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The brickbats flew as President Obama and GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney squared off on the campaign trail with energy the main topic. Romney fired his first salve, calling Obama the “anti-energy President.” The GOP candidate (above) will visit a natural gas plant in western Pennsylvania today to emphasize his support of drilling. The Obama campaign fired right back with a six-state ad campaign saying Romney’s only goal is to protect the tax breaks of “Big Oil.” The theme will fold nicely into the Obama Administration’s general contention that the US is controlled by “the 1 percent” and the aim of the rich is only to avoid paying their “fair share.” Meanwhile, Hoover Institute scholar Deroy Murdoch says Obama’s energy positions have degenerated into “pure parody.”

The Department of Energy indicated it is ready to revive the loan guarantee program aimed at supporting clean energy projects. Although the original $16 billion pot has been spent, DOE has located other funds that will be available for the effort. The Department sent out letters this week asking eligible firms to apply. Meanwhile, a Treasury Department audit has found that its officials were given one day to vote up or down on the $535 million Solyndra loan in 2009. “Treasury’s consultative role was not sufficiently defined, the consultation that did occur was rushed and no documentation was retained as to how Treasury’s serious concerns with the loan were addressed,” the audit said. The Department is still smarting over the debacle where the government lost its entire stake in the Solyndra bankruptcy.

Nuclear energy is having its woes. In fact, there isn’t anything good to report. The Catawba plant in South Carolina temporarily shut down from a power outage. The continuing problems of the San Onofre reactor may mean blackouts this summer in southern California. Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun station, disabled by floods last summer, is till idle. And the Perry plant in Cleveland is reported to have had troubles in recent months. Anything else? Oh yes, the Tennessee Valley’s Watts Bar 2 construction project is now behind schedule and over budget. Overall, it looks as if the industry’s 90 percent capacity rating of the past decade may be threatened.

Los Angeles took a European-style step and has legislated “feed-in tariffs” for rooftop solar installations in the city. A feed-in tariff is really just a fancy name for price supports, like the kind farmers have been getting since the 1920s. A utility is forced to buy solar electricity at a pre-determined price anytime and anywhere someone offers it. This means the utility must absorb the higher price of solar and is also left stuck with the problem of periodic oversupply. All this will eventually be passed on to customers and LAist warns that electric rates will be rising.

Finally, the Annual U.S. Geothermal Power Production and Development Report, issued by the industry, shows geothermal making slow but steady progress. Developers added 91 megawatts last year – about 1/10th the capacity of the average coal plant or nuclear reactor. The nation now has a total of 3,187 MW with 2,615 of that in California. Eight states now have geothermal installations and seven more are developing them. Nevada alone has 59 projects. Still the industry complains of the unpredictability of federal tax credits and Eric Wesoff of GreenTechMedia wonders why geothermal isn’t yet a bigger part of the energy mix.

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