Tuesday, May 6, 2008

News From the Week of April 28, 2008

GoSolarCalifornia.org Web Site Re-Launched

Environmental Group Says It's Suing Detroit Edison

White House Undermines EPA On Cancer Risks, GAO Says

Decision On Nuclear Waste Disposal Delayed

SC Senate Gives Key Approval To Energy-Saving Incentives

Geothermal Utopia Gaining Steam in Utah

Senate Passes Energy Bill

Nuclear Inspectors Visit Oconee Station After Vibrations

Italy's Waste Is Called Too Hot For Utah

Former Nuke Plant Worker Gets Probation For Hiding Damage

GoSolarCalifornia Web Site Re-Launched
- Internet Portal Makes It Even Easier To Learn About Solar Energy
SACRAMENTO - 4/28/08

The California Energy Commission today re-launched www.GoSolarCalifornia.org, an online resource to help residents learn more about the benefits of new solar and energy efficient homes. The site will also serve as an information resource for home builders interested in developing new solar home communities.

"The Energy Commission is pleased to offer this site which will provide homebuyers with comprehensive information and the resources necessary to make wise choices about new solar and energy efficient homes," said California Energy Commission Chairman Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. "In addition to encouraging consumer interest in solar, the website will help us to educate home builders, local planning officials, and other interested stakeholders, while facilitating the growth of green communities."

GoSolarCalifornia.org and the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP), are components of the statewide solar program known as the California Solar Initiative. The NSHP provides financial incentives and other support to home builders, encouraging the construction of new, energy efficient solar homes that save homeowners money on their electric bills and help protect the environment. The goals of the NSHP are to create a self-sustaining market for solar homes within 10 years and gain builder commitment in constructing 100 percent solar, energy efficient communities.

The Energy Commission is working with builders and developers to incorporate high levels of energy efficiency and high-performing solar systems to help create a self-sustaining solar market. As part of this effort, the Energy Commission has also developed a builder tool kit that is available on the new site.

Research aimed at consumers, home builders and business owners shows that the majority of new and potential home buyers in California are looking for energy efficient options when purchasing a new home. Additionally, California is increasingly looking to develop communities using smart growth strategies. Building highly energy efficient solar homes are an important step toward reaching the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals and the www.GoSolarCalifornia.org site will serve as a valuable information tool to help guide smart decisions.

About the New Solar Homes Partnership:

The New Solar Homes Partnership is a component of the California Solar Initiative, signed into law in 2006 under Senate Bill 1 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Through financial incentives, the partnership encourages builders to install solar energy systems on new homes as a standard feature for the home buyer. A new home that qualifies for the New Solar Homes Partnership will be at least 15 percent more efficient than the current energy efficiency standards. Beginning in 2011, builders in California will be required to offer solar as a standard feature in new home developments of 50 or more.

For updates about the New Solar Homes Partnership and a copy of the guidebook, visit the Go Solar California Web site at:

For more information: http://www.gosolarcalifornia.org


Former Nuke Plant Worker Gets Probation For Hiding Damage

Environmental Group Says It's Suing Detroit Edison

WINDSOR, Ontario (The Associated Press) - Apr 28

Mercury discharges into the Detroit River are causing cancer, amount to "child abuse" and are damaging the quality of life in this border city, American environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. said Sunday.

Kennedy made the comments in announcing that his Riverkeeper group has launched a Canadian lawsuit against Detroit Edison Co. over discharges from one of the utility's two power plants in Detroit.

High rates of cancer - especially of the thyroid - in Windsor could be traced to the river pollution, Kennedy said.

"That's assault and battery, and worse because you can die from it," he said. "What's the difference if you die from a brain tumor or if you die from a bullet? There's no difference."

The lawsuit under the Canadian Fisheries Act accuses the utility of illegal discharges of mercury into the Detroit River, Kennedy said.

The son of the late U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy did not say where or when the suit had been launched.

A spokeswoman from Detroit Edison's parent company DTE Energy Co. would not comment on ongoing or pending litigation but said she was baffled to hear about the lawsuit.

Lorie Kessler said Detroit Edison was spending $1 billion on equipment to reduce mercury emissions by 2010. She also said the utility is working with the state of Michigan to develop legislation to achieve even further cuts to emissions.

Riverkeeper is based in Tarrytown, N.Y., but Kennedy said there is precedent for cross-border lawsuits over environmental conditions.

In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency successfully sued Teck Cominico over chemical discharges into the Columbia River at its lead and zinc smelting plant in Trail, B.C. That suit argued the discharge was creating pollution in neighboring Washington state.


White House Undermines EPA On Cancer Risks, GAO Says
Apr 28 - Associated Press

The Bush administration is undermining the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to determine health dangers of toxic chemicals by letting nonscientists have a bigger - often secret - say, congressional investigators say in a report obtained by The Associated Press.

The administration's decision to give the Defense Department and other agencies an early role in the process adds to years of delay in acting on harmful chemicals and jeopardizes the program's credibility, the Government Accountability Office concluded.

At issue is the EPA's screening of chemicals used in everything from household products to rocket fuel to determine if they pose serious risk of cancer or other illnesses.

A new review process begun by the White House in 2004 is adding more speed bumps for EPA scientists, the GAO said in its report, which will be the subject of a Senate Environment Committee hearing Tuesday. A formal policy effectively doubling the number of steps was adopted two weeks ago.

Cancer risk assessments for nearly a dozen major chemicals are now years overdue, the GAO said, blaming the new multiagency reviews for some of the delay. The EPA, for example, had promised to prepare assessments on 10 major toxic chemicals for external peer review by the end of 2007, but only two reached that stage.

GAO investigators said extensive involvement by EPA managers, White House budget officials and other agencies has eroded the independence of EPA scientists charged with determining the health risks posed by chemicals.

The Pentagon, the Energy Department, NASA and other agencies - all of which could be severely affected by EPA risk findings - are being allowed to participate "at almost every step in the assessment process," said the GAO.

Those agencies, their private contractors and manufacturers of the chemicals face restrictions and major cleanup requirements, depending on the EPA's scientific determinations.

"By law the EPA must protect our families from dangerous chemicals," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Senate committee's chairman. "Instead, they're protecting the chemical companies."

The EPA's risk assessment process "never was perfect," Boxer said in an interview Monday. "But at least it put the scientists up front. Now the scientists are being shunted aside."

The GAO said many of the deliberations over risks posed by specific chemicals "occur in what amounts to a black box" of secrecy because the White House claims they are private executive branch deliberations.

Such secrecy "reduces the credibility of the ... assessments and hinders the EPA's ability to manage them," the GAO report said.

The White House said the GAO is wrong in suggesting that the EPA has lost control in assessing the health risks posed by toxic chemicals.

"Only EPA has the authority to finalize an EPA assessment," Kevin F. Neyland, deputy administrator of the White House budget office's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote in response to the GAO. He called
the interagency process "a dialogue that helps to ensure the quality" of the reviews.

One EPA scientist with extensive knowledge of the changes in the agency's risk assessment policies ridiculed the claim that the EPA still has the final say.

"Unless there is concurrence by other agencies, ... things don't go forward. It means we stop what we are doing," said the scientist, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of endangering his career.

"The (EPA) scientists feel as if they have lost complete control of the process, that it's been taken over by the White House and that they're calling the shots," the scientist said.

The GAO investigation focused on the EPA's computerized database, known as IRIS - the Integrated Risk Information System. It contains data on the human health effects of exposure to some 540 toxic chemicals in the environment. New chemicals are being proposed constantly for inclusion under a complicated assessment process that can take five years or more.

After years of stops and starts, the GAO said, the EPA has yet to determine carcinogen risks for a number of major chemicals such as:

-Naphthalene, a chemical used in rocket fuel as well as in manufacturing commercial products such as mothballs, dyes and insecticides.

-Trichloroethylene, or TCE, a widely used industrial degreasing agent.

-Perchloroethylene, or "perc," a chemical used in dry cleaning, metal degreasing and making chemical products.

-Formaldehyde, a colorless, flammable gas used to making building materials.

Environmentalists say these chemicals have been widely found at military bases and Superfund sites and in soil, lakes, streams and groundwater.

The findings, after an 18-month investigation by the congressional watchdog agency, come at a time of growing criticism from members of Congress and health and environmental advocates over alleged political interference in the government's science activities.

Last week, a confidential survey by an advocacy group of EPA scientists showed more than half of the 1,600 respondents worried about political pressure in their work.


Decision On Nuclear Waste Disposal Delayed
Apr 28 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Annette Cary Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

The Department of Energy will need an extra year to prepare a report on long-term disposal options for commercial and nonweapons radioactive waste, some of which could be sent to Hanford.

The schedule has slipped as DOE has greatly expanded the potential amount of waste to be studied, said Christine Gelles, director of DOE's environmental management office of disposal operations, during a visit to Richland last week.

A draft environmental study on the waste now is expected in early 2009 with a final study finished in early 2010.

Then DOE is required to report to Congress before making a formal decision on what to do with the waste.

The waste, called Greater Than Class C waste, initially included an estimated 7,280 cubic yards of radioactive metal from decommissioning commercial nuclear power plants and waste from other industrial uses, such as sterilizing medical equipment, treating cancer and testing welds.

But since work began on an environmental study on the waste, an additional 39,000 cubic yards have been added to the study for potential disposal. Much of that would be produced under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which is proposing building an Advanced Fuel Cycle Facility to develop ways to reuse nuclear power fuel.

That project, if it goes forward, would produce debris, such as clothing, contaminated with radionuclides classified as transuranic. DOE has typically sent such waste generated in nuclear weapons projects to deep geological repositories, such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for transuranic waste in New Mexico.

It's considering 10 disposal options in the study, including deep geological repositories in New Mexico and Nevada.

Hanford may be more likely to be considered for waste that includes radioactive metals from decommissioned power plants. That waste also has increased since the report began from 3,380 cubic yards to about 9,600 cubic yards.

Although it's a relatively small amount of waste by volume compared to the low-level waste from past plutonium production to be disposed of in Hanford landfills, its radioactive content is significant. The original 3,380 cubic yards in the study has 110 million curies of radioactivity, which compares to 190 million curies in the 53 million gallons of waste awaiting treatment in Hanford's underground tanks.

Although the waste is considered low-level radioactive waste, the greater than class C designation indicates it's the most radioactive category of that waste.

The additional waste added to the study includes waste from new commercial reactors and from two West Valley, N.Y., nuclear burial sites that might be excavated. Most of the waste will be generated after 2035. Although the study originally included waste generated up to 2062, that may be extended.

The waste could be disposed of in a vault or in trenches with protective barriers and waste packaging. Also under consideration are deep bore holes topped with drilling deflectors to guard against people inadvertently disturbing the waste far into the future.

In addition to Hanford, DOE also is considering commercial disposal in unspecified locations and one or more sites in New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, South Carolina and Tennessee.


SC Senate Gives Key Approval To Energy-Saving Incentives
COLUMBIA, S.C. (The Associated Press) - Apr 29

South Carolina residents would get tax breaks when they buy energy-efficient appliances and manufactured homes under legislation heading to the House.

The Senate gave final approval to three energy-saving related bills Tuesday.

One proposal eliminates sales taxes on energy-efficient appliances, light bulbs, doors and other items in October beginning in 2009. That month is when groups encourage energy conservation.

The legislation also more than doubles a tax rebate to people buying manufactured houses that meet federal Energy Star requirements.

The proposal requires replacing incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lights by July 2011 in government buildings and makes agencies set a goal for cutting energy demands by 20 percent by 2020.


Geothermal Utopia Gaining Steam in Utah
Apr 29 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Mark Havnes The Salt Lake Tribune

Gary L. Benson envisions a steam-powered utopia.

Benson is a consultant for the development group NovaTech, which aims to build a self-sufficient community in Provo's Ironton, a former industrial area, by tapping steam to provide electricity and heat for homes and businesses. There are even plans for erecting greenhouses to grow food.

He attended a two-day workshop on geothermal energy last week at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. The workshop brought together experts on the potential use of subterranean steam as a renewable-energy source.

"I am on a learning curve so I can know enough about geothermal to make reliable projections concerning the use of steam," Benson said. "There have been a lot of utopian communities before, both religious and secular, but none completely economically independent like we plan."

Those at the workshop learned where steam resources are, how they can be captured for various uses -- from power generation to heating -- and the importance of snagging state-sponsored incentives to encourage development.

Utah's western desert has vast potential, but the steam is expensive to locate and develop.

The SUU event featured a visit to a steam-powered nursery in Iron County, an exploratory drilling operation in Beaver County and PacifiCorp's Blundell plant, north of Milford.

Started in the 1970s, the Blundell facility draws steam from the Roosevelt thermal reservoir to produce about 35 megawatts of electricity a year.

The company, which has owned the plant for two years, operates two generating units and has just finished a third, which could double the generating capacity.

Once the steam is pumped out of the ground to power turbines, it is reinjected to the reservoir, where it can be heated to about 500 degrees and used again, said plant manager Garth Larsen.

Robert Blackett, a geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, sees great potential for developing steam reservoirs in the Great Basin. "The biggest reasons it has not been developed are the upfront expense and risk of not finding what is hoped for."

But that may be changing.

"I'm getting a lot more calls of people interested in it," Blackett said.

Sam Liu, an engineer and analyst with the state's Division of Public Utilities, cites some advantages of steam -- especially when compared with solar and wind.

"The sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow."


Florida Senate Passes Energy Bill
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Apr 30

An expansive energy bill headed for the governor's desk is just the first step in making Florida a national leader in clean energy, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday, just a day after the House passed the same bill unanimously.

While the legislation represents a major shift in energy policy for the state, many lawmakers acknowledged that there was still more work to do. Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, one of the bill's sponsors, said lawmakers will most likely have to look at the legislation again next year to make sure it's implementation is going smoothly. Several major provisions of the bill also require future approval from lawmakers.

The bill, for example, would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to make electric utilities pay for the pollution they create, an effort to reduce greenhouse gasses. The department would set pollution limits for utilities and require the companies to buy carbon credits when they exceed those limits, offsetting those emissions.

The department also would develop rules that would require new vehicles sold in Florida to pollute less. The pollution limits the department develops for utilities and cars would both have to go back to the Legislature for approval.

The bill also would require private electrical utilities to generate a certain amount of the power the sell from renewable sources like wind and solar power. The state board that regulates private utilities would have to create standards for how much energy comes from those sources, which lawmakers would have to approve.

Lawmakers would also receive suggestion for future legislation from the newly formed Florida Energy and Climate Commission, which would be created by the bill. The board would take the lead in setting energy policy for the state and bring the functions of existing boards and departments into a single group.

Other provisions in the bill would strengthen green building codes and energy efficiency standards for appliances and simplify the approval process for nuclear power plants.

Gov. Charlie Crist said in a prepared statement that the bill signifies a commitment to protecting Florida's natural beauty and stimulating the state's economy. Crist made clean energy a priority for the state during a summit on global climate change last summer.

Earlier this week he announced that another summit will be held in Miami at the end of June. It will focus on attracting companies that use clean energy technologies to Florida to boost the state's economy.

The bill headed to the governor (HB 7135) passed the Senate 39-1.


Nuclear Inspectors Visit Oconee Station After Vibrations
GREENVILLE, S.C. (The Associated Press) - Apr 30

Federal inspectors are spending a few days at the Oconee Nuclear Station after three coolant pumps experienced intense vibrations.

The Greenville News reported Wednesday the vibrations happened while the pumps were shutting down for a refueling outage on April 12.

Victor McCree of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the agency also wanted to take a look at a simultaneous leakage from one pump, as well as possibly degraded conditions in a second pump.

Officials will issue a report about 30 days after they complete their investigation.

Duke Energy operates the plant near Seneca. In December, federal investigators said Duke could have addressed safety concerns at the site more quickly.


Italy's Waste Is Called Too Hot For Utah
Apr 29 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Judy Fahys The Salt Lake Tribune

Radioactive waste that Italy wants buried in Utah might be too hot to handle here.

Critics looking at technical aspects of EnergySolutions' plans to import 20,000 tons of cleanup waste from Italy's nuclear reactors say state and federal regulators need more information before signing off on the Salt Lake City company's proposal.

The company's Italy waste plans have already come under fire on policy grounds, with Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. promising to use the state's vote on a regional waste panel to stop future foreign waste imports and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah seeking federal legislation to do the same.

Company spokesman John Ward said EnergySolutions will screen the waste from Italy's defunct nuclear program four times:

--before sending it across the Atlantic;

--prior to recycling it at the company's Tennessee treatment plant;

--after usable metal is melted and recast as shielding; and

--before about 1,600 tons of Class A waste is buried in Tooele County, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Anything too radioactive will be returned to Italy, under an export license that the company also has applied for, he added. "We won't even begin transporting any material that we can't accept at Bear Creek [Tenn.] and Clive [Utah]."

But Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said the company's import application before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission suggests the material is so radioactive overall it would be Class C waste -- and too hot to be permitted under state law.

"It's very clear that some of this is going to be Class C," said Makhijani, criticizing the lack of details.

"The burden of proof is on EnergySolutions to provide the detailed information that regulators need to make a prudent decision on this request," said Vanessa Pierce, the director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, who released Makhijani's findings on Monday.

"It's appalling that the NRC and other regulators haven't asked for more" details, she said.

State regulators in Utah and Tennessee have already told the NRC the shipments would be permissible.

Others have raised concerns similar to HEAL Utah's.

Members of the Utah Radiation Control Board questioned EnergySolutions in March about ensuring the waste is safe for Utah.

And Marty Carson, a nuclear industry consultant in South Carolina, urged the NRC in February to require more information to demonstrate that too-hot waste will not be diluted so that it can meet Utah's standards.

"The application doesn't tell enough," said Carson in a telephone interview.

Carson calls himself pro-industry and pro-nuclear, yet he says federal regulators have allowed too many gaps in EnergySolutions' import request.

"I would be opposed to any company engaged in this work the way it's described" in the Italy waste application, he said. "We need to deal with this [waste] properly."


--States, including Utah, generally follow federal guidelines for categorizing and disposing of low-level radioactive waste.

--Class A waste must lose its radioactive punch within 100 years, regulations say. Utah's law allows nuclear waste no more radioactive than this.

--Class B waste is handled more carefully and disposed of with a 300-year safety period in mind. Class C must be contained so that it cannot become a health and environmental hazard for about 500 years, according to the regulations.

--In 2005, Utah lawmakers, with the backing of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and EnergySolutions, barred Class B and C waste from the state.


Former Nuke Plant Worker Gets Probation For Hiding Damage
TOLEDO, Ohio (The Associated Press) - May 1 - By JOHN SEEWER AssociatedPress Writer

A judge sentenced a former nuclear plant worker on Thursday to three years' probation for concealing from the government the worst corrosion eve found at a U.S. reactor.

David Geisen, the Davis-Besse plant's former engineering design manager, had faced up to five years in prison after being convicted of misleading regulators into believing the plant along Lake Erie was safe.

U.S. District Judge David Katz opted for probation and a $7,500 fine. The judge noted that Geisen already had been stripped of his license to work in the nuclear industry.

"It is both an economic and a career blow," Katz said.

Prosecutors said Geisen and two other workers lied in the fall of 2001 so the plant could delay a shutdown for a safety inspection. Months later, inspectors found an acid leak that nearly ate through the reactor's 6-inch-thick steel cap. It's not clear how close the plant was to an accident.

Federal prosecutors said Geisen told regulators that an area of the plant the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was concerned about had been inspected and that there was no reason to worry. But the inspections weren't fully completed and Geisen knew it, prosecutors said.

Following the discovery of the leak, the NRC beefed up inspections and training and began requiring detailed records of its discussions with plant operators.

Geisen never was in a position to know how bad the leak had become at the plant, said his attorney, Richard Hibey. Geisen also had nothing to gain by delaying a shutdown, Hibey said.

Hibey asked for a sentence of probation, saying his client already has suffered a great financial loss and is now struggling to start a new business and provide for his family, including two children in college.

Prosecutors argued that Geisen deserved to spend time in prison because his actions posed a threat to public safety. They declined to comment after the sentencing.

Katz said there was no evidence that residents around the nuclear plant, which is about 20 miles east of Toledo, were in danger, and he said Geisen never profited by keeping the plant operating.

Jurors convicted Geisen in October. A private contractor, Rodney Cook, was acquitted by the same federal jury.

Before sentencing Geisen, the judge noted that there has been speculation that others may have been involved in convincing regulators to delay the shutdown.

The plant's operator, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., paid a record $28 million in fines a year ago while avoiding federal charges. It also spent $600 million making repairs and buying replacement power while the plant was closed from early 2002 until 2004.

None of the company's senior leaders were charged in the investigation.

Another former Davis-Besse employee, engineer Andrew Siemaszko, is to go on trial later this year. Design engineer Prasoon Goyal entered into an agreement with the government.


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