expansion advocates brag about being on the short list for part of these loan guarantees, but proponents and opponents agree that more reactors won’t be built if the feds don’t pony up the dough.

The reason is simple. Investors are squeamish to lend money for projects with such a high risk of defaulting on repayments. Delay and cost overruns increase risk. STP’s original reactors took eight years longer than planned to complete and costs soared six times over original estimates.

CPS Energy has faster and cheaper alternatives. Their recent announcement on the 27 megawatt solar plant in West Texas, the Mission Verde plan to develop 250 megawatts of solar and new wind contracts plus their goal to save 771 megawatts through energy efficiency by 2020 are shining examples of the path they should focus on to keep rates stable and low in the future. This path also creates more local jobs.

City Council will soon have to decide on San Antonio’s involvement in new reactors. It must vote no on nuclear to protect San Antonians from bearing the overwhelming economic burden of building costly, dangerous and unnecessary nuclear reactors.

Matthew Johnson is an energy policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Texas office.

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Statement of Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

CPS Energy’s announcement today that it will cost $13 billion to build two new nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project (STP) is a naïve guess when compared to independent assessments that offer more realistic estimates for financing and construction. San Antonio already has spent nearly $300 million just for an accounting of this project’s potential cost, but it appears that even that amount could not buy the city an accurate study.

Former Office of Public Utility Counsel Director Clarence Johnson and nuclear engineer and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Arjun Makhijani have estimated that costs will range from $17.5 billion to $22 billion.

Even Wall Street underwriters are pinning new reactors at a cost closer to what Johnson and Makhijani have estimated. Wall Street realizes the true potential cost and risk of nuclear power – which is why they refuse to invest in STP unless it is able to secure federally guaranteed loans. That way, if the project goes under or the costs balloon out of control, the only investors who will lose a significant amount of money are the American taxpayers.

Estimates like the one CPS made today are non-binding. If the reactors cost more than CPS has estimated, San Antonio taxpayers will pay the difference. If NRG Energy is unable to provide a fixed contract for this deal, CPS and San Antonio should ask why.

The City Council can stop all this madness and save San Antonio from a bad deal that will pass costs onto ratepayers for decades to come. Council members have questioned the project in the past and have expressed skepticism. The unfortunate truth is that there will be no way to know how much the expansion will cost until the plant is online.  No one knows how much new reactors will ultimately cost to build, finance and operate.

City Council members have shown support for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. They have shown incredible vision supporting the Mission Verde plan to develop 250 megawatts of solar and new wind contracts. Just this May, the City Council voted to allow CPS to fund energy efficiency efforts, known as the Save for Tomorrow Energy Program. These are the sorts of measures that San Antonio should be supporting – measures that can be deployed quicker and at a fraction of the cost of nuclear expansion.

Now is the time for the City Council to bring common sense and practicality back to the table. San Antonio can’t afford another nuclear boondoggle; the City Council has the opportunity to say “no” to these new nuclear investments. Only it can protect San Antonians from bearing the overwhelming economic burden of building costly, dangerous and unnecessary nuclear reactors.

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Oral Hearing Set for June 23rd-June 24th in Bay City, TX

Citizen opposition to more nuclear reactors in Texas continues. On June 23rd-24th an oral hearing will be held before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on the Citizens’ Petition to Intervene in South Texas Project (STP) Nuclear Power Plant Units 3 and 4.

SEED Coalition, Public Citizen and South Texas Association for Responsible Energy are petitioners seeking to intervene in the proposed expansion of South Texas Project.

“Building two more nuclear reactors at STP is not in the best interest of the local community,” said Susan Dancer, a local wildlife rehabilitator. “Pursuing the most expensive and most water intensive energy source in a time of extraordinary drought and economic recession makes no sense. The local community will get stuck with more radioactive waste and bear heavy infrastructure costs if the proposed reactors get built. The existing reactors have not solved local economic problems.” Dancer chairs the Bay City based organization South Texas Association for Responsible Energy (STARE).

Attorney Robert V. Eye will represent the petitioners before the designated Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel and argue the admissibility of the 28 contentions citizens filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 21st. These contentions point out the inadequacies and the incompleteness of South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company’s (STPNOC) combined operating license application (COLA) to construct and operate South Texas Project Units 3 and 4. NRG Energy and San Antonio’s municipal utility CPS Energy are both applicants for the proposed reactors, which fall within STPNOC.

“NRG has failed to comply with new federal regulations regarding aircraft impacts,” stated Mr. Eye. “These new regulations are very specific and require the applicant to plan for catastrophic fires and/or explosions that would cause the loss of major critical functional components in the plant. After 9-11, an aircraft attack on a nuclear power plant is a real and credible threat. Moreover, fire hazards represent about half of the risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown. NRG’s noncompliance with these regulations puts citizens around South Texas Project in a dangerous position, which is completely unacceptable.” (more…)

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nuke plantA bill currently moving in the Texas Legislature, HB 4525, would create new state subsidy of $50 million each for new nuclear and coal plants.

We need your help to stop this pork bill from passing.  Call your Senator now and tell them that nuclear power doesn’t need taxpayer help!

Although the claim of HB 4525 is that subsidies are necessary to attract new manufacturing plants to Texas, the bill would actually primarily reward plants already intending to build here with a totally unjustified housewarming gift.

In particular, the two nuclear projects singled out by the Legislative Budget Board analysis as the most likely beneficiaries of these subsidies –the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak — are expansions of existing complexes.  We aren’t in danger of these facilities relocating to out of state, and giving them $50 million a pop “to stay” is an extravagant waste of taxpayer money.

At a time of economic crisis, when state tax revenues are plummeting, Texas cannot afford to give that kind of money away, especially to such financially and environmentally risky projects.

Nuclear plants are already the most heavily subsidized energy industry in the United States at both the state and federal level. Coal plants are heavily subsidized as well, and the Texas Legislature is currently considering two new subsidies for “clean coal” projects. Considering the likelihood that a cap-and-trade bill will take effect soon, this is the wrong time to be adding financial support to the quickly changing energy industry.

Call your Senator today, and tell them to STOP this new coal and nuclear subsidy by voting NO on HB 4525.

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Impressive nuclear headlines in the papers these days, largely as a result of a new report released by our office entitled: “Costs of Current and Planned Nuclear Power Plants in Texas: A Consumer Perspective.  The report finds that the proposed expansions of nuclear power plants in Bay City (South Texas Project) and Glen Rose (Comanche Peak) could cost $22 billion, boost the cost of electricity for consumers and curtail investment in energy-efficiency programs and solar power.

The headline in the San Antonio Express News yesterday morning, just below the banner no less, read: Nuke Plan May Cost $22 Billion

This morning the Fort Worth Star Telegram also ran an article titled Anti-nuclear group: Comanche Peak expansion could cost $27.6 billion

The San Antonio Current’s Queblog also reports: Projected nuke power’s price tag inflating.  

In addition to a real cost estimate for nuclear power plant expansions in Texas, the report also compares the cost of nuclear power to the cost of alternatives such as wind, solar, and energy efficiency.  I’d encourage anyone who complains about the expense of renewable energy but claims that nuclear power is “cheap” to take a gander at the following graph: 


Wow.  Even on the low estimate end, energy efficiency costs just a fifth of what we would spend to get that kind of power from a nuclear plant, and wind and solar both come in well under that cost of nukes.  Take that, naysayers!

A major concern brought up in this report is that the massive capitol outlays for nuclear power options may drain available financial resources for making advancements in deploying more cost effective alternative resources.  In San Antonio, this could mean that CPS Energy chooses to partner with the South Texas Project Nuclear Expansion at the expense of Mission Verde, Mayor Phil Hardberger’s aggressive plan to green the city’s infrastructure, businesses, energy sources and technology.

“This new report indicates that we’re going to have to decide now which energy future we want for San Antonio,” said Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. “If CPS becomes a partner in the South Texas Project expansion, we are simply not going to have the financial resources to front Mission Verde. We can either choose the most expensive option possible and send our jobs to Bay City and overseas contractors, or pay a fraction of the cost to create thousands of jobs here at home and power the city with clean, green energy.”

For more information on how consumers could get stuck with the check if the nuclear plant goes over-budget or can’t meet its construction schedule (as they are notoriously wont to do), check out our press release.

The San Antonio Current’s Queblog reports,

Prior to deregulation in 2001, ratepayers were drained of $5 billion in capital costs for the nukes in North Texas and Bay City, according to Johnson’s “Costs of Current and Planned Nuclear Power Plants in Texas.”

Also, much of the overruns associated with Comanche Peak and STP have been borne by electric consumers in Texas’ deregulated market since, who “continue to pay off at least $3.4 billion for nuclear assets through transition charges, as well as $45 million in annual payments for nuclear decommissioning,” Johnson writes. 

Additional associated STP costs have also been passed along by AEP and CenterPoint to their customers.

Those interested in the report may also download either the full report or a short fact-sheet detailing the report’s major findings.

Along these same lines, turns out today is the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)’s national call-in day to end coal and nuclear subsidies. (more…)

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This Tuesday citizens submitted a filing to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission opposing NRG’s proposed South Texas Project (STP) nuclear reactors. Petitioners included the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Public Citizen and the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy.

This may sound familiar.  “Didn’t citizens just file opposition to the nuke a couple weeks ago?”  Well, yes they did, but that wasn’t “the” nuke, it was just one of them.  Texas actually has six proposed nuclear reactors; two each at Comanche Peak (near Fort Worth),  STP (by Bay City), and Victoria.

That’s right, folks, six proposed nuclear plants and 12 proposed coal plants, despite the fact that just yesterday the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said that no new nuclear or coal plants may be needed in the United States, ever.

Said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the SEED Coalition,

Our contentions laid out the many defects in the South Texas Project license application, including inadequate fire protection, the lack of viable radioactive waste disposal plan, an inability to secure against airplane attacks, vast water consumption, water contamination risks, the failure to analyze clean, safe alternatives and an array of other financial, health and safety risks.

Furthermore, STP has failed to provide cost estimates for their proposed reactors, leaving citizens with no idea of the expense they’ll be buying in to — despite the fact that one of the major partners, CPS Energy in San Antonio, is a municipal utility.

I know that when I walk in to a store and everything looks really nice but there are no price tags — I probably don’t even want to ask. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rates nuclear power as the most expensive form of electric generation. An analysis by Dr. Arjun Makhijani has estimated costs for the two reactors at between $12.5 – $17 billion.

Check out the press release for more information.

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Greg Harman at the San Antonio Current broke this story a few days back and I just feel like we have to comment:

As Washington strains under the weight of industry and environmental lobbyists seeking to influence the outcome of what would be our first national climate bill, CPS Energy has been quietly working the angles on Capitol Hill to keep the coal power the city has come to rely on cheap for consumers in the short term. So-called “cheap” power is the mandate the utility operates under, after all.

Too bad that mandate is now at odds with the survival of the earth as we know it and, quite possibly, our survival as a city and a nation.

Responding to an Open Records request submitted by the Current, a CPS Energy legal staffer wrote that the City-owned utility has spent $91,700 lobbying in the past year “in the attempt to influence U.S. climate policy.”

According to Zandra Pulis, senior legal counsel at CPS, the utility has also spent about $67,657 in membership dues to the Climate Policy Group, an industry group it joined in September of 2006 that lobbies Congress against limiting carbon emissions under cap-and-trade legislation. An effort that, to this point, has been remarkably successful.

All told, CPS has spent $2.56 million on lobbyists (since 1999) working the statehouse and the Capitol, according to Pulis.

That’s right — CPS has spent millions of YOUR dollars on lobbying, much of which has gone to try to argue climate change isn’t happening.

Look, I understand that CPS has a mission to produce inexpensive electricity for San Antonio residents and business.  That’s a good thing.  But the facts are these:

1- Climate change is happening.  But even if it wasn’t, everything we need to do to solve it is something that we would want to be to doing anyway.  We need to start living with the fact that political consensus has developed in Washington.  Sooner or later, we’re going to have to  start paying for our greenhouse gas pollution, so we’d better start figuring out how to get our energy from non-polluting sources. (more…)

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Hip-hip- HOORAY! After a series of informative, provocative presentations and public comments this morning, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to DECLINE participation in the South Texas Nuclear Project’s expansion plan.

Austin has a 16% stake in the current South Texas Nuclear Project, and has been questioning for months whether it should be a financial participant in new plans to double the capacity of that plant.  Months ago a consultant firm, Worley Parsons, was hired by Austin Energy to investigate whether this would be a good idea for Austin’s future.

First to present was Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy.  He gave a presentation on the consulting firm’s recommendations.  We learned the following:

  • The proposed expansion would generate an additional 436 MW for the City of Austin.  Estimated cost: $2 billion.
  • Under a worst case scenario (of cost overruns, delayed construction, etc), power generated from the new boilers would cost 13 cents/kwh.  Under the best of circumstances (everything was beautiful and nothing hurt), electricity would cost 6 cents/kwh.  The firm’s most realistic, expected scenario would price out at around 8 and a half cents/kwh — however, it should be noted that Worley Parsons is a pro-nuclear consulting firm, so these are likely the most conservative of estimates.

The consulting firm concluded that with only a 16% stake in the project, Austin Energy would have insufficient owner protection from the scheduling, cost, contractor and regulatory risks involved in the project.  For example, if significant cost overruns did occur, Austin Energy would not have any vote or say in the matter of how to proceed.  Furthermore, large capital costs would be associated with the project throughout 2016 — but none of that cost risk would be within Austin Energy’s control.  The firm also warned of a potential downgrade of Austin Energy’s bonds because of the extended time period of debt issuance without cost recovery.

Because of the significant amount of unacceptable risk associated with the the expansion project, Worley Parsons recommended that Austin NOT participate.  As an Austin Energy spokesman Mr. Duncan announced that the utility had reached the same conclusion with the additional reasoning that Austin has no need for the 432 MW of base-load power that the project would eventually supply.  We wouldn’t even know what to with all that power.  Austin Energy also expressed concerns (rightly so!) that the nuclear waste issue remains unresolved. (more…)

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Good morning, folks!  I’m sitting in on the Austin City Council meeting this morning.  Here at Public Citizen, we are largely concerned with two important items on today’s agenda:

Item 3: Will the City of Austin invest in the South Texas Nuclear Power Plant?

Item 16: Will the City invest in 30 megawatts of solar power from the proposed solar plant near Webberville?

Word on the street (and by street, I mean city hall) is that some members of the Council would like to postpone the vote on the solar plant.  The big question here is how long the vote will be postponed.  If the vote is pushed back a few weeks to give everyone a little more time to look at the impacts of this new project, that’s not really a problem… but if we are talking months here, the delay may actually be long enough to kill the project.

The Council will listen to citizen testimony before they decide to postpone (or not — though it is highly unlikely that the council will deny a request to delay the vote) and for how long (waiting with baited breath!).

Stick around, I’ll keep you posted!

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Time to show your support for solar, and your opposition to new nuclear power!

On Thursday, Austin City Council will take up the issues of nuclear energy and solar energy. We can’t think of a better picture to illustrate the fork in the road we face when it comes to Austin’s energy future.

Item 3 on the City Council agenda: Austin Energy will appropriately recommend, again, that the City of Austin not invest in expansion of the South Texas Project. Austin Energy hired the pro-nuclear consulting firm Worley Parsons to examine the proposal, which concluded that Austin’s share of the proposed 3rd & 4th reactors would cost around $2 billion (that’s only 16% of the total, btw). Our solid credit rating would likely decline due to the large amount of debt the city would have to issue coupled with the high risk of cost overruns and schedule delays typically associated with nuclear power plants. Furthermore, the addition of 432 megawatts of baseload nuclear power does not fit with Austin’s projected electric demand forecast. This deal didn’t make sense in 2007 or 2008. It makes even less sense in 2009.

New nuclear power economics are frightening (several cost estimates put new nukes in a category by themselves), and it’s a down right nasty way to make electric power. Uranium mine sites plague groundwater sources, there is no plan in place to deal with the waste, and Texas can ill-afford to devote its precious water resources to running a radioactive water boiler.

We don’t need to go down the nuclear path again. We’ve learned from the mistakes of previous councils. Remember, Carole Keeton McClellan [Strayhorn] was mayor of Austin (1977-1983) when the city trapped itself in the boondoggle that was the first two units at STNP. Read the Austin Chronicle article from 2006 on her (scroll down to “Nailed to the Nuke”).

She is running for mayor again, which means this becomes a radioactive campaign issue. Where do Leffingwell and McCracken stand on the issue? Stay tuned.

Better options exist. Come out and voice your opposition to new nuclear power.


Item 16 on the City Council agenda: Austin Energy will recommend that Council approve a plan to invest in 30 megawatts of solar power from the proposed solar plant near Webberville. This project is a good start down the path toward a renewable energy future for Austin. The 25 year $250 million contract with California-based Gemini Solar Development Company will provide Austinites clean, renewable power from one of the largest photovoltaic arrays in the world. Solar beats new nuclear power on cost, environment and meeting peak demand.

Solar power may seem expensive, but compared to what it costs to run natural gas plants to cover the same peak period and its associated environmental impacts, it’s a winner.

Some have raised objection to the fact that the solar panels are not local. Buying local is always preferable, but it’s not always feasible. There are no Texas companies that can currently manufacture panels for this sized plant. And while a California company has gotten the first contract because of California commitment to solar, local contractors and products can be used to construct and maintain the facility. Austin will still own the land too. We hope that with more plants like this one, solar companies will get the message that Texas is open for business.

We expect a large pro-nuke/anti-solar crowd, so come out to City Council this Thursday, Feb 12, sign up to voice your support for solar power. Tell City Council you want more!

Council convenes at 10 AM.

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CPS committed to spend $60 million more on the proposed expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project at its Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, which brings the city utility’s total expenditures on units 3 & 4 to $267 million.

The construction and operating license still languishes at the NRC, almost a year and a half after being submitted.

Somewhat lost amid the honorings, approvals, and statements of the Board meeting was the fact that STP 3 & 4 ranking for DoE’s loan guarantees has slipped from #1 to #3 (out of 14).  Updated rankings will be out in March.  3rd seems respectable.  It’s a bronze medal, right?  Well, there’s only $18.5 billion slotted for loan guarantees and each reactor can cost $6-who-knows-how-many-billions.

Gschwartz’s piece on this week’s Board of Trustees meeting sums things up pretty well on SA Current’s Queblog.  The Express-News touched on it here and here.


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The Austin American Statesman ran an article yesterday reporting on the City Council’s likely decision to hire a consultant to look into expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear power facility.

In February NRG invited the City Council, which owns a 16% stake in the plant,  to invest in a project that would double the size of the South Texas facility.  Austin declined when it was determined that the expansion would take an additional $1 billion and 2 years to complete than expected.  Now NRG is asking the Council to reconsider, and they will likely hire a consultant to evaluate NRG’s offer.

Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the SEED (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development) Coalition, responds:

stxplantmapAustin should continue to steer clear of more nuclear power. Morally, it is simply wrong to leave radioactive waste to thousands of generations to come. We should instead invest in safe energy efficiency and solar and wind power, which don’t come with radioactive terrorism risks.

Economically, nuclear power is a disastrous nightmare. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission data shows that nuclear power is the most expensive way to generate electricity. The City of Austin’s new study is likely to show that the economic risks have increased since their first look.

The two South Texas Project reactors would run between $12 – 17.5 billion according to Dr. Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. If Austin were to invest as a 16% owner, the cost to every Austin Energy ratepayer would be over $7200, before cost overruns. Rate hikes would be huge. Last time, the nuclear reactors ran six times over budget and were eight years late coming online. Nuclear power also comes with huge costs at the end of reactor lifespans, since decommissioning is the most expensive funeral ever.

Austin was right to say no to the nuclear expansion in February, and we should tell New Jersey based NRG a resounding and final no this time around.

I wouldn’t fret too much about this consultant, though.  Even the Statesman article notes that it is highly unlikely the city will buy into the expansion — they just need more information on the deal.  In all likelihood, this report will just confirm what a terrible investment this would be for the city.

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