A week after the International Energy Agency issued its upbeat report, commentators are still absorbing the idea that we may be facing an era of abundance rather than scarcity. Are we really the next Saudi Arabia? asks Peter Keleman in Popular Mechanics. Tight oil is changing the world says FNArena. One little noted side aspect is that the promise of American oil may constitute an argument for rejecting the Keystone Pipeline. NextBigFuture reports that American companies are starting to unload their Canadian holdings and China is grabbing them up. If President Obama hasn’t taken note of this in his Keystone deliberations, he probably will. Meanwhile, environmentalists are starting to worry that cheap natural gas could blunt their efforts to promote renewable energy.
Nuclear took what could be an historic step forward as the Department of Energy awarded an unspecified amount of a $452-million pool of money to Babcock & Wilcox to develop its mPower small modular reactor. Bechtel and the Tennessee Valley Authority will partner on the project. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu said SMRs offer the promise of a new beginning for nuclear power and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Alison MacFarlane promised that design certification could come within a year. The choice of B&W was a big disappointment for Missouri, where Governor Jay Nixon had been promoting the Westinghouse-Ameren SMR as his state’s great hope for an industrial revival. NuScale, the Oregon company that has its own modular design, said it will reapply. Since the entire $452-million pool was not awarded to B&W, there may still be hope for other projects as well.
Opponents of coal are in a buzz over the World Resources Institute report that there are 1200 new coal plants in the pipeline across the world, 75 percent of them in India and China. Even as the US moves away from coal, the rest of the world is expanding the effort. The implications for climate, of course, are severe. Is the world really going to go ahead with this? asks Brad Plumer of the Washington Post.
The UK has stirred up a hornet’s nest as the government has asked utility companies to simplify the rate structure by offering only four “tariffs,” as they call them, on their electrical rates. The idea was to clarify the choice for consumers and reduce electrical bills. But the utility companies have responded by axeing their cheapest tariffs so that customer bills may actually rise. The brouhaha threatens to split Prime Minister David Cameron’s carefully constructed coalition. Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Ed Davie continues to raise hackles by saying he doesn’t want to see windmills “all over” the English countryside.
Finally, Australia continues to attract attention as its carbon tax – the largest in the world – goes into effect. A Nielsen survey has found a remarkable 56 percent of the electorate still opposed and only 39 percent in favor, but that’s down from 62 percent opposed and only 33 percent in favor last June when the bill was adopted. Electrical rates are rising and the opposition Conservative Party is calling it “the stupid tax.” But from faraway Paris International Energy Agency director Maria van der Hoeven has voiced her approval.