lonely being lee

milton lee

I suspect it’s getting lonlier being Milton Lee. It wasn’t just the empty chairs reserved for CPS board and citizens advisory members on either side of the CPS general manager that causes me to think that way.

It’s just almost like Bush and Iraq, there’s just very few True Believers left who think nuke plans laid out from the top down at this city -owned utility are such a smart thing anymore.

Now, we had been wondering — and asking CPS last night at the public meeting regarding a proposed utility rate hike — who would take the city of Austin’s place now that Austin has voted to steer clear of the planned expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project.

We should have been watching the news wire.

The same day that CPS, 40 percent partner in STNP with NRG Energy, was being blasted by scores of concerned San Antonio residents over its plan to invest $206 million for what will likely grow into a $15 billion-plus “blackhole” of nuclear lunacy, NRG put out a release.

Here’s how the Associated Press wrote it:

Power producer NRG Energy Inc. on Tuesday said it formed Nuclear Innovation North America LLC, a company focused on marketing, developing, financing and investing in new nuclear projects in North America.

The projects in question include NRG’s planned South Texas project units three and four, which NRG is developing with San Antonio-based CPS Energy.

Toshiba Corp. will serve as the prime contractor on all of the company’s projects and has agreed to partner with NRG on the new venture.

Toshiba will invest $300 million in the company over the next six years and will receive a 12 percent equity ownership of the company, NRG said.

Half of the investment will support South Texas project units three and four development, while the other will focus on new projects and help speed up development of additional advanced boiling water reactor projects in North America, NRG said.

$150 million for new plants at STNP ain’t much. Contribution bundler for the Clintons, NRG Prez David Crane, still has some fundraising of his own to do. However, he told The New York Times that Toshiba was “putting its money where its mouth is.”

San Antonians (Okay. Those who cared to come to the meeting Tuesday night and talk, which was somewhere around 40, several representing various civic and justice organizations.) are desperate for our city-owned utility to remove the big-money mouth-banking on nuclear and steer our Council, which has yet to approve the millions for application and design work, toward more visionary plans: Two-fisted, non-polluting plans like efficiency/renewable combos that study after study (including CPS’s own) shows being up to the task.

Toshiba builds a reactor initially designed by General Electric, called an advanced boiling water reactor. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the design in the 1990s, and last September, NRG asked the commission for approval to build in Texas.

The company later asked for part of its application to be held in abeyance, and Mr. Crane said Tuesday that it would be amended to make the South Texas proposal identical to Toshiba projects already operating in Japan. In addition, he said, the design approved by the commission included a control room using computers of mid-1990s vintage, so various changes would be needed.

By allowing Crane to dictate his rosy version of events, the Times fails to note here that the application was found to be administratively incomplete by the NRC before any stated “abeyance” request.

I reported for the Current a few months back, that the NRC was startled when the first application submitted for a new nuke plant in 29 years turned out to be for an older model. NRG/CPS reasoning went that an already approved design would speed up the application process. But, yeah, I’m so pleased they decided to scrap the “mid-1990s vintage” computer system.

The Times continues:

The industry and the government are struggling to develop standard designs that can be reproduced economically. Design variations among the approximately 125 reactors that eventually entered commercial operation contributed to huge cost overruns and operating difficulties; scores more were canceled.

The idea behind Nuclear Innovation is that Toshiba will function as the prime contractor, with the owners gaining the benefit of the Japanese company’s experience. Toshiba has committed to building two twin-unit reactor projects in addition to the South Texas project, NRG said.

Mr. Crane, in a phone interview Monday, said the Energy Policy Act of 2005 had provided loan guarantees, production tax credit and some risk insurance for new plants. But, he said, “the one principal risk you cannot lay off is who’s going to build this thing on time and on budget.”

Referring to the South Texas reactors, he said, “On an $8 billion project, even if it is 80 percent debt, that still leaves $1.6 billion of equity, and people aren’t going to risk the $1.6 billion unless you find someone who says, ‘I’ll build that, for X million and in Y months.’ ”

Now the issue of cost has come under intense scrutiny in San Antonio recently.

I blogged a Monday press conference on the topic for the Current, but you can read the full report released by the SEED Coalition at Nuke Free Texas.

Here’s a little flavor from the press release:

In August, 2007 NRG estimated the cost of the two reactors at between $6.0 and 7.0 billion. In his report, “Assessing Nuclear Capital Plant Costs for Two Proposed NRG Reactors at the South Texas Project Site,” Dr. Makhijani found that the two reactors would cost $12 to $18 billion.

“The projected cost range of $6 to 7 billion is obsolete. The best available estimates indicate that capital costs would likely be two or more times higher, even without taking into account the potential for cost escalation due to construction delays and other risks,” said Makhijani.

“The risks to CPS as a municipal utility and to the ratepayers of San Antonio are great. Due diligence demands that CPS participation in the project should not be pursued until an independent, detailed study with current cost estimates of the plants and possible alternatives are complete and have been publicly disclosed and discussed.”

Sure, I know Milton still has Crane and Toshiba’s Nishida and the folks at Excellon to chum with. But it’s not like a regular golfing date.

Maybe Milton and SA Mayor Hardberger, the not-so-environmental mayor who tried to say no to nuclear but found himself wanting, could find themselves a nice little place on the coast of France, where the radioactive waste laps on the shores.

Heck. maybe we could all pitch in to send them on a vision quest to the holy mountain of Yucca first.

cps board

CPS, we REALLY hope y’all were listening Tuesday night…

If not, here’s a reminder:

protest sign

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