Minnesota is rich in blogs, and alternative media such as The Uptake . Is another blog really needed? Good question! My main reason for setting it up is to have a place to archive and link to various emails and posts. Continue Reading →
Alan Muller is an environmental consultant. He has been executive director of Green Delaware, an environmental and public advocacy organization in Delaware, since 1995, and before that was a contract consultant DuPont Co.’s engineering department. Muller focuses on environmental and health issues including energy; waste; incinerators; air, water and land quality and pollution; and climate change.
To ignore the human impacts of the nuclear industry is a moral failure
Forty years ago, on March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear power reactor in central Pennsylvania partially melted down and experienced at least one explosion.Continue Reading →
[Note: A version of this distributed by email had the wrong title. Apologies!]
40 years ago, on March 28, 1979, Three Mile Island (TMI) Unit 2 nuclear power plant melted down and experienced a hydrogen explosion. (Unit 1 has continued to run all these years but likely will be shut down soon as it loses a lot of money for the owners.)
Days afterwards: “Governor Thornburgh advised pregnant women and pre-school age children to leave the area within a five-mile radius of the Three Mile Island facility until further notice. This led to the panic the governor had hoped to avoid; within days, more than 100,000 people had fled surrounding towns.”
The cause was a combination of equipment failures, design defects, and operator errors.
With the election of a new DFL governor and the DFL takeover of the House, possibilities open for useful policy changes. No guarantees, but at least possibilities.
The chief idea floating around seems to be to increase the “renewable” quota for electricity generation. The problem with this is that “renewable” as defined in Minnesota includes not only wind and solar but the dirtiest sources we have, such as poultry poop power, garbage incineration power, wood burner power (“biomass”), and landfill gas power. It would be foolish to increase the “renewable” power quotas (sometimes called a “Renewable Portfolio Standard”) without cleaning up (literally!) the definition so additional incentives aren’t created for dirty power sources. Continue Reading →
“Viewpoint: Truth re-evaluation of incineration long overdue”
By Alan Muller, Red Wing
[Note: This appeared in the Red Wing Republican-Eagle on Feb 6, 2019]
I came to Red Wing in 2007 with a background in incineration: Marketing incinerators, as a consultant to the engineering department of a large chemical company, and later opposing them, on health and economic grounds. It felt strange to live in a city that was itself in the garbage incineration business and seemed to care little about the impacts on the health and pocketbooks of residents.Continue Reading →
This ran in the Red Wing Republican-Eagle on September 23rd:
By Alan Muller, Red Wing
For decades, Red Wing has worked to increase the amounts of garbage burned in the city, subjecting residents to increased air pollution and millions in costs, without an offsetting benefit. As part of this, the city is now smelling victory in a scheme to force all the garbage generated in Goodhue County to be “processed” (ground up) by the city, with most then burned in Xcel’s old converted 1940s coal plant on Fifth Street. This dirty burner, with a permit expired since 2009, belches out about 1.5 million pounds per year of health-damaging air pollutants, including over 40 pounds per year, on average, of lead, and over a million pounds per year of “NOx.”
City of Red Wing unloaded dump liabilities onto Goodhue County ….now demands county-wide garbage monopoly
Goodhue County and the City of Red Wing, MN, have been dancing around garbage issues for many years. It’s not clear that the public interest has been front-and-center with either jurisdiction at any point.
In 1990 the County bought the City of Red Wing dump for one dollar. The county also bought liability for any future cleanup costs for that dollar.
“… Buyer shall be responsible for the operation of the landfill facility … and shall be responsible for any costs associated with operating said landfill, including, but not limited to closure costs, post closure costs, and any corrective action costs incurred after closing.” (page 2)
“… Buyer shall be responsible for financial assurance in accordance with Minnesota Rules, and Seller shall no longer be responsible for said financial assurance.” (page 2)
“…Buyer agrees to indemnify and save Seller harmless from and against any and all claims, demands, causes of actions, liability, costs and expenses for damages, losses, injuries or death ….” (page 2)
So it looks like the City of Red Wing unloaded all it’s potential future liabilities onto the County for ONE DOLLAR. How could this have been a responsible action on the part of the County? Is there more to this? We are asking.
Meanwhile, though, it looks like the City is screwing over the County again with an agreement that all garbage from anywhere in Goodhue County has to be delivered to the City of Red Wing Garbage Empire at inflated tipping fees.
Note: The City of Red Wing is about 3 7 percent of the total county population.
WHEREAS: The proposal by Management & Training Corporation and its partners is for a state-of-the-art detention facility with an aesthetically pleasing design that will integrate with and not adversely impact nearby properties; and
Mayor and Council Members
Council Members (4-year term)
And here, thanks to Carol Overland, is info on the proposer, this “Management and Training Corporation.”
The City of Red Wing, Minnesota, contains various harmful facilities owned by Xcel Energy (Northern States Power Company of Minnesota).
These include two nuclear power reactors, two garbage burner units, and an nuclear waste cask parking lot.
Of course it’s no secret that utilities tend to accumulate great political, economic, and psychological power in the places they operate. A place like Red Wing, where Xcel pays a lot of taxes and employs many residents, can become, and has become, a caricature of a self-governing community. I’m not sure the Minnesota Legislature is a lot better.
Utilities are facing a world of change, of technological obsolesence, a world of existential threats, which are making them ever more aggressive and unscrupulous. How, with electricity getting cheaper at the wholesale level, can they keep screwing their customers with rate increases? Continue Reading →
This is a follow-up to the March 22. 2018 post entitled “Xcel Energy–the most abusive special interest in Minnesota?” and subtitled “Action Alert: Oppose Xcel Energy ripoff legislation.”
If you would like to speak, contact Committee Administrator Darrin Lee at 651-293-2962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a “delete all” amendment to the bill, meaning all the wording below the heading is replaced. Here it is. This will probably be presented as a “compromise” that addresses peoples’ concerns. For orgs inclined to roll over after token opposition, the new version might be just the ticket. But it really doesn’t change much–the changes are mostly cosmetic. Mainly, the “Carbon Reduction Facilities” (note that this applies only to nuke plants, not other sources of low or zero-carbon electricity) business is partially tied into the existing “Resource Plan” procedures. There is mention of “intervention” rights but these already exist anyway.
Nothing in this new wording should alter opposition to these bills.
Our information is (it could change):
So far about 20 people have indicated they want to testify against1 SF3504. 2-3 want to testify in favor. Thirty minutes will be allowed for each side. That would mean that supporters of the ripoff would get ten to fifteen minutes each, while opponents would get around one and one-half minutes each. Is this the way things commonly work in the Minnesota Legislature? I don’t know, but it seems to me in general that opponents of proposed bad policies are often treated disrespectfully.
More fundamental problems with this bill is that it’s intended to authorize essentially unlimited future funding for the Monticello and Prairie Island nukes without prior considered discussion of whether keeping them going make sense.
Because alternative electricity sources are cleaner and cheaper, nukes are being closed, or are demanding huge public subsidies to stay open. Such scams are being promoted in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. They all lack merit as sound policy but have behind them the bloated political clout of electric utilities. SF3504 is Minnesota’s version of such a scam.
According to opensecrets.org, Xcel spends about two millions dollars per year on lobbying and in 2017 had twenty-one registered lobbyists, far more than any other entity in Minnesota. Is it any wonder, then that the Minnesota Legislature too often dances to Xcel’s tune?
Back to the nukes themselves and whether we really need them
Forbes magazine, in “Nuclear Subsidies Are Bad Energy Policy,” (read the whole article, Sept. 12, 2017) notes that:
Nuclear power has been doomed by cost escalation, while gas, efficiency, and renewables continue to get cheaper. And subsidizing nuclear plants isn’t popular in the states where ratepayers would have to foot the bill. Recent headlines tell the story:
“Subsidies for Nuclear Reactor Projects Waste Taxpayer Money,” U.S. News & World Report, August 17, 2017 (here)
“Poll: Overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians oppose nuclear bailout by Legislature,” The Beaver County Times, August 16, 2017 (here)
“Nuclear Subsidies Distort Competition And Increase Power Prices,” Investors.com, May 31, 2017 (here)
“Manufacturers oppose proposed $7 billion nuclear power subsidy,” Albany Business Review, August 1, 2016 (here)
Just yesterday, an article appeared in the Guardian:
“Wind, solar, and storage could meet 90–100% of America’s electricity needs”
The author is John P. Abraham, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas.
(The underlying paper is here but free access to the full text is lacking for many of us.)
Mark Jacobson at Stanford has been making similar arguments for several years, but the details need fleshing out, and that’s what Minnesota should be investing in: Planning for the future not dancing to the tune of status-quo special interests.
What to do:
Testify at the hearing if your schedule and the stability of your stomach allows.
Let the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee know how you feel about Senate File 3504 . You might email the Committee Administrator and ask him to share your views with the members: Darrin Lee, Darrin.Lee@senate.mn, 651.296.2962. And contact your own Senator and Representative.
Action Alert: Oppose Xcel Energy ripoff legislation
Is Xcel really the worst? It’s hard to say–there are so many candidates. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce? 3M? The shadowy interests behind PolyMet and Twin Metals?
From where I write, in Red Wing, which is some sort of ultimate Xcel “company town,” there’s just no contest. And for someone with a history of working on waste and energy issues, living in a community (nice as it is in many other ways) rendered so bereft of dignity and integrity by it’s servile relationship with Xcel can be painful. (Of course, the locals don’t seen it that way–they are so used to being told what to do and what to think that they don’t notice.)
To see the abuses of Xcel on a larger playing field, one needs to visit the MN Public Utilities Commission and/or the state Legislature. A puppet show on a different scale entirely.
A few things I’ve written here in the past might be useful or at least entertaining background:
So, Xcel Energy has three nuclear power units, the only ones in Minnesota. They were all built in the 1960s/1970s and are old, rickety, dangerous, and expensive. The are not much needed for the electricity they produce but are highly efficient and effective for separating Xcel’s ratepayers from their money.
Over the last decade or so hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into these units, for “uprates” (running them at higher output than originally designed for, but cancelled in the case of the two Prairie Island reactors) and license extensions (running them 20 years longer than originally promised). Xcel is allowed to charge ratepayers a high and guaranteed rate of return on these investments, often above ten percent, so has an incentive to spend as much as possible.
Now it’s time for another big reach into our pockets to feed the nukes. Behold Senate File 3504/House File 3708 (they are identical) introduced on March 15th and 12th 2018. These bills rename the nukes “carbon reduction facilities” and would create a whole new bill category called a “carbon reduction rider” to pay for them. Ratepayers and their advocates would have very limited rights to effectively object.
These bills are such gross ripoffs that some Minnesota NGOs, often comfortably snuggled up with Xcel, are objecting. These include “Fresh Energy,” AARP, “Citizens Utility Board” (CUB), Energy Cents Coalition, and Citizens Federation–Northeast.
The problem is that they, like the Star Tribune, seem to be accepting the basic argument that the nukes deserve a giant infusion of our cash to keep them going. They are only complaining about the oppressive details. For instance, Fresh Energy says:
“While Fresh Energy believes it is potentially economically and environmentally beneficial to keep Xcel Energy’s nuclear plants open until the end of their federal license, a blank check is not the way to do it. The bill provides no guardrails to ensure these investments are prudent. We support pursuing a comprehensive analysis at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission of what it may take to keep these plants operating another 15 years.”
A joint letter from several orgs, likely written by CUB, raises various objections to the bills as they stand, but doesn’t object to the basically problematic concept of “special processes for cost recovery of nuclear facilities.” This suggests that in advocating on this issue and these bills, people should be wary of dealmaking and sellouts. It’s happened before. For a disgraceful example, CUB rolled over on Xcel legislation allowing it to build a fossil-fuel plant in Becker without the usual regulatory review. Likewise, “Fresh Energy” rep J. Drake Hamilton has been going around giving “how great they are” presentations about Xcel. Can objections from “Fresh Energy” be taken seriously?
In spite of all this, the news on future energy sources is basically good. Wind is cheapest and getting cheaper. Cost of solar is dropping rapidly. “Storage” of various kinds, such as giant batteries, can deal with the intermittency of wind and solar. There is no reason why carbon emissions and electric bills can’t go down together. But it obviously won’t happen if Xcel and other utilities are allowed to keep on driving the train. From an industry source, January 8, 2018
- An Xcel Energy resource solicitation received more than 400 individual proposals, the utility reported last month, including what may be record-low prices for renewable energy paired with energy storage.
- The median price bid for wind-plus-storage projects in Xcel’s all-source solicitation was $21/MWh, GTM Research’s Shayle Kann noted on Twitter, and the median bid for solar-plus storage was $36/MWh. Previously, the lowest known bid for similar solar resources was $45/MWh in Arizona.
This is much cheaper than even old-nuke power and illustrates the foolishness of dumping more money into them. Note also that these are for “power purchase agreements” and do not involve any rate-base-inflating capital investment by Xcel.
(Aside, we can note that since around 2010, while the actual wholesale cost of fuels and electricity has dropped, Xcel has received multiple large, unjustified rate increases and Minnesota now has above-average electricity rates. Right-wing policy shops like the Center of the American Experiment blame this on investment in “renewable energy.” This is not the case. The cause is the chokehold that Xcel and other utilities have on regulators, legislators, and NGOs. So far as I have seen, only Attorney General Lori Swanson has offered much opposition, and that has been rather low-key.)
So yes, these two bills are horrible. They probably have some throwaway aspects Xcel is prepared to give up to encourage rollovers.
The bigger picture is that Minnesota needs to start regulating its utilities in the public interest, not allowing the utilities to twist and distort policies to the benefit of their management and stockholders but at high cost to the public. We need a PUC and a Legislature with backbone and integrity.
SF 3504 was to be heard March 22nd, but many concerned citizens showed up and the hearing was postponed to March 27th (Tuesday), scheduled for 01:00 PM in Room 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg. Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee
If you would like to speak, contact Committee Administrator Darrin Lee at 651-293-2962 or email@example.com.
Three of the 10 committee members, including the Chair (Osmek) are bill sponsors and one (Goggin) is an Xcel employee. Don’t assume you will be treated respectfully or that the meeting time and place won’t be moved around to frustrate citizens.
HF3708 has been referred to the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance committee but as far as I know no hearing has been scheduled.
“A kakistocracy (/ˌkækɪsˈtɒkrəsi, –ˈstɒk-/) is a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.”
- City of Red Wing kisses Xcel Energy butt…..works to raise your electric bills April 23, 2018
- Minnesota: A wholly owned subsidiary of Xcel Energy? #1 in a series. February 17, 2016
- This city WANTS a trump concentration camp: June 26, 2018
- Garbage prospers in the Minnesota Legislature March 12, 2015
- [Wash Post] “Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar” March 9, 2015
- Viewpoint: Lessons from Three Mile Island aren’t over April 8, 2019
- 40 years on, have we learned the lessons of Three Mile Island? March 28, 2019
- Electricity legislation ….stop subsidizing dirty “renewables.” March 4, 2019
- February 11, 2019
- “Viewpoint: Time for Goodhue County to revote on Red Wing’s garbage-burning scheme” October 1, 2018
- Viewpoint: Lessons from Three Mile Island aren’t over | alanmuller.com: […] Note: This was published in the Red Wing...
- 40 years on, have we learned the lessons of Three Mile Island? | alanmuller.com: […] is timely to think about TMI as Xcel Ene...
- T.W. Day: I have spent a lot of time traveling around a lot ...
- alan: Tom, I see Xcel Energy as having a sophisticated m...
- T.W. Day: I do, but I'm not sure our pseudo-conservative pu...
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