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The emerging potential new nuclear industry political scam

an emerging potential scam that could end up with ratepayers’ and federal taxpayers’ getting stuck with vast decommissioning and waste-management liabilities.
Does Nuclear Power Slow Or Speed Climate Change? Forbes,  Amory B. Lovins 17 Nov 19, 
“……….The previous six forms of payment were:1.     Taxpayers paid to create the nuclear industry, build its fueling infrastructure, and finance the reactor fleet via a vast array of often opaque and generally permanent federal subsidies that cost more than building the plants and more than the value of their output.

2.     Through generally regulated utility tariffs, customers paid for the plants’ construction and financing, including a just and reasonable return on capital.

3.     Customers paid over decades for the plants’ operation, including major repairs, power upratings, and safety upgrades.

4.     Many customers reimbursed owners for “stranded-asset costs” totaling upwards of $70 billion to support the owner-demanded transition to competitive wholesale markets.

5.     Over the past few years, when reactors generating 2 percent of U.S. electricity proved unable to compete in those wholesale markets (though most of their owners kept their finances secret and kept reporting profits to investors), the owners persuaded state legislators in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Ohio to vote billions of dollars a year for new multi-year operating subsidies.

6.     Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear operator and the leading player in the previous two steps, successfully sought Federal regulatory approval for greater capacity payments from power pools whose auctions found nuclear power uncompetitive and whose own rules were thrown off-balance by the new state subsidies. And now, as the annual logrolling season of “tax extenders” rolls around in Congress:

7.     For the third year, Exelon is advancing a “Nuclear Powers America Act” to create a new federal investment tax credit on nuclear fuel and maintenance expenses to “help level the playing fuel with other clean energy sources”—whose temporary tax credits are meanwhile being phased down or out. This follows a longstanding pattern of giving different kinds of subsidies to renewables than to nuclear, then “leveling the playing field” by trying to duplicate renewables’ specific forms of subsidies with new ones for nuclear, but never the reverse.

This saga of selling the same hay seven times—and those clever lawyers aren’t done yet—doesn’t include many additional federal and state subsidies. It also doesn’t include an emerging potential scam that could end up with ratepayers’ and federal taxpayers’ getting stuck with vast decommissioning and waste-management liabilities. This emerging pattern has an LLC buy a closed reactor. Absent oversight or rules to stop misbehavior, the LLC could then choose to strip the accumulated customer-funded multi-billion-dollar cash decommissioning fund, not finish the job, and walk away, leaving the parent company whole and electricity customers or taxpayers holding the bag. Watch this space.

Exelon’s proposed “nuclear investment tax credit” has ingenious new features:

–         By redefining normal accounting categories so fuel becomes a capital investment, it repays utilities for an “investment” that’s really just a normal operating cost—thus trying to make nuclear operating costs look small by shifting much of them to taxpayers.

The nuclear operating costs it covers have no counterpart for renewables (fuel, nuclear waste management, protection against catastrophic releases of radioactivity), or almost none (operation & maintenance costs), so a tax credit for them would specifically advantage nuclear against renewables.

–         Nuclear owners may be able to double-dip, collecting the new federal subsidy and new state subsidies for the same plants and thus turning dead dinosaurs into juicy cash cows.

–         There’s virtually no “means test”: the new federal subsidy would apply to about 95% of US operating reactors, including those that the industry claims are currently profitable.

–         The proposed legislation, obscurely written in tax-law jargon, appears to be a 30% tax credit (phasing down to 26% in 2024, 22% in 2025, and a permanent 10% in and after 2026), and to cost ~$22–26 billion over the first decade, or ~$33 billion counting the crowding-out of cheaper competitors. Every billion dollars thus bilked from taxpayers is unavailable to provide more electrical services and save more carbon by cheaper means.

–         By further distorting the delicate balance between federal, regional, and state regulation, the subsidy seems tailored to weaken or destroy the efficient regional power markets where renewables beat nuclear power. The goal is thus to pay nuclear power for values it doesn’t deliver, while blocking its most potent competitors from continuing to provide the values they do deliver.

–         Unlike renewable credits that have helped to mature important new technologies, the nuclear credit would elicit no new production, capacity, or innovation. It would simply transfer tens of billions of dollars to the owners of uncompetitive nuclear assets bought decades ago—if they apply for license extension by 2026, as nearly all have done.

This covert attack on renewables is logical because renewables are now the supply-side competitor nuclear must beat but can’t. The nuclear industry is reluctant to admit that renewables are a legitimate competitor, since this would contradict its claims that renewables can’t supply reliable power. Renewables, unlike nuclear power, are also widely popular. Nuclear advocates therefore tend to blame their woes instead on cheap natural gas. However, new and often even existing combined-cycle gas-fired power plants no longer have a business case: a September 2019 study found that at least 90% of the 88 proposed US gas-fired plants are pre-stranded assets. ………

November 18, 2019 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, USA

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