Solar Growth Skyrockets as Nuclear Power Fails to Compete
By Mike Jacobs
Last year's solar deployment numbers just came in and they are, in a word, phenomenal. Utilities bought more new solar capacity than they did natural gas capacity: an astounding 22 states added more than 100 MW of solar each.
At the same time, there is grim news about delays in construction and associated cost over-runs for nuclear plant construction projects in Georgia and South Carolina. SCANA—owner of South Carolina Electric & Gas and sponsor of the VC Summer Nuclear Project—has just reported new delays in the in-service dates of its new reactors to 2020. Construction started more than 7 years ago, with energy deliveries promised to begin in 2016.
Past hopes for a "renaissance" in nuclear power in the U.S., with four to eight new nuclear plant facilities projected to come on line in America between 2016 and 2018, have been overwhelmed by competition. Union of Concerned Scientists predicted this trend in costs many times.
Great Solar News
Meanwhile, there is much to say about the solar boom. Just ask one of your 1,300,000 neighbors who have solar on their property.
To put these achievements in perspective, let's talk about solar jobs and productivity. The solar industry employs more than 260,000 people in the U.S. The continuous improvement in know-how in construction techniques and in manufacturing drives down solar deployment costs every three months. The pricing for new solar projects is coming in the range of 4 cents (Texas) to 5 cents (California) per kilowatthour.
In comparison with nuclear, the amount of solar power built in 2016, taking into account how many hours each can operate each day, is the equivalent of more than three new nuclear plants.
To dive in a little deeper: let's use a 25 percent capacity factor for new solar, making the 14,626 MW installed equivalent to 3,650 MW of theoretically perfectly running nuclear plants. The Westinghouse AP 1000 units under construction for the last seven to 10 years produce about 1,100 MW. So, in one year, solar additions were equal to what takes more than seven years to build. The difference in speed of deployment is why Union of Concerned Scientists is clear that nuclear power isn't a near-term climate solution.
The Demise of the Nuclear Option
In the energy business, nuclear is fading fast. Struggles to keep existing plants open in competitive markets are roiling the electricity markets. But the recent news about the very few manufacturing firms supplying nuclear construction illustrates how very different the nuclear industry is from solar.
Cost over-runs in the U.S. plants are so large that when state regulators finally put a cap on what South Carolina and Georgia consumers would pay, manufacturer Toshiba (owner of Westinghouse) found itself with $6 billion in losses and the likely end of its business in nuclear power plant construction.
The concentration of nuclear component manufacturing in so few companies has shown how a problem with quality led to a "single point of failure" plaguing the fleet of French nuclear plants. Policy in the U.S. has been to shield the utility companies from the risks of their business decisions to construct nuclear plants, continuing with the Vogtle plant in Georgia.
Would We Ever Go 100% Solar?
Would we ever build only solar? Maybe, but that's not the right question. "What can we do with lots of solar?" is a better one.
We can keep absorbing the solar pattern of production with the tools we have. We can plan to adjust to cheap energy in the middle of the day with time-varying rates. And if we can get energy storage further along, we can get to the end of this debate.
Santa Barbara Becomes First California City to Pass Resolution Against Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling
The Santa Barbara City Council approved a resolution Tuesday opposing new drilling off the California coast and fracking in existing offshore oil and gas wells. The resolution is the first in a new statewide campaign to rally local governments against proposals to expand offshore fossil fuel extraction in federal waters.
The vote—which makes Santa Barbara the first California city to oppose both fracking and new offshore drilling—follows President Trump's April 28 executive order urging federal agencies to expand oil and gas leasing in federal waters. The order could expose the Pacific Ocean to new oil leasing for the first time in more than 30 years.
Starting Wednesday, the vast majority of Americans can learn about every potentially harmful chemical in their drinking water and what scientists say are the safe levels of those contaminants. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) new national Tap Water Database is the most complete source available on the quality of U.S. drinking water, aggregating and analyzing data from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The organization has earned a reputation for ambitious data-mining research projects that shake up policy debates and consumer markets. EWG's online Farm Subsidy Database, listing millions of subsidy recipients, and its Skin Deep guide to more than 70,000 personal care products, draw tens of millions of visitors every year.
By Stacy Malkan
Ever since they classified the world's most widely used herbicide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," a team of international scientists at the World Health Organization's (WHO) cancer research group have been under withering attack by the agrichemical industry and its surrogates.
In a front-page series, The Monsanto Papers, the French newspaper Le Monde described the attacks as "the pesticide giant's war on science," and reported, "to save glyphosate, the firm [Monsanto] undertook to harm the United Nations agency against cancer by all means."
The lengthy report from the Energy and Policy Institute uses reams of archival documents to demonstrate that utility industry representatives knew as far back as 1968 that burning fossil fuels could trigger "catastrophic effects" on the climate.
By Sharon Kelly
The Pennsylvania's Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco Pipeline LP Tuesday to temporarily halt some types of work on a $2.5 billion pipeline project designed to carry 275,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquid fossil fuels from Ohio and West Virginia, across Pennsylvania, to the Atlantic coast.
On July 19, three environmental groups presented Judge Bernard Labuskes, Jr. with documentation showing that the project had caused dozens of drilling fluid spills and other accidents between April and mid-June.
By Andy Rowell
The UK has followed France in banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, as part of its plan to tackle chronic air pollution in cities. The government has been coming under intense pressure to act, with an estimated 40,000 people dying prematurely a year from air pollution.
By Colleen Curry
People traveling across America today can, if they're lucky, pitch a tent in the same exact spot that early American explorers and map-makers Lewis and Clark did, amid the jagged rocks and sweeping plains of the Upper Missouri River Breaks in central Montana.
Brent Rose, a journalist and filmmaker who has been traveling around the U.S. in a van for two years, was one of the lucky ones.
Kyara, a killer whale born at SeaWorld San Antonio just three months ago, died Monday at the park, as reported in this video from Newsy. Kyara is the last orca to be born in captivity under the SeaWorld breeding program, which shut down in 2016.
In a statement, SeaWorld said the cause of death was "likely pneumonia" and that "Kyara had faced some very serious and progressive health issues over the last week."