Energy and Global Warming News for June 22nd: GOP nuke plan to cost consumers up to $4 trillion; 98% of green product claims may be greenwash

I detailed the escalating costs of nuclear power in my May 2008 report, “The Self-Limiting Future of Nuclear Power,” which noted a “reasonable estimate for levelized cost range “¦ is 12 to 17 cents per kilowatt hour lifetime, and 1.7 times that number [20 to 29 cents per kilowatt-hour] in first year of commercial operation.” On December 31, Time noted that nuclear plants’ capital costs are “out of control,” concludingm “Most efficiency improvements have been priced at 1¢ to 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, while new nuclear energy is on track to cost 15¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt-hour. And no nuclear plant has ever been completed on budget.”

Then a January 2009 study for CP put the generation costs for power from new nuclear plants at from 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour “” triple current U.S. electricity rates (see “The staggering cost of new nuclear power”). Now we have:

New reactors could increase consumer costs by $4 trillion — report

Consumers could pay $1.9 trillion to $4.4 trillion in excess costs if 100 new nuclear reactors are built instead of using renewable energy and energy efficiency to provide the same electricity, according to a new report by a consumer advocate and senior fellow at Vermont Law School.


The report released yesterday said cost estimates for new nuclear reactors are currently four times as high as estimates made at the beginning of the “nuclear renaissance.” New reactors will cost 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour — at least 6 cents per kilowatt-hour more than electricity provided by renewable energy and energy efficiency, the report says.

“The nuclear industry cannot live up to the hope and hype because nuclear reactors are mega projects … that are site-specific and prone to delay and disruption,” Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School and director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said during a teleconference yesterday.

American shoppers misled by greenwash, Congress told

More than 98% of supposedly natural and environmentally friendly products on US supermarket shelves are making potentially false or misleading claims, Congress has been told. And 22% of products making green claims bear an environmental badge that has no inherent meaning, said Scot Case, of the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice.

The study of nearly 4,000 consumer products found “greenwashing” in nearly every product category — from a lack of verifiable information to outright lies.

Even the experts are confused. Case, whose firm runs its own Ecologo certification programme, admitted he had bought a refrigerator only to find it failed to meet its claims of energy efficiency.

“My refrigerator used twice as much energy as advertised,” he told members of the House of Representatives committee on commerce, trade and consumer protection. The hearing amounted to a crash course into the perils of the new green marketplace for the committee. Congress is looking at how to guide consumers through a thicket of competing claims on so-called greenness.

Record hunger: one billion people are going hungry worldwide

A new estimate by the UN FAO estimates that one billion people are currently going hungry: the highest number in history. Largely exacerbated by the global economic crisis, the number of the world’s hungry has risen by 100 million people.

The economic crisis has led to more hunger due to lower wages and layoffs worldwide. In addition, food prices still remain high after the food crisis that began in 2006: food prices remain 33 percent higher today than in 2005.

From the Ashes of ’69, a River Reborn

Monday is the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.

The fire was extinguished in 30 minutes and caused just $50,000 in damage. But it became a galvanizing symbol for the environmental movement, one of a handful of disasters that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and to the passage of the Clean Water Act.

“¦ The fire turned Cleveland into “The Mistake by the Lake,” a national punch line that would endure for decades. Meanwhile, the city worked to reclaim its river.

Today, the Cuyahoga is home to more than 60 species of fish, said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization, a nonprofit group that coordinates cleanup efforts. Beavers, blue herons and bald eagles nest along the river’s banks. Long sections of the Cuyahoga are clean enough that they no longer require aggressive monitoring, regulators said.

Turning Human Organic Waste Into Energy

With an eye firmly trained on a job-rich clean-tech future, San Jose city officials unveiled this week a $20 million deal under which three private partners will produce 900,000 gallons of biogas using German technology and 150,000 metric tons of organic waste generated by San Jose residents.

The project, which still needs regulatory approvals, will be built on a 40-acre site near a fallow landfill. It is the first North American biogas venture to use biosolids (that is, human waste) from a waste treatment operation.

Most municipalities send sludge to landfills, but San Jose’s director of corporate outreach, Nanci Klein, told Green Inc. the city was looking to bolster its waste diversion, cut emissions, phase out its dependence on imported energy and create clean-tech jobs.

New assessment confirms polar bear’s decline

Polar bears are experiencing significant declines because global warming is melting their sea ice habitat, and other Arctic mammals may be in trouble, as well, according to a federal population assessment released yesterday.

There are an estimated 1,526 polar bears presently living in the southern Beaufort Sea, according to the latest estimate from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — a 33 percent decline from the service’s estimate of 2,272 in 2003, the last time an assessment was conducted.

Bruce Woods, spokesman for FWS’s Alaska office, said the decline may be less than what was reflected in the previous two counts because a lack of information may have inflated the 2003 numbers, but that would not change the general trend. “Polar bears are declining, as we clarified in the listing rule, because of a lack of sea ice habitat,” he said.

Australian Emissions Trading Plan in Trouble

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, which pumps billions of dollars into the economy, supplies more than 80 percent of the country’s electricity and keeps tens of thousands of people in their jobs “” particularly in and around Newcastle. But the carbon dioxide produced from burning coal is also a major contributor to climate change, a problem the center-left Labor government has vowed to address.

Two years after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd drew worldwide applause for reversing Australia’s longstanding refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the government’s ambitious plan to change the way Australians use energy is facing major obstacles, raising the prospect of an early election with climate change as the central issue.