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Opinion by The Times Editorial Board • December 28, 2023

It looks like California is going from solar leader to solar loser.

A year after regulators at the state Public Utilities Commission voted to gut the successful incentive program that has helped put more than 1.8 million solar systems on homes and businesses, the consequences are becoming distressingly clear.

Preliminary data from the rooftop solar industry shows a steep drop in installations and widespread job losses since April. That’s when the PUC’s changes to the net energy metering program took effect, slashing the compensation new solar customers receive for the excess power they feed into the grid.

The commission sided with utilities, organized labor and consumer advocates who argued that incentives were so generous that solar customers weren't paying their fair share to maintain the power grid, raising electricity rates for lower-income households and renters without solar arrays.

It’s not a surprise that eviscerating the financial incentives for consumers to invest in solar power would cause sales to plummet. But it’s still incredibly disappointing to see the outcome of state regulators’ wrecking-ball approach play out so predictably.

The analysis by the California Solar & Storage Assn. found that sales of rooftop systems in the state have dropped between 77% and 85% since April. That’s backed up by data from Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric showing that customers' applications to connect their solar systems to the grid dropped between 66% and 83% in the months since incentives were reduced, compared with the same time period in 2022.

The industry group forecasts that 17,000 jobs — one-fifth of all solar jobs in California — could be lost by the end of 2023 as the reduction in incentives comes on top of high interest rates and inflation. That’s a steeper decline than the industry experienced in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic brought most solar installations to a halt.

Undermining the rooftop solar market is the opposite of what California should be doing to combat climate change. The world recorded its hottest year in 2023 and is experiencing worsening storms, heat waves and wildfires and other disasters. Yet, state regulators are doubling down.

Last month, the five-member panel of commissioners appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom voted to slash solar incentives again, this time making it far less financially viable for apartment buildings, schools, strip malls, farms and small businesses to go solar. These decisions serve the interests of the state's three big investor-owned utilities, who want to get solar electricity from large-scale arrays in the desert where it can be generated more cheaply. Organized labor also stands to benefit from the change. As the rooftop market falters, there will be more need for union-built solar projects to help the state meet its renewable energy goals.

The gutting of rooftop solar incentives isn’t hurting only the local regional companies that install residential systems. It’s also dragging down big, publicly traded companies like Enphase Energy that supply the equipment used in rooftop arrays.

Keeping solar financially viable and affordable for as many Californians as possible to generate renewable energy on their homes, apartments, businesses, schools and churches isn’t too much to ask. It’s an imperative for our planet.

Newsom and his PUC appointees should keep an eye on this alarming decline in solar jobs and installations and, if it continues, intervene. You can’t be a leader in the fight against climate change by crashing the solar market. It’s not too late to reverse course, reestablish strong consumer incentives for solar systems with battery storage and stem the damage to a cornerstone of California’s clean energy future. 

The Massachusetts Medical Society, publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine, says further decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station should be put on hold to wait for research into the public health consequences.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: IV-23-013 December 20, 2023
CONTACT: Victor Dricks, 817-200-1128
NRC Proposes $28,000 Civil Penalty to XCEL NDT
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a $28,000 civil penalty to XCEL NDT of Gretna, Nebraska, for three violations of NRC security requirements associated with the use of radioactive materials. The company uses radioactive materials for industrial radiography to perform non-destructive testing of materials.
The NRC identified the apparent violations of agency requirements following an inspection after a company vehicle containing radioactive materials was stolen from a temporary jobsite in Billings, Montana, last year. The vehicle and the radioactive material were recovered that same day.
Details of the inspection and the apparent violations were documented in an August 2023 report.
In October, a regulatory conference was conducted at the NRC Region IV office in Arlington, Texas, with company officials to discuss the apparent violations, their significance, their root causes, and the company’s corrective actions. The conference was closed to public observation because it involved security-related information.
Based on the information developed during the inspection and provided during the conference, the NRC determined that three violations of NRC requirements occurred, and a civil penalty was warranted.
The company has 30 days to pay the fine, dispute the fine, or request involvement from a neutral third-party mediator to resolve the issue.

Document Title: 01/17/2024 Notice of Public Meeting Discussion of Increasing Efficiencies for Environmental Reviews

Document Type: Meeting Notice
                           Meeting Agenda

Document Date: 12/27/2023

Subject: NRC LIC-109 Acceptance Review Results for Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, License Amendment Request to Revise Technical Specifications (TS) to Adopt TSTF-568 (EPID L-2023-LLA-0167)
ADAMS Accession No.: ML23352A254
Using Web-based ADAMS, select “Advanced Search”
Under “Property,” select “Accession Number”
Under “Value,” enter the Accession Number
Click Search. 
Subject: James A. FitzPatrick; LaSalle, Units 1 & 2; Limerick, Units 1 & 2; Nine Mile Point, Units 1 & 2; and Peach Bottom, Units 2 & 3 -Revision to Approved Alternatives to Use Boiling Water Reactor Vessel and Internals Project Guidelines (EPID L-2023-LLR-0041)
ADAMS Accession No.: ML23278A129
Using Web-based ADAMS, select “Advanced Search”
Under “Property,” select “Accession Number”
Under “Value,” enter the Accession Number
Click Search. 
Michigan Public Service Commission

P.O. Box 30221  |  Lansing, MI 48909  |  1-800-292-9555
Connect with us on social media.
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The MPSC will host the third of three stakeholder meetings of the Nuclear Feasibility Study Workgroup on January 9, 2024, from 9:00am – 12:00pm EST. This meeting will be held virtually via Microsoft Teams and meeting details can be found here or below.
Or join by phone: +1 248-509-0316; Conference ID: 978 154 615# 
The purpose of this meeting is to review the Nuclear Feasibility Study draft report. The meeting agenda and draft report have been posted to the Nuclear Feasibility Study Workgroup webpage. We are also sharing these documents here for reference.
Further information regarding the study can be found on the Nuclear Feasibility Study Workgroup webpage. Communications regarding the study can be sent to
COP28's Nuclear Mirage
Copyright © 2023 Energy Intelligence Group

Production Perig/Shutterstock

Among the long list of pledges, declarations and other undertakings at COP28 is a commitment to triple nuclear energy’s output by mid-century, and to “mobilize investments in nuclear power.” The Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy signed Dec. 1 concedes the goal is “aspirational”, but in truth it is profoundly misguided. Global investments in nuclear have long been only a fraction of those in renewables, and tripling the amount of existing nuclear capacity would cost trillions of dollars and require massive investments in infrastructure. The problem with throwing nuclear into the mix of potential climate change fixes is that it takes money and attention away from proven and more viable solutions that are urgently needed, such as transforming grids to ensure delivery of renewables, and energy efficiency and storage. 

Only 22 countries signed onto the US-lead initiative in contrast to the more than 120 countries that agreed to the more realistic goal of tripling renewables by 2030. Not surprisingly, the signatories included major Western countries such as France, the UK, Canada, Japan and South Korea, all struggling to keep their aging and diminishing nuclear fleets operational while promoting small modular reactors (SMRs) and “advanced” reactors that are even less likely to make an impact on reducing carbon emissions. China and Russia, the two countries with the most dynamic nuclear programs (domestically in the case of China and overseas in the case of Russia), did not sign on. Notably, China signed the renewables pledge.

The Western intergovernmental declaration was echoed in a similar industry pledge to “at least” triple nuclear energy globally by 2050, signed by 120 nuclear industry companies from around the world and pro-nuclear organizations in 25 countries. None of them want to miss out on the prospects of a bonanza in government and export credit agency financing. “By ensuring nuclear has access to climate finance equal to other clean energy sources, governments can enable nuclear capacity deployment at scale worldwide,” their declaration states.

Weak Vital Signs

But the smart money is not on nuclear. Globally, renewables (not including hydro) received a record $495 billion in investments in 2022, up 35% from the previous year and 74% of all power generation investments that year. By contrast, only $35 billion was committed to new nuclear power plant construction in that same period, according to the recently released World Nuclear Industry Status Report, or WNISR. (Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword.) Renewables (including hydro) added 348 gigawatts of new capacity in 2022 compared with a net addition of 4.3 GW in operating nuclear power capacity.

Nuclear “doesn’t have the conditions for success to be built and scaled economically in the 21st Century, and wind, water, solar, transmission and storage do,” writes Michael Barnard, chief strategist for TFIE Strategy and editor of The Future is Electric.

The sector’s other vital signs continue to founder — industry CEOs know this, as do leaders of the countries that signed the declaration in Dubai. Nuclear energy’s share of global commercial electricity generation in 2022 dropped to just 9.2% — roughly half its all-time high of 17.5% almost three decades ago in 1996. In France, output from the country’s beleaguered nuclear fleet dropped roughly 120 terawatt hours below the 2005-15 level of around 400 TWh, and for the first time since 1980 the country (whose fleet is the world’s second-largest) became a net electricity importer, according to the WNISR.

Solar and wind power together began outperforming nuclear in 2021, and that trend continued last year with the two generating 28% more electricity than nuclear and contributing 11.7% of global generation. Solar alone produced more power than nuclear in China for the first time in 2022, as it already had in India, and solar and wind combined produced more power than nuclear in the European Union, the report notes.

As renewables continued adding substantial amounts of new capacity to grids across the planet — 348 GW in 2022 — nuclear staggered along, adding only 4.3 GW last year. Even in China, with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear program, the rate of new reactor construction is slowing and renewables are growing much faster.

Money Better Spent

For world leaders in Dubai, 2050 is a long way out. By signing onto the US initiative, they could opportunistically curry favor with Washington while appearing to be doing something about climate change. However cynical their reasons, their support likely means that substantial sums of money — much of it from taxpayers or ratepayers — will flow toward an effort with little chance of success. Meanwhile, those pocketing the bounty will be lawyers, PR firms, politicians, corporations and utilities perpetuating the fantasy that nuclear energy will make a difference.

Government bureaucracies — especially in the major nuclear countries — will be the biggest beneficiaries. More than half of the US Department of Energy (DOE) annual budget of roughly $50 billion goes toward commercial nuclear energy programs, thus enabling a never-ending cycle of promotion and spending on technologies that were never able to fulfill their promise of revolutionizing energy. Initiatives like the one in Dubai sets up a new round among a club of like-minded nuclear bureaucracies around the world, all increasingly desperate to find new ways to push nuclear.

They are running out of ideas. Large reactors have proved way too expensive to continue building and the SMR and advanced reactor technologies more recently promoted are based on mid-20th century technologies that beyond being too costly, were also considered too dangerous or unworkable to commercialize. DOE has so far watched two showcase SMR projects collapse — one in 2017 and the second, led by Fluor subsidiary NuScale, just a month before COP28. These were based on conventional light-water nuclear technology. The advanced reactor projects are even less likely to succeed.

The idea of tripling nuclear energy surfaced in a DOE report earlier this year. The cost would exceed $5 trillion, assuming 300 new reactors (although the report suggests adding 200 new reactors to the existing fleet of 93, ignoring the fact that most of those reactors will be permanently shut by then).

Recently passed legislation (mainly the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act) contains as much as $150 billion in tax credits and loan guarantees, mainly for keeping aging reactors running twice as long as their original 40-year license periods, and the rest for new reactors, according to Tim Judson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. The actual amount could be far less if planned new nuclear projects or life extensions fail to materialize. Either way it falls far short of what’s needed for a major nuclear expansion in the US.

If governments are serious about addressing climate change, they need to stop perpetuating the fantasy of a nuclear future, and pursue viable alternatives. They know that.

Stephanie Cooke is the former editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly and author of In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age. The views expressed in this article are those of the author

Regulators approve deal to pay for Georgia Power’s new nuclear reactors
Updated 11:14 AM PST, December 19, 2023
ATLANTA (AP) — Almost 15 years of wrangling over who should pay for two new nuclear reactors in Georgia and who should be accountable for cost overruns came down to one vote Tuesday, with the Georgia Public Service Commission unanimously approving an additional 6% rate increase to pay for $7.56 billion in remaining costs at Georgia Power Co.'s Plant Vogtle.
The rate increase is projected to add $8.95 a month to a typical residential customer’s current monthly bill of $157. It would take effect in the first month after Vogtle’s Unit 4 begins commercial operation, projected to be sometime in March. A $5.42 rate increase already took effect when Unit 3 began operating over the summer. 
Tuesday’s vote was the final accounting for Georgia Power’s portion of the project to build a third and fourth reactor at the site southeast of Augusta. They’re currently projected to cost Georgia Power and three other owners $31 billion, according to Associated Press calculations. Add in $3.7 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid the Vogtle owners to walk away from construction, and the total nears $35 billion.
The reactors were originally projected to cost 14 billion and be complete by 2017
Unit 3 and Unit 4 are the first new American reactors built from scratch in decades. Each can power 500,000 homes and businesses without releasing any carbon. But even as government officials and some utilities are again looking to nuclear power to alleviate climate change, the cost of Vogtle could discourage utilities from pursuing nuclear power.
Southern Co., the Atlanta-based parent of Georgia Power, said in a stock market filing Friday that it would record a $228 million gain on the deal, saying it will now be able to recover from ratepayers certain construction costs that it had been subtracting from income. That means the total loss to shareholders on the project will be about $3 billion, which the company has written off since 2018.
Overall, the company said Georgia Power would collect an additional $729 million a year from its 2.7 million customers.
“We believe this decision by the Georgia PSC acknowledges the perspectives of all parties involved and takes a balanced approach that recognizes the value of this long-term energy asset for the state of Georgia and affordability needs for customers,” Georgia Power spokesperson John Kraft said in a statement.
The five Republican commissioners, all elected statewide, voted on an agreement that Georgia Power reached with commission staff and some consumer groups. Called a stipulation, it averted what could have been lengthy and contentious hearings over how much blame the company should bear for overruns.
“This is very reasonable outcome to a very complicated process,” Commission Chairman Jason Shaw said in an interview after the vote. 
Calculations show Vogtle’s electricity will never be cheaper than other sources Georgia Power could have chosen, even after the federal government reduced borrowing costs by guaranteeing repayment of $12 billion in loans. Yet the company and regulators say Vogtle was the right choice. 
“You can’t go back to 2009 and make a decision based on everything that happened,” Shaw said.
But Bryan Jacob of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called the vote “disappointing.” He said residential and small business customers paid a disproportionate share of a financing charge that Georgia Power collected during construction, but Tuesday’s vote parceled out additional costs without giving customers credit for heavier shares of earlier contributions.
Other opponents held up crime scene tape after the vote to show their displeasure.
“The Georgia Public Service Commission just approved the largest rate increase in state history,” said Patty Durand, a Democrat and possible candidate for the commission. “The people of Georgia deserve a state agency that protects them from monopoly overreach, but that’s not what we have.”
Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the reactors. Smaller shares are owned by Oglethorpe Power Corp., which provides electricity to member-owned cooperatives, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Some Florida and Alabama utilities have also contracted to buy Vogtle’s power.