Monday, June 10, 2013

Long Island's Energy Future

(My column In Long Island newspapers this week)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seems intent on destroying the dream of public power for Long Island with Long Islanders democratically overseeing their utility and deciding the island’s energy future.

Instead, the governor would greatly expand having a private New Jersey company run the island’s utility operations—a company with a dubious energy history—and continue to keep energy management in the hands of political appointees.

“LIPA was never given a chance,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, a strong opponent of the governor’s plan, was saying last week. He was referring to the Long Island Power Authority which, when it was created in 1986, “was supposed to be a full-fledged public power company with a board elected by the people of Long Island. But that never happened.”

Rather, a series of private companies, most recently, London, England-based National Grid, has been running much of LIPA’s system. And under Cuomo’s new plan, Newark, New Jersey-based Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) would fully operate it.

Moreover, his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, and his successor, George Pataki, killed having Long Islanders vote on a LIPA board. Arranged in its place was having the 15 board members picked by the governor, State Assembly speaker and Senate Majority leader. This would continue, but cut to five appointees in Cuomo’s plan. LIPA would be reduced to a shell.

“It’s a bad plan,” said Thiele last week. “And it is wrong for Governor Cuomo to try to ram this through in a month or so. This is going to affect Long Island for decades and should be subject to a widespread public review.”

The vision of public power for Long Island came as what had been the Long Island Lighting Company sought to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants here. The establishment of LIPA, with the power to eliminate LILCO if it persisted in its drive for the nearly-completed Shoreham nuclear plant and the other plants, was a key in ending this atomic program. But it involved more than that. The idea was to create a democratic entity to manage and plan for power on the island and champion safe, clean, renewable energy.

As Peter Maniscalco of Manorville, a leader in that effort, wrote in a recent letter in Newsday: “According to Albert Einstein, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s LIPA restructuring proposal is crazy. Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.” He charged that Cuomo would send energy policy on the island backwards. Also, “Why does the governor keep mentioning that LIPA was originally meant to be a holding company? This is false.”

As to PSEG, which under the Cuomo plan would be Long Island’s utility, it’s been known on Long Island for something rather crazy about which Cuomo might not be familiar.

PSEG a few decades back pushed to have nuclear plants in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, south of Long Island. Company literature proudly related how the notion of floating nuclear plants came to Richard Eckert, its vice president for engineering and construction, while he was taking a shower. He had a revelation of the ocean supplying the massive amounts of water nuclear plants need as coolant.

PSEG convinced Westinghouse to build such floating plants. In 1970, Westinghouse and Tenneco set up Offshore Power Systems to fabricate them at a facility it built off Jacksonville, Florida. The plants were to be towed into position with the first four moored 11 miles northeast of Atlantic City. Costs skyrocketed and in 1984 the scheme was scuttled and Offshore Power Systems was dissolved after many millions of dollars had been wasted.

I wrote about the station set up by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and run by Brookhaven National Laboratory along the ocean on Dune Road in Hampton Bays to determine the impact of an accident involving the PSEG floating nuclear plants. Clouds of smoke were set off and boats and aircraft used. It was found that Long Island would be the prime recipient of the radioactivity because of prevailing southwest winds.

It’s not too late for Long Island to return to the vision of energy democracy—having Long Islanders, not English or New Jersey companies, operate our energy system, served by what LIPA should have been all along, a full-fledged public power company, with elected board members providing oversight and shaping Long Island’s energy future.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The End of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant -- An Advance for Safe, Clean, Renewable Energy Technologies

Southern California Edison’s announcement this week that it will close its troubled twin-reactor San Onofre nuclear power plant—along with other recent setbacks for atomic energy in the United States—marks a downward spiral for nuclear power.

And it could—and should—mean a great advance for the implementation of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies. “We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, after the announcement Friday. “The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with safe and clean energy provided by the sun and wind.”

S. David Freeman, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and other utilities, at a joint news conference with Pica Friday, said it was a “step in the right direction and another move toward the renewable revolution that’s underway in California.”

Also this week, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy scrapped plans to build nuclear plants in Iowa. Last month, Dominion Resources announced it was shutting down its Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin. Also last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that a partnership between Toshiba and NRG Energy to build two nuclear plants in Texas violated a U.S. law barring foreign control of nuclear plants. Further last month, Duke Energy announced it was scuttling plans to build two nuclear plants in North Carolina. This came after Duke’s earlier announcement that it would close its troubled Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida.

From 104, the U.S. in short order has gone to 100 operating nuclear plants—and most of these are also plagued with safety and financial problems. Many also face strong opposition and demands they be shut down.

“This industry is on its final trajectory downward,” said Pica Friday. He said that with these events, the NRC should be renamed the Nuclear Retirement Commission.

At the news conference, Freeman said that having a nuclear power-free and greenhouse gas-free world are the two most needed things to be done to “sustain life…on Earth.”

That nuclear power is a threat to life is not a new issue—it’s been central to the battle against nuclear power even before the first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., the Shippingport plant in Pennsylvania, opened in 1957.

But new in recent decades have been the great advances in safe, clean, renewable energy technologies led by solar and wind, rendering nuclear power unnecessary. Germany has become a global model in jettisoning nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and is committed to a goal of 100% of its energy coming from clean, renewable sources.

A few hundred miles from the San Onofre plant, in San Francisco last month, a conference—“Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy”—was held serving as an international organizing and strategy event. It was hosted by the Renewables 100 Policy Institute of San Francisco. Experts in energy and finance, political leaders and renewable energy activists spoke on the feasibility of 100% renewable energy.

Study after study have now determined that renewable technologies can provide all the power the world needs.The Renewables 100 Policy Institute presents many on its website ( including “A Plan to Power 100% of the Planet With Renewables,” a 2009 cover story of Scientific American, a conservative and most careful publication.

The challenge has been converting this understanding to action, particularly considerng how special interests pushing their energy products—nuclear, oil, gas and coal—have a hold on so many governments around the world. At the conference, a “global alliance” was formed to “build political will among a critical mass of decision makers and set a required goal of 100% renewable energies.”

Also a big problem has been the ignorance in much of mainstream media about energy issues—especially concerning nuclear power. For example, at the news conference Friday, Matthew Wald, who covers nuclear power for The New York Times, demanded most defensively of Pica how he squared eliminating “2,400 megawatts of carbon-free energy” that would be generated by the San Onofre nuclear plant. Wald either doesn’t want to acknowledge or doesn’t know that the “nuclear cycle”—the mining, milling, fuel enrichment and other components of nuclear power—emit greenhouse gases and contribute substantially to global warming, and thus the energy from San Onofre was never “carbon-free.”

The San Onofre plant, built along an earthquake fault, has been an obvious threat to anyone traveling along Interstate 5, the major highway linking San Diego and Los Angeles. Its twin domes sit right next to Interstate 5.

“We are now left with one of the largest, most concentrated nuclear waste piles on the planet,” said Ace Hoffman of Carlsbad, California, who has written extensively about the serious safety problems at San Onofre. “This will be an eternal problem, but thankfully it is no longer a growing problem…It will take millions of years—not just days—to be safe, but at least we are headed in the right direction.” As to the employees of San Onofre, said Hoffman Friday: “I hope they all will find jobs in the solar and wind technology energy sectors.”

Two nuclear reactors amid millions of people will now be shut down permanently. The electricity they would have generated can be replaced, said utility veteran Freeman, an engineer, through energy efficiency and with solar and wind power made available on-demand with a variety of energy storage systems.

And, as Damon Moglen, climate and energy director of Friends of the Earth, said at the conference, with San Onofre’s closing “we will see California move even more decisively” on renewable energy and become “one of the largest non-nuclear economies on our planet .”

That’s a big step in the vision of a nuclear power-free world using energy that people can live with—safe, clean renewable energy.