Monday, April 28, 2008

News From the Week of April 21, 2008

Geothermal Bounty Bubbles With Potential

Two Vermont Yankee Bills Advance

Going Solar Without Burning Family Budgets: Duke Energy Looks at a Way to Make Solar Energy Affordable for Many

EPRI Analysis Shows Energy Efficiency Can Curb Need for New Generation

Government to Release Proposed Fuel Economy Rules

Nuke Plant Near NYC Shuts Down

NY Reactor Restarted Again

U.S. Department of Energy Launches Website with Energy Saving Tips for Consumers

Energy Commission Approves New Energy Efficient Measures for California Homes and Businesses

Lawmakers Set to Pass Comprehensive Energy Bill

Energy Commission Approves New Energy Efficient Measures for California Homes and Businesses

US Government Scientists Complain About Political Pressure

SC Senate Gives Key Approval to Energy-Saving Incentives

Cost of Nuclear Plant Fuels Two-State Battle

Geothermal Bounty Bubbles With Potential
Apr 18 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Patty Henetz The Salt Lake

Geothermal energy is clean, runs 24 hours a day and could be providing millions of people with electricity in Utah and the West.

So what's the holdup?

Utah academics, officials and business representatives will make that question the center of a two-day meeting and field trip next week for utilities, municipalities, students, homeowners and anyone interested in the geothermal potential bubbling up from Utah's hot pots.

Geologists, utilities and entrepreneurs already believe Utah possesses some of the best geothermal reservoirs in the nation, resources that could generate 850 megawatts, enough to meet the needs of 2.6 million people. And as the price of coal, natural gas and oil continues to climb, geothermal is attracting more interest.

Cost, though, still is an issue, because "it takes time and exploration dollars" to decide where best to drill, said Dianne Nielson, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s energy policy adviser.

Big projects can cost $1 million to $2 million to develop and take three to five years to start operations, said Jason Berry, who runs the state Energy Program through the Utah Geological Survey. Further, tax credits and other incentives have been unreliable over the long term, he

But the financial and environmental future for conventional coal-fired energy is murky, too. That's why PacifiCorp is seeking to develop more geothermal energy than the 34 megawatts it generates at its Blundell plant in the Roosevelt hot springs area near Milford, said spokesman Jeff Hymas.

The Blundell generator was built in the mid-1980s and was the first geothermal plant constructed in the nation outside California, Hymas said. Even though the technology is carbon-free and California is willing to pay premium prices for the electricity, the cost-benefit remains shaky, he said.

"There's an inherent risk in developing geothermal resources," Hymas said. "Part of that is the large up-front capital cost."

The simplest way to use geothermal energy is to use steam for radiant heat. Both the Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain and Milgro Nurseries in Newcastle draw heat from geothermal fields. Even less-technical geothermal heat pumps employ piping in horizontal
or vertical trenches to pre-cool or preheat the air going into air conditioners and furnaces, increasing appliance efficiency by 70 percent to 90 percent.

Large geothermal power plants pull hot water and steam from the ground, use the steam to drive turbines to create electricity, then return water to the ground. Plants also can use relatively low-heat "binary" geothermal technology by passing the hot water through a heat exchanger to boil a fluid such as isobutane at lower temperatures than water to create

Raser Technologies, a Provo company, is just starting on its third small project using the binary system in a kind of prefab plant to profit on Utah's largely untapped geothermal resources, 10 megawatts at a time.

Although Raser wouldn't mind getting tax credits and incentives, "we think these projects are profitable in themselves," said company spokesman Richard Putnam.

The company expects its first plant to start generating electricity in the Escalante Desert by the end of this year, said Putnam. The three plants would generate enough power for about 90,000 people.


Two Vermont Yankee Bills Advance
MONTPELIER, Vt. (The Associated Press) - Apr 18 - By DAVE GRAM Associated
Press Writer

Vermont Yankee's team of lobbyists lost two rounds in separate legislative committee rooms Friday.

By a party-line, 7-4 vote, the House Commerce Committee approved a bill that would require the Vernon reactor's owner, Entergy Nuclear, to guarantee full funding for the plant's eventual dismantling before it goes ahead with a corporate restructuring.

Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed a bill to require a special, independent inspection of the 36-year-old nuclear plant before the Legislature decides whether to allow it to extend its operating license for 20 years past its 2012 expiration date.

The bills are widely seen as among a series of opening salvos this year as lawmakers prepare for next year's debate on the license extension. Vermont is unique among states in that under state law the Legislature has veto power over the license extension. Other states leave such decisions to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The decommissioning bill would require the state panel that regulates utilities, the Public Service Board, to certify that Entergy had guaranteed full funding of the decommissioning fund before Vermont Yankee is included in a group of nuclear plants the company plans to spin off into a new, separate corporation.

Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier and chairman of the Commerce Committee, said in an interview that "in the past, Vermont Yankee was owned by a company with hundreds of billions of dollars of assets. But they want to insulate themselves by passing ownership to a small and highly leveraged company."

Opponents criticized the bill as imposing a new cost on Entergy that could be as much as $400 million. The plant has about $425 million in the fund, down from $439 million last year due to turmoil in the financial markets. Costs of decommissioning are currently estimated to be closer to $800 million.

Critics also maintained that because Entergy's corporate reorganization is currently before the Public Service Board, passing legislation on the topic amounted to undue interference in a quasi-judicial process.

The committee's approval of the bill came after it defeated an amendment that would have merely recommended to the Public Service Board that it consider the adequacy of the decommissioning fund as it reviews the reorganization. That also was defeated on a 7-4 party-line vote, with majority Democrats in opposing the amendment and supporting the underlying bill.

"I very much like my job and I know that my leadership will be disappointed if we amend the bill," Kitzmiller told his committee colleagues.

Entergy lobbyist Gerard Morris later called that an "outrageous" admission of improper influence over a lawmaker.

Kitzmiller said he saw nothing unusual in it. "Gerry's paid to make a stink," he said of Morris.

Kenneth Theobalds, vice president of government affairs at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, said in an interview that the financing involved in the reorganization would make the Vermont Yankee decommissioning fund stronger.

Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources an Energy Committee's bill followed similar Senate action calling for an independent review of Vermont Yankee's plant systems, but appeared to steer that process toward more independence from the NRC.

It would set up a special five-member oversight panel, which would be reported to by a technical team that would do hands-on inspections of eight different plant systems at Vermont Yankee.


Going Solar Without Burning Family Budgets: Duke Energy Looks at a Way to
Make Solar Energy Affordable for Many

Apr 19 - The News & Observer

For decades, the biggest obstacle to adopting solar energy on a large scale has been the huge upfront cost.

Paying for the technology can exceed the price of a luxury automobile, putting solar power out of budgetary reach for most homeowners.

Solar advocates increasingly think that the challenge is no longer a question of technical feasibility, but rather a financial riddle that must be solved to unlock solar's potential to contribute meaningfully to the nation's energy mix.

The solar industry, encouraged by government policies that require public utilities to use more renewable energy, is working on a financing breakthrough.

In North Carolina, Duke Energy is developing a plan that could outfit thousands of homes and businesses with solar panels that would require little or no upfront expense from property owners. That's a welcome alternative to the usual expense: Buying a solar power unit could set a household back $50,000 for the photovoltaic panels required to tap sunlight as an energy source.

Even with federal and state tax credits that can cut the cost of a solar unit by about 65 percent and a subsidy from the state's N.C. GreenPower program, it could take two decades to pay off a system and break even, an unreasonable time span for most people.

The payback can take longer in North Carolina, where solar power competes against some of the nation's cheapest electric rates. One recent financing innovation steals a page directly from the
utility playbook.

The arrangement is gaining popularity in California and other states, where private solar installers own the solar panels on a customer's rooftop and sell the power to the property owner, bypassing the local electric utility.

The solar panels are in essence a rooftop power plant scaled to serve a single customer. The customer contracts to buy 20 years of electricity at a set price, hedging against future price increases.

SunEdison of Baltimore offers contracts with zero upfront costs, primarily in California. The company typically matches or beats the utility rates in other states, said Jigar Shah, SunEdison's chief strategy officer. "The other benefit is that the customer gets to lock in electricity
rates for 20 years," Shah said.

Such private contracts are not allowed in North Carolina, where electric utilities hold monopolies over power sales. Electric utilities could offer such programs to their customers, and Duke is studying a variant of this approach.

Duke expects to present its solar proposal this year to state regulators. The details haven't been worked out, but one possibility is that Duke would cover the cost of installing the solar panels on customers' rooftops. Customers could be rewarded with a discount on their electricity

"We are uniquely positioned to deliver something like this," Duke spokesman Tom Williams said. "One concept we're looking at is putting solar panels on rooftops -- installing them, maintaining them and operating them as we would a power plant."

If these financing models prove successful, some predict that public demand will increase for solar energy, reducing the need to build nuclear power plants and coal-burning power plants. They also would help Duke meet a state requirement to tap renewable resources to generate electricity.

Unlike states with deregulated power markets, North Carolina does not allow private energy companies to sell electricity to homes and businesses.

In California, by contrast, small private solar energy companies compete directly with public utilities. But in North Carolina, where utilities operate as a monopoly, innovative financing breakthroughs will have to be worked out by public utilities.

North Carolina power companies are required to buy electricity generated by independent producers, but the utilities typically pay a wholesale rate for that power -- not enough to cover the operating costs of a solar power generator.

Independent generators have made up the shortfall with state and federal tax credits. Many also collect supplemental payments from N.C. GreenPower, a nonprofit organization in Raleigh.

Some homeowners with solar panels choose not to sell the power to a utility, and instead use the power themselves, striving to achieve energy self-reliance.

They supplement their energy needs with utility power as necessary. For many of these homeowners, the motivation for solar is more about environmental concerns than economics.

But for solar to break into the mainstream in this state, it will have to be converted from an esoteric hobby to a financially sound energy solution.

"Solar has great potential in the Carolinas, but it's too expensive," Duke spokesman Williams said. "It's come a long way, and we're very open to it." or (919) 829-8932


EPRI Analysis Shows Energy Efficiency Can Curb Need for New Generation

Energy efficiency improvements in the U.S. electric power sector could reduce the need for new electric generation by an additional 7 to 11 percent more than currently projected over the next two decades if key barriers can be addressed, according to a preliminary analysis of potential energy savings released today.

The analysis comes at a time when utilities, regulators, and policymakers are aggressively seeking ways to meet growing electricity demand, while reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. economy. The key challenge is to maximize potential gains in energy efficiency, while
ensuring adequate new electric generation to maintain reliability and meet future demand.

The draft findings were presented by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) during an Edison Foundation conference, Keeping the Lights On: Our National Challenge, which examines strategies to meet the growing demand for electricity which is expected to soar 30 percent by 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That demand growth projection would be even higher without the implementation of existing building codes, appliance standards and market-driven consumer incentives, which will shave electricity consumption by 23 percent, according to the EPRI-EEI study. However, additional
efficiency gains could be achieved only by overcoming major market, regulatory and consumer barriers, the analysis found.

"This study demonstrates the potential of energy efficiency to offsetsome of the projected need for new electric generation as cutting-edge technologies become available and are adopted," said Dr. Michael Howard, senior vice president at EPRI. "We think a 7-percent efficiency improvement is realistic - and gains of 11 percent or more are technologically feasible - depending on the degree to which various obstacles can be overcome."

Essential steps include increased consumer education; adoption and enforcement of aggressive building codes and appliance standards; creation of utility business models that promote increased efficiency within the power sector; and adoption of electricity pricing policies that more accurately reflect the cost of providing electricity to consumers - and give them the information they need to use it wisely.

Diane Munns, executive director at EEI, said the power sector will seek the greatest efficiency gains possible, but cautioned that this will be no easy task and that utilities still must plan for substantial new generation and transmission to assure reliability.

"Achieving efficiency improvements going significantly beyond those already in the pipeline will be a major undertaking," Munns said. "No matter how you slice it, we'll have to build significant new generation to ensure that we meet demand. The greater gains we make in energy efficiency, the better off everyone will be, because we'll have more cost-effective options
for serving our customers," she said. "But if we overestimate what can be accomplished, we could find ourselves without an adequate supply of electricity to meet consumer needs."

Optimal electricity savings can be achieved only if the best available technologies are deployed throughout the U.S. economy, EPRI and EEI said. Much of the research involved in realizing more efficiency is being conducted by EPRI at its Living Laboratory for Energy Efficiency in
Knoxville, Tenn.

EPRI's programs and collaborations that evaluate cutting-edge technologies have identified numerous opportunities to markedly improve energy efficiency through use of "smart" and highly efficient electrical devices. For example, direct energy feedback devices, such as household thermostats that respond automatically to electricity price or demand
signals, can cut energy use and save customers money.

At the same time, consumers' ever-increasing appetite for electricity-hungry devices - even with continuing efficiency improvements - will keep electricity demand on a steady upward trajectory. A 42-inch plasma television consumes two and a half times more energy (250 watts) than a standard 27-inch TV (100 watts). And while many large household appliances
have become more efficient over the years, many smaller devices have not. Two 30-watt set-top television boxes, for example, may consume as much electricity as a large refrigerator.

"While electricity rates will rise due to increasing across-the-board costs of producing electricity, energy efficiency improvements can help reduce some of these costs to consumers," Munns said. "To maximize utility investment in efficiency programs, energy efficiency must be treated as an energy resource on par with new generation."

"We are making remarkable technological advances in the area of efficiency," Howard said. "The question is how much more can we achieve? The key will be finding the will to fully demonstrate and adopt both currently available and emerging, hyper-efficient electric technologies."

Copies of the EPRI-EEI presentation are available on the Edison Foundation's Web site,


Government to Release Proposed Fuel Economy Rules
WASHINGTON (The Associated Press) - Apr 21 - By KEN THOMAS Associated Press

The government on Tuesday plans to release a proposal to raise fuel efficiency standards for new cars and trucks, putting the nation's fleet on track to reach 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Transportation Department Secretary Mary Peters was making the Earth Day announcement in Washington, responding to a new energy law pushed by Congress last year and signed by President Bush.

Congress sought tougher standards requiring the nation's fleet of new vehicles to increase its efficiency by 10 mpg from its current average of 25 mpg, or a 40 percent increase. The new law represented the first major changes to the auto mileage rules in three decades.

The proposal will set fuel economy standards from 2011 to 2015 and are expected to be finalized before the end of the Bush administration. A Transportation spokesman declined comment on the plan.

The fleet of new passenger cars is currently required to meet a 27.5 mpg average, while sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans need to hit a target of 22.5 mpg.

Members of Congress and environmental groups have pushed for higher standards, arguing that requiring vehicles to become more efficient would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the nation's dependence upon imported oil.

Democrats have said the fuel economy requirements will save motorists $700 to $1,000 a year in fuel costs and reduce oil demand by 1.1 million barrels a day when the more fuel-efficient vehicles are in wide use on the road.

Automakers opposed increases to the regulation in previous years, but supported a compromise version of the legislation amid rising gasoline prices and concerns about global warming. The new law is expected to push the auto industry to build more gas-electric hybrid cars, trucks and SUVs running on diesel and advances such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.


Nuke Plant Near NYC Shuts Down
BUCHANAN, N.Y. (The Associated Press) - Apr 21

Officials say New York's Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant has been shut down because operators noticed water levels dropping in the steam generator.

The plant, located in New York City's northern suburbs, had to be shut down manually just as it was powering up from a 26-day outage for refueling and maintenance.

Neil Sheehan of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the plant is stable.

A spokeswoman for plant owner Entergy Nuclear, Robyn Bentley, says the shutdown worked the way it was supposed to. The companion plant, Indian Point 3, is operating normally.

Entergy is applying for new 20-year licenses for both plants. Opponents, who want them closed, claim they are unsafe and a terrorist target.


NY Reactor Restarted Again
BUCHANAN, N.Y. (The Associated Press) - Apr 22

Workers at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant in the New York City suburbs are trying again to get it up to full power.

The reactor was restarted Monday after a 26-day outage for refueling and maintenance, but had to be shut down within a few hours because of a problem involving water levels in the steam generator.

It was restarted again Tuesday morning after a faulty circuit was replaced, owner Entergy Nuclear said.


U.S. Department of Energy Launches Website with Energy Saving Tips for

Apr 22, 2008 -- Energy Department Documents and Publications/ContentWorks

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today launched a new internet feature which provides tips to consumers on how to make everyday Earth Day by making smart energy choices to save money while protecting the environment. The interactive web page, at, shows consumers steps to use less energy with household electronics, lighting, and appliances to save on monthly bills and how to avoid wasting energy by improving the energy efficiency of their homes and cars.

The site also features the Department's work to develop cleaner, more affordable, diverse, reliable and sustainable energy sources supporting the President's goal to stop the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 while meeting increasing energy demands. DOE and its seventeen world class National Laboratories, in partnership with private industry and
universities, perform cutting-edge research to meet these challenges, developing innovative energy solutions in areas such as cellulosic biofuels, solar, geothermal, nuclear, and clean coal power. Other areas of emphasis highlighted include DOE's work to make a smart and efficient electric transmission grid, make homes, buildings and industrial sites more energy efficient, and reduce dependence on oil with Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles and hydrogen-powered cars.


Lawmakers Set to Pass Comprehensive Energy Bill
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The Associated Press) - Apr 23 - By DAVID FISCHER
Associated Press Writer

Florida could soon have an energy policy that lawmakers and others say would make the state a national leader in clean energy.

Similar bills nearing passage in the House and Senate would promote renewable sources of energy, as well as ways to use less power. A major provision would begin planning for a program that would require polluters to pay for the carbon emissions they produce.

Other provisions would strengthen green building codes and energy efficiency standards for appliances. The proposal also would set new goals for recycling and require gasoline sold in the state to contain more ethanol, a renewable source of fuel.

"Any one of these issues would have been difficult to fathom just two years ago," said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who has been a strong proponent of the legislation.

He attributes the legislation's success to a shift in attitudes toward clean energy and climate change issues as well as support from Gov. Charlie Crist, who has made addressing both a priority. Many provisions in the energy bill are also based on recommendations from the Florida Energy Commission, which was created by the Legislature two years ago and released its report in January.

While states like California and New York have led their parts of the country in promoting clean energy and fighting climate change, the South has been underrepresented in that effort, said Susan Glickman, a spokeswoman for the The Climate Group, an international nonprofit organization that promotes clean energy. The proposed legislation would give Florida a chance to be a regional and national leader, she said.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 1544) was to be discussed in the Legislature on Wednesday but that discussion was temporarily postponed. Senate and House versions of the bill are nearly identical, but staff members still have a few details to work out, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples. The House bill (HB 7135) could make it to the floor of that chamber by Friday, said Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who chairs the Environment & Natural Resources Council. If that happens, the Senate should be able to pass its bill by early next week, Saunders said.

The energy bill addresses a wide range of topics:


Much of the legislation would focus on changes to the ways utilities are regulated. It would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules for an emissions trading program to address green house gasses released by electric utilities. The department would be allowed to set limits for emissions allowed by utilities and require the companies to buy carbon credits when they exceed those limits, offsetting those emissions.

When developing standards for Florida, DEP Secretary Mike Sole said his department has several models to look at in the country and around the world.

The bill also would lower emissions by simplifying the approval process for nuclear power plants, which produce fewer emissions compared to coal-burning plants. Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida both have plans for nuclear power plants, but even with the changes to the process, it would still take more than a decade for any of the plants to be completed.


Under the bill, utilities may be required to have a certain percentage of the energy they sell come from renewable sources. The bill would authorize the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates the state's private utility companies, to adopt a renewable energy rule.

Utility customers would also be encouraged to generate renewable energy. Customers who generate more electricity than they need through solar panels or other devices could get credit for that extra power by sending it back out to the power grid. The bill also would create a property tax exemption for such devices, which would otherwise increase the taxable value of a person's home.


The bill would address energy conservation by requiring new homes and businesses to be more energy efficient. It also would require appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners to use less energy. The state would take the lead in this efficiency effort by requiring that all new construction and renovation of state agency buildings meet increased energy standards. Local governments would have to address improving air quality and reducing energy consumption in their long-term planning.

The bill also requires utility regulators the change the way they evaluate energy efficiency programs. The change would allow utility companies to increase rates to pay for efficiency programs, such as giving away compact fluorescent light bulbs and providing rebates to customers who improve their heating and air conditioning systems. Although rates would increase, customers who participate in the programs would save money by using less energy.


The bill would address emissions from automobiles by creating renewable fuel standards that would require all gasoline sold in Florida to contain at least 10 percent ethanol by 2011. This would decrease the state's dependecy on foreign fossil fuels and make up the difference with a renewable fuel.

The bill also would create an incentive for people to purchase hybrid vehicles by allowing them to travel in car pool lanes, regardless of how many passengers are in the car.

Although not in the energy bill, the governor has also directed the Department of Environmental Protection to look at California's clean tailpipe standards, which set limits for the amount of emissions vehicles can produce.


The bill would consolidate the state's climate change and clean energy efforts and create a single commission to address those issues. The newly-created Florida Energy and Climate Commission would take the lead in setting energy policy for the state and bring the functions of existing boards and departments into a single group.

The commission's responsibilities would include administering grants for groups that develop renewable energy, setting goals for utility regulators and advocating for energy and climate change issues. It also would oversee a new consortium of five state universities that would work on developing alternative energy. The consortium's specific goals would include preparing students to work in emerging energy fields and determining ways to make the new technologies profitable.


Energy Commission Approves New Energy Efficient Measures for California Homes and Businesses
Sacramento -- 4/23/08

The California Energy Commission today announced dozens of new energy efficiency building standards for new construction that will save consumers money and reduce energy consumption.

"These new standards demonstrate that California is serious about energy efficiency," said Energy Commission Chairman Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. "These standards will help consumers reduce their monthly energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving the codes used in residential and business construction in California," she added.

The 2008 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, also known as Title 24, regulates construction of residential and nonresidential buildings. The new standards have been updated to include new code regulations for lighting; windows; roofing; skylights; swimming pool and spa equipment; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and controls; and the New Solar Homes Partnership.

High performance windows in new homes will now be required to be more resistant to heat and better insulated. Additionally, several changes make heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems more efficient for homes and businesses.

"Cool roof" standards have also been upgraded to include residential and nonresidential buildings. "Cool roofs" are highly reflective, insulated roofing materials that stay up to 40 degrees cooler than a normal roof under a hot summer sun. "Cool roof" standards are designed to reduce air conditioner demand, save money, and reduce the urban heat island effect. A "cool roof" can reduce a homeowner's electricity consumption by as much as 20 percent.

Efficient lighting in both residential and nonresidential applications is a key improvement of the latest standards. Expanded use of skylights in these standards is evident in large nonresidential buildings. For example, the requirement to install skylights in commercial warehouses larger than 25,000 square feet has been changed to include warehouses starting at 8,000 square feet. As a result, businesses will use more natural daylight and save electricity costs.

Many of the changes in the standards are tailored to help reduce not only overall energy use, but peak energy use - electricity demand on hot summer days when air conditioning loads can cause California's need for power to nearly double. The latest efficiency standards will cut California's peak energy demand by 129 megawatts the first year the standards are in effect and increase cumulatively in subsequent years.

The standards have support from many sectors. According to Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Noah Horowitz, "By 2013, the new building code will save as much energy as a large (500 megawatt) power plant. These advanced performance standards place California on course to meet its future energy needs and help achieve its ambitious global warming reduction goals." Horowitz added, "Through these upgrades, California once again demonstrates its dedicated environmental leadership by having one of the most advanced building energy codes in the world."

For more information on the 2008 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, visit the Energy Commission's website:

For more information:


US Government Scientists Complain About Political Pressure
WASHINGTON (The Associated Press) - Apr 23 - By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated
Press Writer

Hundreds of U.S. government scientists complain they have been victims of political interference and pressure from superiors to skew their findings, according to a survey released Wednesday by an advocacy group.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said that more than half of the nearly 1,600 Environmental Protection Agency staff scientists who responded online to a detailed questionnaire reported they had experienced incidents of political interference in their work.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar on Wednesday attributed some of the discontent to the "passion" scientists have toward their work. He said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, as a longtime career scientist at the EPA himself, "weighs heavily the science given to him by the staff in making policy decisions."

But Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program, said the survey results revealed "an agency in crisis" with low morale, especially among scientists involved in risk assessment and drawing up regulations.

"The investigation shows researchers are generally continuing to do their work, but their scientific findings are tossed aside when it comes time to write regulations," said Grifo.

The group sent an online questionnaire to 5,500 EPA scientists and received 1,586 responses, a majority of them senior scientists who have worked for the agency for 10 years or more. The survey included chemists, toxicologists, engineers, geologists and experts in the life and environmental sciences.

The report said that 60 percent of those responding, or 889 scientists, reported personally experiencing what they viewed as political interference in their work over the last five years. Four in 10 scientists who have worked at the agency for more than a decade said they believe such interference has been more prevalent in the last five years than the previous five years.

Timothy Donaghy, one of the report's co-authors, acknowledged that a large number of scientists did not respond to the survey and said the findings should not be viewed as a random sample of EPA scientists.

Nevertheless, said Donaghy, "we have hundreds of scientists saying there is a problem" with assuring scientific integrity within the federal government's principal environmental regulatory agency.

Asked to respond to the survey, Shradar, the EPA spokesman, said, "We have the best scientists in the world at EPA."

The EPA has been under fire from members of Congress on a number of fronts including its delay in determining whether carbon dioxide should be regulated to combat global warming. Johnson also has been criticized for rejecting recommendations from science advisory boards on a number of air pollution issues including control of mercury from power plants and how much to reduce smog pollution.


SC Senate Gives Key Approval to Energy-Saving Incentives
COLUMBIA, S.C. (The Associated Press) - Apr 24

South Carolina residents would get tax breaks when they buy energy-efficient appliances and manufactured homes under legislation that has won key approval in the Senate.

One bill eliminates sales taxes beginning in 2009 during October, a month when groups encourage energy conservation.

A second proposal increases a tax rebate to people buying energy-efficient manufactured houses to $750 if the structures meet federal Energy Star requirements. A current energy-efficiency incentive limits the break to $300.

A third bill requires replacing incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lights by July 2011 in government buildings. That proposal also says agencies have to set a goal for cutting energy demands by 20 percent by 2020.


Cost of Nuclear Plant Fuels Two-State Battle
Apr 24 - The News & Observer

As the fight over nuclear energy shifts from safety to cost, timing the public release of the multibillion-dollar expense takes on an increasingly strategic value to both sides.

The estimated cost of new nuclear power plants has tripled in the past few years, with projections now hitting $6 billion to $9 billion per reactor. Cost estimates are expected to continue escalating. Soaring costs make the prospect of new nuclear power even harder to sell to a public that will ultimately pay for new plants through rate increases.

Nuclear critics are homing in on the staggering costs to lobby their case. It helps the opponents to have a dollar figure to object to, but electric utilities are reluctant to cooperate.

Nuclear opponents are trying to force Duke Energy of Charlotte to disclose the projected cost of a proposed nuclear plant in Cherokee County, S.C., that would serve the Carolinas. The groups have asked officials in both states to require that Duke disclose the estimate. South Carolina regulators are expected to rule on the request today. North Carolina regulators could decide as early as Tuesday.

"If you want the ratepayers to pay for something, are you going to tell them it's none of their business?" said C. Dukes Scott, South Carolina's consumer advocate, who represents the public in utility rate cases.

Scott agrees with anti-nuclear groups that the cost estimate should be made public.

Duke will have to reveal the project cost when it seeks a permit in South Carolina, but such a disclosure may be a year away. Nuclear opponents say the public shouldn't have to wait that long for vital information about such an important decision.

The cost estimates are available to state regulators, public officials and lawyers, as long as they sign confidentiality agreements.

Duke is still negotiating with vendors and contractors, contending that its cost estimates are proprietary and sensitive.

North Carolina's consumer advocate, Public Staff, agrees with Duke that the cost estimate qualifies as a trade secret under North Carolina law.

Releasing the company's preliminary cost projections could undermine Duke's negotiating leverage and ultimately hurt customers, it says.

"Our whole effort here is trying to get the best cost for our customers," Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. "The people who have intervened in this case are doing anything and everything they can to harm this project."

Nuclear opponents want the utilities to develop alternative energy and efficiency programs and rely on the construction of a power plant as a last resort. The state's utilities maintain that new power plants are needed to meet this region's growing demand for energy.

Nuclear critics insist that a ballooning price hurts the case for new nuclear plants and that cost revisions over time undermine a utility's credibility.

"The thing is just replete with uncertainty and risk on every front," said Jim Warren, director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, a Durham organization that opposes nuclear plants. "There's a lot of denial. They'd like to think they've got this thing nailed down."

Progress Energy won't reveal cost estimates for nuclear reactors proposed for its Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County, where the Raleigh utility operates one reactor.

The company was required by Florida law to disclose the cost of proposed reactors in that state, revealing that each reactor would cost about $7 billion.

But Progress Energy warned that the estimate is preliminary and likely to increase. Residential utility bills in Florida could increase by as much as $25 a month to pay for the plant.

Duke is being challenged to disclose nuclear costs under new laws in North Carolina and South Carolina that allow utilities to start paying debt on power plants before the plants are built -- even if the projects are abandoned.

Duke isn't applying to raise customer rates now, but the company is asking regulators in both states for the green light to spend about $230 million in development costs as the company keeps its nuclear option open. Those costs include preparing an application for a federal nuclear license, federal regulatory fees, site evaluation, land and rights of way purchases, demolition and site preparation, and detailed engineering.

The nuclear reactors that Progress is planning in Florida -- the Westinghouse AP 1000 model -- are the same technology that Progress has proposed for the Shearon Harris site and Duke has proposed for Cherokee County, southwest of Charlotte.

Duke's 1.8 million customers in North Carolina would use most of the electricity generated by the proposed plant and would pay for about 70 percent of the cost of the project.

In February, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers told South Carolina regulators that the Cherokee County plant would cost $6 billion to $8 billion, but the company now says that estimate is dated and inaccurate.

Scott, the South Carolina consumer advocate, said that he supports Duke's nuclear plans but that he wants the company to keep the public in the know.

"If the cost wasn't confidential in February," Scott said, "how is it confidential in April?"


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