At least Steven Chu has a sense of humor. The Onion runs a story this week showing a picture of the departing Secretary of Energy caught in a compromising position with a solar panel (above). Did the Secretary fulminate about an intrusive paparazzi? No, he issued a statement saying that despite rumors, the incident had nothing to do with resignation. And besides, “lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.” A good man. He will be missed.
China has put the cap on its first Westinghouse AP1000 reactor, the kind that the US is just getting around to building at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. The Chinese have three more under construction. At the same time the Beijing directorate said they will be closing a few small coal mines, obviously in response to worsening air pollution and high accident rates.
Wind energy topped all other forms of generation in the addition of new capacity in 2012 in the United States. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that the extension of the production tax credit is quickly reviving the industry. And a report from Australia says that wind is now able to generate electricity that is cheaper than coal. But of course all this ignores that wind isn’t available all the time and the costs of backing it up with other sources of power are never included. And that backup may not always be there. Exelon CEO Christopher Crane says that subsidized wind energy is undercutting the profits of his nuclear reactors, which run round the clock and must now pay the grid to accept its power 16 percent of the time. He says the country’s largest owner of reactors may have to start shutting down some plants by 2015. What will back up wind then? Coal and natural gas, of course.
The makers of the Bloom Box, the very fashionable commercial fuel cell, have suddenly found themselves in hot water as a story in the San Jose Mercury reveals they have been paying some undocumented Mexican workers in pesos. The wages amounted to $2.66 an hour, although defenders point out the company was also providing free food and lodging. The U.S. Labor Department has cited the company for minimum wage violations. Bloom Boxes are used by Google, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, FedEx and eBay.
Finally, the Alliance to Save Energy has issued a report saying that the US businesses could save $169 billion by doubling their energy-saving productivity over the next decade. The business-oriented group is attempting to reignite legislative efforts to encourage energy savings. The plan has already won one supporter – the mass transit industry, which would benefit handsomely from new construction. There’s always a constituency somewhere that will benefit from new mandates.