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Solar Vs Nuclear
Which is more cost effective, better for our health and capable of sustaining the planet?
(Hint: It looks prettier too!)
Here we’ll present the facts, plain and simple. We’ll expose some of the hidden costs for nuclear power, explain the financial incentives for solar as they are today, and we’ll explore where the future appears to be headed.
The Energy Bill that was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Bush contains a $10 billion appropriation for renewable energy which includes solar, wind, bio-mass, geothermal, hydro power and fuel cells.
In the same bill, $25 billion is appropriated for guaranteed loans to corporations to build a nuclear power plant.
Imagine what the solar industry in the U.S. could accomplish with $25 billion now … or even $10 billion. What has been accomplished in the U.S. solar industry up until now?
New Jersey’s Supercharged Solar Future
The NJ solar industry has seen explosive growth over the past five years due to the biggest renewable energy rebate incentive in the United States, the NJ Customer On-Site Renewable Energy (CORE) rebate. Historically, the rebates have amounted to 40-70 percent of the installed cost of the system. Depending on a customer’s ability to take advantage of tax incentives, the payback range is four to nine years. There has been a growth spurt in NJ’s solar industry due to these aggressive rebates, but not without ‘growing pains.’
Currently, the money for the CORE rebate program comes through a tariff charged in statewide utility bills called a ‘societal benefits charge.’ The SBC provides a yearly fixed budget to fund the rebates.
The overwhelming interest in the core rebate has caused a waiting list (queue) to be created, and the waiting time for rebate approval is currently 12-18 months. Essentially, the growth of the solar industry has led to slowdowns and market uncertainties.
After more than a year of public discussions about how to restructure New Jersey’s solar market, the state’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) unanimously approved the transition of the CORE program from an upfront rebate system to a commodity market based on Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). They still plan to keep a rebate in place for residential systems until 2012 which could result in a windfall for these solar customers.
Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), also known as Green Tags, are tradable environmental commodities that represent the ‘clean aspect’ of onemegawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated from renewable energy. These certificates can be sold and traded and the owner of the REC can claim to have purchased renewable energy. RECs put a monetary value on carbon-neutral renewable energy by providing financial incentive for electricity generated from renewable sources. A solar generator is issued one REC for every 1,000 kwh of electricity it produces. The electricity is fed into the electrical grid or used on-site, and the accompanying REC can then be sold on the open market.
In NJ, electricity suppliers are legally required to produce a percentage of renewable energy, buy the SRECs, or pay a Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP). Solar system owners earn SRECs for solar electricity production, which are registered and traded among electricity suppliers and other buyers within an established infrastructure.
There are three ways that have been used to help fund renewable energy worldwide. 1) Rebate – the authorities refund part of the cost of installation; 2) Feed-in tariff – the electricity utility buys PV electricity from system owners at a guaranteed price set well above current prices; 3) Renewable Energy Credits – creating a commodity out of the carbon-neutral aspect of the energy production.
Each method has its subtle pros/cons, and often the three are used in some combination. In NJ, we have rebates and RECs. Moving forward, they are scheduled to have a rebate for homeowners and small commercial systems, and RECs for over 10kw commercial.
In Germany, they have a feed-in tariff that was 3X higher than end-user price, and 8X higher than ‘wholesale.’ California has the ‘California Solar Initiative,’ offering a choice of rebate feed-in tariff for small and medium systems, and a feed-in tariff for large systems. The small-system feed-in tariff is far less than Germany’s.
Under the future NJ Office of Clean Energy plan, the BPU essentially doubled the price of the SACP in an effort to phase out the core rebate program. With the plan, solar owners will receive around $1000 a year in cash and electricity for every kilowatt installed for a 15-year period. This means the solar system will pay itself off in six to nine years depending on production and market conditions.
“Because of delays in application approvals associated with the popularity of upfront rebates, the BPU has decided the SREC-only system is the best way to ensure rapid adoption of solar in New Jersey,” said Mike Winka, director of the BPU’s Office of Clean Energy. “And because the system is not tied to a budget, there will be no chance that the budget will run out or that it will be diverted to another program.”
New Jersey’s Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) announced support for the plan. In April, the company is proposing to invest up to $100 million to help finance the installation of solar systems for its customers. Under its proposal, PSE&G’s loans would be repaid with SRECs. Other companies may soon enter the NJ market, financing solar installations via SREC money as a guarantee for their investment.
“In making today’s decision on the future of solar in New Jersey, we are taking steps to align solar capacity and costs to be consistent with the priorities of the governor’s energy vision,” said BPU President Jeanne M. Fox. “We believe this strategy will spur both private and public investment in New Jersey’s solar market.”
For more information, email Angus McDougald at firstname.lastname@example.org
It Doesn’t Add Up
Photovoltaic cells are 1/50th their price in the 1970s.
Wind energy is 80 percent cheaper than it was 15 years ago.
Nuclear energy, once promoted as the cheap energy source of the future, is now the most expensive commercial energy option in the United States.
Source : Financial Review, June 21, 1996. Shut Down or Melt Down?
Oyster Creek Radiation
Containment Barrier Likely
to Fail in Serious Accident
The owner of the Oyster Creek nuclear generating plant in Lacey, NJ, wants to renew its operating license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), for another 20 years. It is the oldest operating plant in the nation.
According to AmerGen, the owner of the nuclear plant, a steel and concrete containment system at Oyster Creek that surrounds the reactor core and its fuel, has a 74 percent chance of failing if there is a serious accident to the core or the fuel.
Over the years, corrosion and leaks in the cooling system have been found, repaired, found again. At press time, another leak was found and hadn’t yet been repaired at Oyster Creek.
The NRC concurred with AmerGen that “increased inspections will result in additional radiation exposure to personnel involved in the inspections,” as stated in the license renewal application, and gave the green light to proceed with renewal, along with a reduced inspection schedule.
It’s a key step toward the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s coming decision on whether to relicense the plant to operate beyond 2009.
Inspections by the NRC are down sharply. In 1990, each reactor was inspected an average of 4,700 man-hours. In 2002, that number was 3,100 hours – a decline of about one-third.
Ruling On Contention
A coalition of six citizens organizations got a landmark hearing by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) on September 24, 2007, to review safety contentions about Oyster Creek’s dry well, which is a 100-foot-tall spherical containment shell.
On December 18, the ASLB rejected the contention by the coalition. The federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a ruling that checking the steel dry-well liner around the reactor every four years “is sufficiently frequent to ensure an adequate safety margin will be maintained.”
The coalition has just filed an appeal to ASLB’s ruling. In its 30-page appeal, filed January 15, 2008, it states that the sandbed region at the bottom of the freestanding part of the shell is not being monitored enough. The appeal questions whether the ASLB failed to consider critical testimony and other issues concerning compliance.
Corrosion of the steel shell cased in concrete was discovered in the 1990s, and was partly due to excessive moisture. In AmerGen’s own re-licensing application, they state that the shell has a 75 percent chance of leaking radiation during a meltdown.
AmerGen then coated the surface of the corroded areas with an epoxy.
The coalition maintains in its appeal that the sandbed region’s thickness monitoring, proposed by the plant’s owner, AmerGen, will not ensure the safety of the facility throughout its future operation.
The coalition includes the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS); Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch; NJ Public Interest Research Group; Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety; The Sierra Club; and the NJ Environmental Federation.
The plant’s current license will expire in April 2009. According to Neil Sheehan a spokesman for the NRC, the plant could continue to operate beyond its license if legal challenges were still being reviewed.
A presidentially appointed commission that oversees the NRC will decide on the appeal.
More concerns with Oyster Creek include: the ineffective and impossible evacuation plan; the plant’s vulnerability to terrorism, corrosion of the dry well liner; millions of fish being killed by the once-through cooling system; and the storage of the growing radioactive spent fuel nuclear waste being dumped less than 400 feet from Route 9. All the evidence shows that OCNGS is not a safe, clean, reliable source of power.
“Get Off The Fence”
“Oyster Creek is not worth the risk,” states Edith Gbur, president of Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch. She recently spoke to the Ocean County Board of Freeholders about the issues. “It is time for the Freeholders to get off the fence and take a position on closing the nuclear plant at Oyster Creek. This plant has a long history of health, safety, security and environmental problems and over 15 municipalities in New Jersey have called for its shutdown,” Gbur told them.
The Freeholders have dodged the issue for eight years, “by passing the buck” to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the agency to decide the fate of Oyster Creek, said Gbur.
“We’re not passing the buck. The NRC will make the decision. We’ve tried to hold their feet to the fire,” said Freeholder John P. Kelly.
Local governing bodies in 15 communities voted to oppose the relicensing.
Oyster Creek’s Excessive Radiation & High Cancer Rates Nearby
Oyster Creek is among the largest emitters of airborne and waterborne radioactivity of any U.S. reactor, according to a report from the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), a nonprofit educational and scientific organization. Oyster Creek has emitted five times the amount of radiation than the Three-Mile Island Nuclear Plant during its 1979 meltdown according to RPHP.
Ocean County is about 20 percent above the U.S. average for cancer and has the highest cancer incidence rate of any New Jersey county, according to NJ Health Department statistics.
“We believe it is the responsibility of the Board of Freeholders to investigate the source of these rising cancer rates, as they are required to ‘act in concert to protect the health and welfare of its citizens’ as stated on page 6 of the Ocean County Directory,” said Gbur.
Even the NRC, in their 2006 environmental impact statement, noted Oyster Creek plant has been dumping radioactive waste materials and is the worst polluter of Barnegat Bay.
According to the Tooth Fairy Study conducted by RPHP, average Strontium-90 in over 500 New Jersey baby teeth doubled since the late 1980s. Strontium 90 comes from nuclear radiation.
“The good news is, if similar changes in cancer rates near the [closed] Rancho Seco, CA reactor occurred, closing Oyster Creek could mean 4810 fewer local cancer deaths over 20 years,” says Joseph Magnano, executive director of RPHP (see http://www.radiation.org).
In 1999, the Freeholders said they were concerned and encouraged meetings on the Tooth Fairy Project, when Alec Baldwin spoke at Ocean County College on the links between the childhood cancer cluster in Toms River and Strontium 90 emissions from Oyster Creek, according to Gbur.
Alec Baldwin will return to speak at a community dialogue sponsored by the League of Women Voters at 6:30 pm on February 20th at the Ocean County Library’s Toms River Branch on Washington Street.
Study Finds Increased Child Cancer Near Nuclear Plants
Children living near nuclear power plants have a significantly higher risk of developing leukemia and other forms of cancer, according to a German study reported in December of 2007.
“Our study confirmed that in Germany a connection has been observed between the distance of a domicile to the nearest nuclear power plant, and the risk of developing cancer, such as leukemia, before the fifth birthday,” Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper quoted the report as saying.
The study was done by the University of Mainz for Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection. The researchers found that cancer incidences in children under 5 years of age increase with proximity to reactor sites. Within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius of the reactors, 77 cases of child cancer, 37 of which were leukemia, were registered for the survey period 1980 to 2003. On a statistical average, 48 cases of cancer with 17 cases of leukemia would be expected.
The study deals exclusively with the statistical connection between cancer incidences and the distance of the place of living from the nuclear power plant site.
Some experts familiar with the study believe the data showed there was an increased cancer risk for children living within 50 kilometers of a reactor.
Germany plans to prematurely shut down all of its nuclear power plants by the early 2020s.
Challenging Nuclear Renaissance
Now that the new Energy Bill provides $25 billion in guaranteed loans for new nuclear plants, several other companies have expressed interest in either expanding existing plants around the country or building new facilities, including Chicago-based Exelon. Federal regulators expect to process applications for about 30 new reactors along the East Coast and in the Southeast in coming years.
Anti-nuclear activists are ready to challenge the “so-called nuclear renaissance” that chose Texas as the first state in the US to consider a new nuclear power plant project in nearly 30 years, reports Tom Fowler of the Houston Chronicle.
A coalition of groups plans to intervene in the Federal review of Princeton, N.J.-based NRG Energy’s application to build two new reactors next to the existing South Texas Project nuclear plant in Matagora County, Texas.
A 60-day public comment period is under way until end of February ’08 for those who care to intervene in the review for the joint construction and operation permit.
Officials with the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEED) plan to intervene. Karen Hadden, director of SEED, urges people to “create a new nuclear resistance movement to say no to the nuclear regurgitation.”
In addition the dangers of storing nuclear waste indefinitely and the role it may play in nuclear weapons proliferation, SEED points out that in the late 1970s and early 1980s projects regularly ran way over budget and schedule, as proof new projects will also be costly.
The nuclear industry’s reliance on government incentives and subsidies, including $2 billion in risk insurance, billions in construction loan guarantees and a production tax credit, illustrates how the true cost of nuclear is hidden and a burden to taxpayers.
Neil Carman, director of the clean air program for the Sierra Club in Texas said a lot of people are “coming out of the woodwork and wanting to work on this.” Carman stated, “I think you will see a very strong anti-nuclear movement in Texas.”
Californians Reject More Nukes
An initiative to lift the California’s ban on new nuclear power plants will not appear on the June 2008 ballot. State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, has withdrawn the ballot initiative he submitted to state elections officials, after public opinion polls found lukewarm support for new nuclear power plants in the state. The initiative would have overturned a 1976 state law prohibiting construction of new nuclear reactors until a permanent solution for the storage of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is found.
WorldWide Nuclear Proliferation
There are more than 100 nuclear reactors now being built, planned or on order, including one in Vietnam. Argentina, Brazil and South Africa plan to expand existing programs; and Thailand, Egypt and Turkey are among the countries considering building their first reactors. China plans to bring more than 30 more nuke plants online by 2020, adding to its 11 existing ones.
Countries new to or still learning about nuclear power “have to move down the learning curve, and they will learn from (their) mistakes,” says Philippe Jamet, director of nuclear installation safety for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N. body set up in 1957 to provide quality controls and expertise to countries with nuclear programs. They oversee safety standards, but now the agency is preoccupied with monitoring Iran and North Korea over suspected nuclear arms programs, and as IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei says, they cannot be the main guarantor of safety.
Review to Renew Oyster Creek Nears Conclusion
The final steps in the NRC’s consideration of the Oyster Creek license renewal application will be the commission’s ruling on the appeal and, if it rejects the appeal, the issuance of a license extension. If the coalition’s appeal is rejected, the decision could then be challenged in federal court.
The coalition says it’s prepared to go forward to the federal court if the appeal is denied.
For more information contact Edith Gbur at 732-240-5107. http://www.bized.com
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