Thursday, April 21, 2022

Biden administration launches $6 billion giveaway to nuclear power plant operators

The Biden administration on Tuesday opened applications for a $6 billion program to help nuclear power plants struggling with rising costs as it seeks to stop the generators from shutting down under its goal of transitioning to clean energy.

The U.S. nuclear power industry's 93 reactors generate more than half of the country's carbon-free electricity, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). But 12 reactors have closed since 2013 in the face of competition from renewable energy and plants that burn plentiful natural gas.

In addition, safety costs have soared after the 2011 tsunami at Japan's Fukushima plant and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The industry produces toxic waste, currently stored on site at plants across 28 states.

The DOE said it will take applications from owners of nuclear plants for the first round of funding in its Civil Nuclear Credit Program until May 19. It will prioritize reactors that have already announced their intention to close. The program, intended for plants in states with competitive electricity markets, was funded by the infrastructure bill that passed last year.


Greenies want to regulate the seabed

The startup’s pitch was simple and cinematic:

The mining company would send large robots to explore the bottom of the ocean and harvest minerals millions of years old that could be used to make electric car batteries.

A promotional video showed a machine gliding over the seabed and DeepGreen Metals company executives in deep contemplation along a dramatic shoreline. A big selling point at a time the company was courting investors, though, was the man shown walking on a massive ship and speaking of the need to mine the ocean floor: the secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority, the United Nations-affiliated organization responsible for regulating ocean mining companies and preserving the deep sea.

Michael Lodge's appearance in the video struck now-former members of Lodge’s own staff — and scientists who warn of potentially catastrophic environmental fallout from the mining venture — as problematic. It raised concerns, they said, of a conflict of interest between industry, the authority and its secretariat, the 47-person administrative arm Lodge leads, at a crucial moment for the world’s oceans.

“Land-based resources are becoming increasingly difficult to access. We have taken the best resources already,” Lodge said in the 2018 video, as he peered at the computer screens on the DeepGreen vessel. He went on to let viewers know that his agency was on board with the company's quest, having greenlighted a 15-year “exploration” contract.

As Lodge’s organization works to draft regulations that will allow robots to mine the seabed on an industrial scale, internal documents reviewed by The Times point to a closeness with mining companies that stands out as unorthodox in environmental regulation.

“The ISA is not fit to regulate any activity in international waters,” said Sandor Mulsow, a marine geologist who served as the authority’s top environmental official for more than five years until 2019. “It is like to ask the wolf to take care of the sheep.”

The authority, which was established by a United Nations treaty but operates autonomously, is pushing to set up rules that could allow seabed mining in as soon as two years, despite calls from scientists and even some car companies for more research into the little-known ecosystems and the scale of damage that excavating the ocean floor could cause. A vast stretch of the Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico is set to be mined first, and Southern California ports would probably be a major base for some mining operations. 

This new frontier of the electric car supply chain operates by its own rules. Much of the International Seabed Authority’s key work is conducted out of sight from its members — 167 nations and the European Union. Australia, Mexico, Chile, Britain and at least five other member states have expressed growing concern that the authority isn’t requiring mining contractors to do enough environmental assessment. The organization is accused by some nongovernmental organizations and some of its own former employees of being too accommodating to the companies it regulates.

Its budget is small, at less than $10 million, but auditors and key ISA staff have raised concerns over the authority's financial controls. The staff is dispirited to the point that a management consultant in 2018 summarized the ISA in an internal email as “an unpleasant (and often toxic) place to be.” The consultant returned in 2019 to report morale had dropped further.

The International Seabed Authority, through a lawyer, disputed the findings of The Times’ investigation. It said the authority “consists of motivated, highly committed experts from more than 20 countries, working hard to fulfill the important mandate with which it has been entrusted.” Asked about the promotional video in which Lodge is shown, the ISA said he regularly interacts with stakeholders including member states and contractors and visits sites including research vessels, adding that “interactions reflect the proper and professional continuance” of the authority’s mission. “The ISA had little control over the use of the images captured by third parties.”

Lodge has publicly accused critics of the authority of misconstruing its work and overstating the potential impacts of mining. At a conference in June, he talked of “a growing environmental absolutism and dogmatism bordering on fanaticism.”

Earlier, he had pointedly dismissed concerns raised by scientists and nonprofits, telling the publication Economist Impact that the consequences of mining are “predictable and manageable.” “If you said that no industry can start until we know what is going to happen from that industry, then that’s an entirely circular argument that would prevent any industry in the history of humanity from starting,” Lodge said in the late 2019 interview.


British government plans to scrap green energy levies welcomed

Net Zero Watch has welcomed the government's intention to consider scrapping green energy levies on energy bills.

According to the Daily Telegraph, "government officials are examining whether the controversial levies – used to fund renewable energy subsidy schemes – could be phased out gradually or dropped altogether by the autumn when bills are expected to soar."

Green levies cost the UK economy about £11 billion a year in total, putting £150 a year on the average household electricity bill, and a further £250 per household on the annual cost of living, a total of £400 per household per year. The levies also depress wages and rates of employment.

Net Zero Watch and a long list of MPs have repeatedly called on ministers to remove these subsidies from energy bills to help reduce the mounting cost of living crisis.

Dr John Constable, Net Zero Watch director of energy, said:

"Given the high prices now available in the electricity markets it is evident that wind turbines, solar panels and biomass power stations no longer need any subsidies and should now be able to compete as pure merchant generators."

Putting renewables on a market basis would also help to reduce system operating costs, and prevent green generators subsidised under the Renewables Obligation from, as is increasingly suspected, taking both the very high market prices and the subsidies, thus generating hyper-profits.

Steve Baker MP said:

"In light of the deepening energy cost and cost of living crisis the government seems to be making gradual progress towards a more realistic energy policy. Making the public poorer and colder never seemed likely to survive contact with electors. We can only hope ministers now accelerate reforms to a policy which is socially, economically and politically viable."

Dr Benny Peiser, Net Zero Watch director said:

"It would appear that ministers are realising that billions in subsidies for renewable energy is no longer compatible with the cost of living crisis, threatening the welfare of tens of millions of households and undermining economic and political stability. The longer the Government delays terminating handouts for renewable energy investors the higher the economic and political cost for consumers, businesses and the government.

Press Release from Net Zero Watch.


Australian PM promises no mining and carbon taxes

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will attempt to wedge Labor on taxes and support for the mining industry in Western Australia as he tries to win over voters in the resource-rich state in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrison suffered his first major gaffe of the election campaign while on the hustings in Perth on Monday, incorrectly stating the rate of JobSeeker.

But he will shift the conversation to taxes in a speech to the WA Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, saying the government knows how to keep a lid on them.

“That’s why if the Coalition is returned at the forthcoming election, I can assure you there will be no mining tax,” Morrison is expected to say. “There will be no carbon tax. And there will be no adverse changes to fuel tax credit arrangements.”

The Coalition is at risk of losing up to three seats in the state, with Western Australians overwhelmingly backing their Labor premier Mark McGowan’s border closures during the pandemic which effectively cut them off from the rest of the country for two years.

The Coalition is expected to use previous comments from Anthony Albanese from as early as 2018 supporting a price on carbon and an emissions trading scheme to argue Labor cannot be trusted to make the same pledge.

Morrison will say that his government never takes the resources sector in WA for granted and that Australia needs to back its traditional strengths “from iron ore and gold to gas and coal”.

He will also promise to continue investing in critical minerals, mining regions and cutting-edge research and technologies.

“The resources sector has been and remains central to our economic plan that has led us through this crisis and setting our opportunities for the future,” Morrison is expected to say.

Geo-politically and economically, Australia have entered a period of renewed tension and turbulence in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Morrison will warn.

“On top of the economic fallout from the global pandemic, we now face the biggest energy and commodity price shock since the oil shock of the early 1970s,” he will say.

Morrison will say that critical shortages in energy have led to widespread increases in prices in recent months.

“While the economic consequences of Russia’s war of aggression are still playing out, sanctions applied to Russia are affecting commodity supply chains, and further sanctions are in prospect,” he will say.

“Commodity market dislocation and supply chain stresses have pushed up inflation around the world. Australia is not immune from these pressures.”

Morrison will pledge to “keep investing in mining regions”.

“Australians in our capital cities have long been the beneficiaries of visionary investments to develop the Pilbara, going back more than 50 years,” he will say.




No comments: