Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ariel/Breeze and Elaine/Kandee talk about SL's Beach Front Realty

Ariel Gonzalez (Breeze Herrey) and Elaine Politis (Kandee Herrey) talk about their Second Life real estate operations, recorded from Flushing, Queens, NY, on March 30, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Draxtor Depres talks about machinima

Machinima artist and entrepreneur Draxtor Depres (Bernhard Drax) explains the workings, proliferation, and potential of this virtual cinematic technology, recorded on March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sandy Bahr on Arizona renewables

Sandy Bahr, Director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, talks about recent developments in renewable energy policy in Arizona, recorded March 23, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bhagwan Chowdhry talks about FinancialAccess@Birth

Bhagwan Chowdhry, Professor of Finance at UCLA's Anderson School, talks about FinancialAccess@Birth, a plan to provide every child on earth with a bank account at birth, and related economic advantages, recorded from UCLA on March 16, 2010

DOE spokesperson says that credit subsidy number is “proprietary and will remain confidential.”

The size of the “credit subsidy” payment that the recipient of a federal loan guarantee has to make to the guaranteeing agency can make or break the viability of the transaction. This is certainly the case for Southern Company as it negotiates with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding a multi-billion dollar loan guarantee to finance the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia.

According to an article in the February 17, 2010, New York Times:

"Industry officials have said an upfront credit subsidy payment of 1 to 2 percent of the loan amount would be manageable, but a significantly higher number would kill the proposed new reactor projects."

The magnitude of that payment, whatever it turns out to be, is not going to be shared with the public. That information, according to Ebony Meeks, Press Assistant at DOE, is “proprietary” to Southern Company and “will remain confidential.” The reason it will not be made public, she said, was to avoid a situation where one company getting a loan guarantee has grounds to complain that it didn’t get as fair a deal as another company getting one.

Also today, an official at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent Etopia News this statement regarding the relationship between that agency and DOE in determining the size of the credit subsidy:

“As is typically the case, OMB is working with the relevant agency, DOE in this instance, to come to agreement on the underlying assumptions and models, and work together to develop accurate cost estimates, taking all applicable information into account.”

Ms. Meeks at DOE said that the size of the credit subsidy payment would be determined through “a negotiation” involving OMB, DOE, and Southern Company. She agreed that the final figure would be determined by a “consensus” among the three members of this “partnership.”

Meanwhile, Southern Company has taken out a full-page ad in March 13, 2010, issue of The Economist magazine to announce that it is “investing $6 billion in clean, reliable, affordable energy.” The ad shows a happy worker with a lunch pail walking in front of high-tension distribution towers and says, in part: “Nuclear power is cost-competitive and clean, and it adds fuel diversity to our nation’s energy resources. The two new units under construction at Plant Vogtle, located near Augusta, Georgia, represent a multibillion-dollar capital investment in the state and will create 3,500 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs.”

No mention is made of the fact that the bulk of the money for this investment, according to Southern Company spokesperson Steve Higginbottom, will be coming from federal taxpayers. See the March 4, 2010, Etopia News article, “Utility expecting billions in taxpayer funding for two new nuclear reactors,” in which he says that “it’s our understanding that the funding will come from the Federal Financing Bank (FFB).” The FFB is an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rod Blagojevich shows bad faith on reality show

a commentary by Etopia News commentator Marc Strassman on the failure of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to take responsibility for a trivial dereliction of duty during the reality program Celebrity Apprentice, recorded on March 15, 2010, in Studio City, California

Friday, March 12, 2010

An effort to stop “nuclear socialism” emerges in wake of promised loan guarantees

“Nuclear socialism” is what Michael Mariotte, Executive Director of the Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS) calls efforts by the nuclear industry to finance its expansion with federal taxpayer money.

Mr. Mariotte today told Etopia News that instead of pooling its money and building new nuclear reactors on its own, as it did with almost all of the existing 103 reactors now in operation, the industry has chosen to spend “600 million dollars over 10 years” on lobbying to get taxpayers to pre-emotively bail-out “wealthy utilities” and “wealthy reactor makers.” He criticized arrangements that would give profits, if there were any, to private companies, while saddling taxpayers with the losses, which he deemed more likely.

He also discussed the “credit subsidy cost” associated with the recently-offered 8 billion dollar loan guarantee to Southern Company, saying that this “down payment” to the federal government to cover the risk of failure ought to reflect the Congressional Budget Office’s calculation of that risk at 50% or the Government Accountability Office’s estimate of “above 25% for a loss of money,” rather than the 1% or less rate favored by the industry.

If the size of the credit subsidy payment were to reflect the actual risk of failure, he said, then it was likely that the project to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia would not proceed.

He also criticized the lack of transparency regarding this credit subsidy cost, saying that the process surrounding its determination, and even its final level, was “non-transparent,” with the Department of Energy, which will recommend the proper cost, and the Office of Management and Budget, which will approve it, saying that they won’t reveal their final decision even after they’ve made it.

With an original appropriation of 18.5 billion dollars in 2007 for these nuclear guarantees, the 8.3 billion collars in guarantees being offered to Southern Company and its partners leaves 10.2 billion dollars for additional such projects. President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget provides for the expansion of this amount to 54 billion dollars.

Mr. Mariotte believes that the “pro-nuclear majority in the Senate” means that any effort to stop further support for nuclear development will focus on the House of Representatives, specifically the House Appropriations Committee chaired by Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin. He expects hearings on this measure to begin in “three or four weeks.”

He listed Physicians for Social Responsibility, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Union of Concerned Scientists as groups opposing the expansion of the nuclear loan guarantee program.

On the technical side, Mr. Mariotte pointed to on-going design problems, not yet resolved, that nuclear reactor maker Westinghouse was having with the “shield building” component of the proposed nuclear plant. In order to save money, he said, the company wanted to build this structure off-site and construct it in a modular fashion, but there were problems with whether or not that approach would result in a structure capable of withstanding weather-related stress.

“In a practical sense,” he said, the offer of a loan guarantee was “meaningless, since the design of the reactor was not yet approved” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On the political side, he characterized the Obama administration as divided on the issue of support for nuclear expansion, with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu being the “most ardent pro-nuclear” person involved in the discussions.

He said that U.S. Senator John Kerry, who “has the ear of the President,” had told Mr. Obama that with some Democratic senators opposing the Administrations overall climate change agenda, it would be necessary to cultivate the support of some Republicans, who might be won over if the President supported nuclear expansion, in order to pass a climate change bill.

But, as reported on March 5th by Etopia News in an article entitled “Obama‘s pro-nuke move has no effect on Republican opposition to cap-and-trade,” this approach is not likely to work. According to Mr. Mariotte, “it’s as likely to lose votes” for the President’s plans, citing the failure of a climate change bill put forward in 2005, with lesser nuclear subsidies, by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman.

The big question that needs to be addressed, Mr. Mariotte said, was “Should taxpayers be subsidizing the industry” at a time when public opinion seems to have had enough of government bail-outs to wealthy corporations.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Three “conditions pending” as Southern Company and DOE negotiate loan guarantee for new nuclear reactors

Etopia News spoke today with Ebony Meeks, Press Assistant at the U.S. Department of Energy, about the on-going negotiations between DOE and Southern Company for a loan guarantee in support of the major utility’s plans to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia.

Ms. Meeks said that there were three “conditions pending” that need to be fulfilled before the loan guarantee can be issued.

First, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) needs to issue a COL, or Combined License to build and operate the proposed plants. More about this at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col.html

According to the NRC site:

By issuing a combined license (COL), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) authorizes the licensee to construct and (with specified conditions) operate a nuclear power plant at a specific site, in accordance with established laws and regulations. A COL is valid for 40 years from the date of the Commission finding, under Title 10, Section 52.103 (g), of the Code of Federal Regulations [10 CFR 52.103(g)], that the acceptance criteria in the combined license are met. A COL can be renewed for an additional 20 years. The NRC expects to receive applications for new LWR {Light Water Reactor] facilities in a variety of projected locations throughout the United States.

Second, the DOE and Southern Company need to agree on the size of the “credit subsidy” payment to be made in return for the loan guarantee. Ms. Meeks said that information about the size of this payment was “proprietary,” but that it should be released when the loan agreement closes.

Third, the loan guarantee can only cover 80% of the project cost, so Southern Company, and its associated partners, need to raise 20% of the project funding from other sources, as a condition for getting the loan guarantee.

Ms. Meeks indicated that the 80% loan itself is expected to come from the Federal Financing Bank.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Obama’s pro-nuke move has no effect on Republican opposition to cap-and-trade

On February 16th, President Obama announced the granting of a provisional loan guarantee to Southern Company to help it raise the billions of dollars it needs to build two new nuclear reactors. Commentators said one of the reasons the President was coming out in support of nuclear energy was to convince Republicans to support broad cap-and-trade legislation intended to combat climate change.

Etopia News today contacted the office of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and asked if the President’s pro-nuclear action had impacted their position against cap-and-trade.

“We still don’t support the national energy tax,” said McConnell spokesperson Don Stewart. “Is that what the Republicans call cap-and-trade?” he was asked. “Yes, that’s what it is, isn’t it?” he replied. “So you don’t support cap-and-trade even though the President has come out in support of nuclear power?” “Yes,” he said.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Utility expecting billions in taxpayer funding for two new nuclear reactors

On February 16th, President Obama offered Southern Company provisional loan guarantees for $3.4 billion to help it finance the construction of the first new nuclear reactors in the U.S. in over 30 years, Read about it at:


Mentioned in this press release, but not as widely reported, is the fact that the utility expects to get the actual multi-billion dollar loan for building the reactors from the Federal Government as well, specifically, from the little-known Federal Financing Bank (FFB).


Today, March 4th, Southern Company spokesperson Steven Higginbottom re-iterated to Etopia News by phone that “it’s our understanding that the funding will come from the Federal Financing Bank.”

Public funding to build the twin reactors, Vogtle 3 and 4, in not yet a done deal. U.S. Department of Treasury spokesperson Sandra Salstrom today told Etopia News by e-mail that:

“If and when a loan is ever made for this, it will be made public by the FFB.”

The consensus view on this seems to be that Southern Company is focusing its current efforts on negotiating the terms of the loan guarantee with the Department of Energy, making sure that the “credit subsidy” cost included in the project financing be as low as possible, and getting the licenses needed to construct and operate the proposed nuclear reactors.