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Nuke power’s collapse gets ever more dangerous
November 30, 2012
In the wake of this fall’s election, the disintegration of America’s decrepit atomic reactor fleet is fast approaching critical mass. Unless our No Nukes movement can get the worst of them shut soon, Barack Obama may be very lucky to get through his second term without a major reactor disaster.
All 104 licensed US reactors were designed before 1975—a third of a century ago. All but one went on line in the 1980s or earlier.
Plunging natural gas prices (due largely to ecologically disastrous fracking) are dumping even fully-amortized US reactors into deep red ink. Wisconsin’s Kewaunee will close next year because nobody wants to buy it. A reactor at Clinton, Illinois, may join it. Should gas prices stay low, the trickle of shut-downs will turn into a flood.
But more disturbing are the structural problems, made ever-more dangerous by slashed maintenance budgets.
- San Onofre Units One and Two, near major earthquake faults on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, have been shut for more than nine months by core breakdowns in their newly refurbished steam generators. A fix could exceed a half-billion dollars. A bitter public battle now rages over shutting them both.
- The containment dome at North Florida’s Crystal River was seriously damaged during “repair” efforts that could take $2 billion to correct. It will probably never reopen.
- NRC inspections of Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun, damaged during recent flooding, have unearthed a wide range of structural problems that could shut it forever, and that may have been illegally covered-up. According to William Boardman, NRC documents show nearly three dozen reactors to be at risk from dam breaks.
- Ohio’s Davis-Besse has structural containment cracks that should have forced it down years ago and others have been found at South Carolina’s V.C. Summer reactor pressure vessel.
- Intense public pressure at Vermont Yankee, at two reactors at New York’s Indian Point, and at New Jersey’s Oyster Creek (damaged in Hurricane Sandy) could bring them all down.
Projected completion of a second unit at Watts Bar, Tennessee, where construction began in the 1960s, has been pushed back to April, 2015. If finished at all, building this reactor may span a half-century.
Two new reactors under preliminary construction in South Carolina have been plagued by delays and cost overruns. Faulty components and concrete have marred two more under construction at Vogtle, Georgia, where builders may soon ask for a new delay on consideration of proposed federal loan guarantees.
This fall’s defeat of the very pro-nuclear Mitt Romney is an industry set-back. The return of Harry Reid (D-NV) as Senate Majority Leader means the failed Yucca Mountain waste dump will stay dead. A number of new Congressionals are notably pro-green, in line with Obama’s strong rhetorical support.
The move toward renewables has been boosted by Germany’s shut-down of eight reactors and huge investments in wind, solar and other renewables, which are exceeding financial and ecological expectations. Despite pro-nuke nay-sayers,Germany’s energy supply of energy has risen while prices have fallen.
The Department of Energy has confirmed that US solar power continues to drop in price. US employment in the solar industry has surged past 118,000, a rise of more than 13% over last year.
Despite a wide range of financial problems, including uncertainty over renewal of the Production Tax Credit, the green energy industry continues to expand. Along with marijuana, Colorado has now legalized industrial hemp, opening the door for a major bio-fuel that will have strong agricultural support.
At some near-term tipping point, the financial and political clout of the green energy industry will fly past that of atomic power.
But at Fukushima, a spent fuel pool crammed with some 1500 hugely radioactive rods still sits atop a deteriorating shell that could collapse with the inevitable upcoming earthquake. As the Earth hangs in the balance, the pool may or may not be emptied this coming year, depending on the dubious technical and financial capabilities of its owners, who are in a deep fiscal crater.Meanwhile, fish irradiated by the huge quantities of Fukushima emissions are being consumed here in the US.
Overall, the “nuclear renaissance” is in shambles. So is an industry increasingly comprised of rust-bucket fleet of decayed reactors in serious decline.
Solartopians everywhere can celebrate an election that seemed to show some progress toward saving our beleaguered planet.
But our survival still depends on shutting ALL these old reactors before the next Fukushima contaminates us with far more than just radioactive fish.
Why should nuke guarantees cost less than home or student loans?
July 2, 2012
The Department of Energy wants to give the Southern Company a nuclear power loan guarantee at better interest rates than you can get on a student loan. And unlike a home mortgage, there may be no down payment.
The terms DOE is offering the builders of the Vogtle atomic reactors have only become partially public through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
We still may not know all the details.
SACE has challenged the $8.33 billion loan guarantee package announced by President Obama in 2010.
The documents show the DOE has intended to charge the Southern a credit subsidy fee of one to 1.5%, far below the rates you would be required to pay for buying a house or financing an education.
On a package 15 times bigger than what the federal government gave the failed solar company Solyndra, Southern would be required to pay somewhere between $17 million and $52 million. Advocates argue the fee is so low that it fails to adequately take into account the financial risks of the project. Numerous financial experts have estimated the likely fail rate for new nuclear construction to be at 50% or greater.
Furthermore, since a primary lender would be the Federal Financing Bank, the taxpayer is directly on the hook. Guaranteed borrowings are not supposed to exceed 70% of the project’s projected costs, but it’s unclear what those costs will actually turn out to be, as the public has been given no firm price tag on the project.
There is apparently no cash down payment being required of Southern as it seems the loan is designed to be secured with the value of the reactors themselves, whatever that turns out to be. In the unlikely event they are finished, liability from any catastrophe will revert to the public once a small private fund is exhausted.
Southern wanted the terms of the DOE offer kept secret, and we still don’t know everything about it. But in March, a federal circuit court judge ordered that the public had a right to know at least some of the details.
Apparently no final documents have actually been signed between Southern and the DOE. The Office of Management & Budget has reportedly balked at offering the nuke builder such generous terms. Southern has reportedly balked at paying even a tiny credit fee.
Construction at the Vogtle site has already brought on delays focussed on the use of sub-standard concrete and rebar steel. The projected price tag—whatever it may be—has risen as much as $900 million in less than a year.
Southern and its Vogtle partners are in dispute with Westinghouse and the Shaw Company, two of the reactors’ primary contractors. Georgia ratepayers have already been stuck with $1.4 billion in advance payments being charged to their electric bills. Far more overruns are on their way.
The Vogtle project is running somewhat parallel with two reactors being built at V.C. Summer in South Carolina, where $1.4 billion was already spent by the end of 2011. Delays are mounting and cost overruns are also apparently in the hundreds of millions.
Southern and Summer’s builders both claim they can finance these projects without federal guarantees. But exactly how they would do that remains unclear.
Two older reactors now licensed at the Vogtle site were originally promised to cost $150 million each, but came in at $8.9 billion for the pair. The project’s environmental permits are being challenged in court over claims the Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to account for safety lessons from the Fukushima disaster.
The terms of the guarantees are now apparently being scrutinized by the Office of Management & Budget, which reports to a White House that may be gun-shy over new construction guarantees due to bad publicity from the Solyndra fiasco.
The Nuclear Information & Resource Service has already facilitated more than 10,500 e-mails sent directly to DOE Secretary Chu.
You might ask: why should the builders of nuclear power reactors get better terms than students struggling to pay for college or working families trying to buy a home?
At least the home buyers can get private liability insurance, which the nuke builders can’t.
If mounting grassroots opposition can stop this package, it’s possible no new reactors will ever be built in the US.
So send the OMB and DOE a copy of your mortgage or student loan statement.
Demand that before they finance any more nukes, they drop your own payment to 1%, just like they’re offering the reactor pushers. Also demand the right to buy a home without a down payment.
See how far you get, and then make sure Vogtle goes no farther.
Will You Pay as New Reactors Jump $900 Million in 3 Months?
By Harvey Wasserman
The projected price for Georgia’s Vogtle Double Reactor Project has jumped at least $900 million in just three months….and that’s just for starters.
Will you pay for it? The future of new atomic power in the US hangs in the balance.
A national grassroots campaign is now working to stop tax/ratepayer handouts and kill the project.
Construction there is defined by faulty concrete and non-spec rebar steel that threaten public safety and could delay completion dates beyond those projected even before construction began.
South Carolina’s V.C. Summer, the only other new US reactor project now under construction, is meeting fierce rate payer resistance in two states. From Iowa to Brazil, Japan to France, the global reactor industry is collapsing in tandem. But what other nations will it bankrupt and irradiate before it’s finished?
President Obama has tagged $8.33 billion in loan guarantees for Vogtle’s construction. And Georgia ratepayers are being forced to pay for it in advance.
But the Office of Management and Budget is still dickering over terms with the Southern Company. Vogtle’s prime builders want to put up little or no money. They want interest rates lower than what you would pay to buy a new house. They expect you to take primary liability for future disasters. They can’t say what will happen to the radioactive waste.
The real price tags for both Vogtle and Summer are suspect. Original estimates have been as low as $2-4 billion/reactor. But Florida’s Progress Energy has just admitted its proposed reactors for Levy County, near Tampa, would go as high as $9.5 to $12 billion each. Given their delays and structural defects, there’s no reason to believe Vogtle or Summer could come in cheaper. At those prices, they cannot begin to compete with new renewables or efficiency.
So where does that leave Vogtle’s federal loan guarantees? George W. Bush set aside $18.5 billion at the Department of Energy for new reactor funding, but made no grants. Despite fierce lobbying, industry attempts to add to the fund have been defeated by national grassroots campaigns.
Obama designated the first $8.33 for Vogtle in 2010. But closed-door negotiations between his OMB, the DOE and Southern have been inconclusive.
The $535 million failure of Solyndra Solar loans has cast a shadow over the entire federal guarantee system. The proposed Vogtle guarantee is 15 times bigger. At least three national petitions are circulating to kill it.
Southern has hinted it might seek better terms from private lenders. But Wall Street has long scorned atomic investments. And Georgia ratepayers are already being soaked for hundreds of millions to pay in advance for reactors sinking in debt and increasingly unlikely to ever operate. In both South and North Carolina, ratepayers are revolting against skyrocketing rate hikes to build Summer.
In a major defeat for the nuclear industry, the Iowa legislature adjourned without voting advance rate hikes to build nukes there. Similar legislation is stalled in Missouri and under attack in Florida. Brazil has announced it will build no more reactors. Despite fierce federal attempts to reopen them, all Japan’s commercial reactors remain shut.
New President Francois Hollande has pledged to phase down France’s dependency on atomic power. A construction project at Flamanville (like one in Finland) is sinking in devastating overruns and delays. Whether Hollande will proceed there or at any other remains to be seen.
But France’s new nuclear hesitancy may kill new reactor projects in Great Britain. They have been posited on support from Electricite de France, now under attack from Hollande and a skeptical banking system being hammered by Europe’s financial crisis.
In India, many of the 350-plus women committed to a fast-unto-death against the Koodankulam reactors have entered critical life-threatening stages. Police-state tactics have escalated the mass confrontation at the site.
Only China still seems a hold out for large-scale new construction. As grassroots anti-nuclear campaign there begin, the central government has not yet announced its post-Fukushima decision on whether to proceed with some 30-plus proposed new reactors.
But at Fukushima itself, we still face a potentially catastrophic situation at Unit Four’s spent fuel pool, still perched 100 feet in the air. Tons of horrifically radioactive rods remain at the mercy of an earthquake that could send them crashing to the ground, spewing releases that can only be termed “apocalyptic.”
In California, a failed $960 million “upgrade” at California’s San Onofre has led to steam generator tube failures shutting two reactors with no firm reopening date. More than a $1 billion spent by Progress Energy at Florida’s Crystal River may also doom it to long overdue burial.
In Vermont, New York, Texas, Ohio and elsewhere else there are operating reactors, escalating leaks, flaws, errors and advanced aging define a supremely dangerous industry falling apart at its faulty welds.
So far there have been no balanced national hearings on the future of Votle’s loan guarantees, or continued construction at Summer. But this latest $900 million price jump casts yet another deadly shadow over America’s nuclear future.
It’s time to kill this loan—and this industry—and put our money into green-powering our planet.
Our economic and ecological survival depend on it.
There are zero commercial reactors operating in Japan today. On March 10, 2011, there were 54 licensed to operate, well over 10% percent of the global fleet.
But for the first time in 42 years, a country at the core of global reactor electricity is producing none of its own.
Worldwide, there are fewer than 400 operating reactors for the first time since Chernobyl, a quarter-century ago.
And France has replaced a vehemently pro-nuclear premier with the Socialist Francois Hollande, who will almost certainly build no new reactors. For decades France has been the “poster child” of atomic power. But Hollande is likely to follow the major shift in French national opinion away from nuclear power and toward the kind of green-powered transition now redefining German energy supply.
In the United States, a national grassroots movement to stop federal loan guarantees could end new nuclear construction altogether. New official cost estimates of $9.5 to $12 billion per reactor put the technology off-scale for any meaningful competition with renewables and efficiency.
In India, more than 500 women have joined an on-going hunger strike against construction of reactors at Koodankulam. And in China, more than 30 reactors hang in the balance of a full assessment of the true toll of the Fukushima disaster.
But it seems to have no end. Three melted cores still smolder. New reports from US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), confirm that at least one spent fuel pool suspended 100 feet in the air, bearing tons of hugely toxic rods, could crash to the ground with another strong earthquake—a virtual certainty by most calculations.
Atomic Rate Rape & the New China Syndrome
By Harvey Wasserman
Small wonder the death knell of new US nukes may be upon us.
Two reactors proposed for Florida will now, say its would-be builders, cost $24 billion or more…up from their original maximum guess of $4 billion each…far beyond comparable renewables and efficiency ( http://nukefree.org/florida-nukes-delayed-3-more-years-cost-now-19-24-billion ).
Two Georgia nukes still wanting tax-funded loan guarantees have been caught pouring faulty concrete and using non-design rebar steel
Currently licensed reactors from California to Vermont, from Texas to Ohio to Florida are leaking radiation, shut for faulty steam generator tubes, closed for failed repairs running over $1 billion and being fought tooth and nail by local downwinders who are tired of rate rape want them shut forever.
But the fate of the Earth may ultimately rest on which China emerges after Fukushima: the green one pushing solar, or the dictatorship pushing nukes that threaten us all.
What we Americans can do about it remains problematic.
But shutting down our own industry begins with killing proposed federal loan guarantees for two new nukes at Vogtle, Georgia
( http://nukefree.org/please-do-sign-petition-stop-new-nuke-loan-guarantees ), and stopping the rate rape being perpetrated to build two more at South Carolina’s V.C. Summer ( http://nukefree.org/ncwarn-duke-rigging-rates-pay-nukes ).
Throughout the US, wanna-be nuke builders are pushing regulators and legislatures to force ratepayers to foot the bill for new reactors while they’re being built. In Iowa, Missouri and Florida ( http://nukefree.org/editorsblog/obamas-atomic-solyndra-0 ) , an angry public is pushing back—hard.
Progress Energy’s staggering new cost estimate for Levy County is a game changer. The idea of paying $12 billion for reactors that can’t even begin construction for at least three years is beyond scale. Progress has blown at least $1 billion on its botched repair and expansion job at north Florida’s Crystal River, which may now never reopen ( http://nukefree.org/editorsblog/nuclear-powers-green-mountain-grassroots-demise ).
Failed steam generator tubes at California’s San Onofre may also keep two reactors there forever shut. In Vermont, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and virtually everywhere other home to geezer nukes, grassroots opposition has seriously escalated. movements are gaining increasing strength. Sooner or later, they will win. We must all pray that happens before yet another nukes blows. It will be a close call.
In part because fracking (another environmental disaster) has made natural gas so cheap ( http://nukefree.org/small-towns-begin-rising-fight-fracking ), and in part because the price of wind and solar continues to plummet, 2011 was the first year since deep in the W Administration that the Executive Branch did not ask for new reactor loan guarantees. If the money can be nixed for Vogtle, and the rate rape for Summer defeated, the whole “nuclear renaissance” could could definitively disappear.
Small modular nukes must still be fought ( http://nukefree.org/are-small-modular-reactors-future-nuke-power ). But the numbers on this imperfected technology do not work without massive taxpayer subsidies or public liability insurance.
Europe’s one-time “nuclear poster child” is about to lose its pro-nuke Sarkozy is poised to the Socialist Francois Hollande ( http://nukefree.org/french-frontrunner-cools-reactor-shut-downs ), who may or may not begin shutting the nation’s reactors. But French public has moved strongly toward renewables and probably won’t tolerate new ones.
Led by Germany, Europe’s nuclear future is past. Proposed reactors in Great Britain and elsewhere are stalled. Bulgaria has cancelled two.
Of Japan’s 54 licensed post-Fukushima units, just one now operates—and may soon shut. Tokyo wants to open more, but grassroots resistance is fierce. Ditto India, where massive demonstrations and hunger strikes have erupted against the Koodankulam project ( http://nukefree.org/10-000-india-hunger-strike-v-koodankulam-reactor ).
South Korea and Taiwan still want new reactors. Korea may sell at least one to the United Arab Emirates. The Saudis and Jordan may soon start construction.
But the global key now rests with China. Despite its campaign to corner the world market in wind and solar hardware, China has been poised to bring on line close to 100 reactors. It may claim the largest number of new proposals—more than 30.
But Fukushima prompted a suspension of new approvals ( http://www.technologyandpolicy.org/2012/03/05/chinas-nuclear-energy-industry-one-year-after-fukushima/ ) and a move toward a national energy plan. A final rejection could blow the floor out of any global nuclear future.
With a rising tide of grassroots environmentalism in China, any No Nukes movement there must be embraced worldwide. In its hands may lie the future of the Earth.
Reactor backers desperately hype potential orders from China and India, and from small nations like Turkey and Taiwan. But who will protect us —or even tell us—when they explode?
This weekend the Sierra Club while host a packed national gathering of grassroots No Nukers ( http://action.sierraclub.org/site/Calendar?view=Detail&id=159641 ) to plan the Us nuclear industry’s final demise. There’s much to celebrate. The campaign for a green-powered Earth has become one of her most successful non-violent social movements.
But the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima are far from over. The radiation they still spew threatens our survival.
Without a truly global Solartopian uprising, the ultimate China Syndrome may yet come in China…and spread worldwide.
In economy and ecology, we have no future without finally cleansing from every corner on Earth the lingering plague of the failed atom.
Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, is at www.solartopia.org , along with THE LAST ENERGY WAR. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm. In 1973 he helped coin the phrase No Nukes.
MyFDL Editor Notes: Title edited to remove all caps in accordance with MyFDL rules. Image link also removed as image was not from an approved source for MyFDL, also covered under MyFDL rules.
America’s 2 new nukes are on the brink of death
April 5, 2012
The only two US reactor projects now technically under construction are on the brink of death for financial reasons.
If they go under, there will almost certainly be no new reactors built here.
The much mythologized “nuclear renaissance” will be officially buried, and the US can take a definitive leap toward a green-powered future that will actually work and that won’t threaten the continent with radioactive contamination.
As this drama unfolds, the collapse of global nuclear power continues, as two reactors proposed for Bulgaria have been cancelled, and just one of Japan’s 54 licensed reactors is operating. That one may well close next month, leaving Japan without a single operating commercial nuke.
Georgia’s double-reactor Vogtle project has been sold on the basis of federal loan guarantees. Last year President Obama promised the Southern Company, parent to Georgia Power, $8.33 billion in financing from an $18.5 billion fund that had been established at the Department of Energy by George W. Bush.
Until last week most industry observers had assumed the guarantees were a done deal. But the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, has publicly complained that the Office of Management and Budget may be requiring terms that are unacceptable to the builders.
Southern and its supporters remain ostensibly optimistic that the deal will be done. But the climate for loan guarantees has changed since this one was promised. The $535 million collapse of Solyndra prompted a rash of angry Congressional hearings and cast a long shadow over the whole range of loan guarantees for energy projects. Though the Vogtle deal comes from a separate fund, skepticism over stalled negotiations is rising.
So is resistance among Georgia ratepayers. To fund the new Vogtle reactors, Southern is forcing “construction work in progress” rate hikes that require consumers to pay for the new nukes as they’re being built. Southern is free of liability, even if the reactors are not completed. Thus it behooves the company to build them essentially forever, collecting payment whether they open or not.
All that would collapse should the loan guarantee package fail.
A similar fate may be awaiting the Summer Project. South Carolina Electric & Gas has pledged to build the two new reactors there without federal subsidies or guarantees. But it does require ratepayer funding up front. That includes an apparent need for substantial financial participation from Duke Power and/or Progress Energy customers in North Carolina who have been targeted to receive some of the electricity projected to come from Summer. [cont.] Read the rest of this entry →
In the wake of Fukushima, grassroots citizen action is shutting the worldwide nuclear power industry.
A Solartopian tipping point is upon us in the US, Europe and Japan which will re-define how the human race gets its energy.
States rights and local democracy are at the core of the battle. The definitive breaking point looms in Vermont. By mid-March a state board is likely to deny the Yankee reactor licenses to operate or to create radioactive waste.
If that happens, a Vermont shutdown could mark a critical moment in establishing state power over an atomic reactor. A critical domino would fall—as it has in Japan and Europe—and we will begin taking down old reactors all across the US. Four new reactors barely under construction will go down with them, making inevitable the end America’s age of atomic power.
In Vermont, the New Orleans-based Entergy bought the Yankee reactor in 2002. Entergy agreed to shut it if the state’s Public Service Board denied it a Certificate of Public Good to continue to operate and generate radioactive waste. That decision is due by March 21, the forty-year anniversary of the reactor’s 1972 opening.
Entergy has horrified many of its staunchest Green Mountain supporters. One of its cooling towers has simply collapsed from ancient rot and basic negligence. It has leaked tritium and other radioactive isotopes from pipes the company has said—under oath—do not exist. Entergy sued Vermont after the legislature voted (26 to 4) to shut the reactor. When its lawyers won in federal court, Entergy demanded the public pay it $4 million in legal fees.
But the company miscalculated. It welcomed federal Judge Garvin Murtha’s ruling that the legislature could not shut Yankee (the state is appealing). But Murtha also upheld the right of the Public Service Board to deny Entergy those operating and waste production permits. Read the rest of this entry →
Nuclear power is the most expensive technological failure of the modern age. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima top the list of its negatives. But in strict economic terms, it cannot compete. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and other forms of green power are cheaper, cleaner, safer, faster to build, require no federal limits on liability and create no radioactive waste. The same is true of increased efficiency and conservation. It’s time to recognize reality and leave atomic energy behind.
Bexley, Ohio, Feb. 22, 2012
The writer is the author of “Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth.”
We may yet lose Tokyo….not to mention Alaska…and now Georgia, too
February 10, 2012
As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves a construction/operating license for two new reactors in Georgia, alarming reports from Japan indicate the Fukushima catastrophe is far from over.
Thousands of tons of intensely radioactive spent fuel are still in serious jeopardy. Radioactive trash and water are spewing into the environment. And nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen reports that during the string of disasters following March 11, 2011′s earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima 1′s containment cap may actually have lifted off its base, releasing dangerously radioactive gasses and opening a gap for an ensuing hydrogen explosion.
There are some two dozen of these Mark I-style containments currently in place in the US.
Newly released secret email from the NRC also shows its Commissioners were in the dark about much of what was happening during the early hours of the Fukushima disaster. They worried that Tokyo might have to be evacuated, and that airb orne radiation spewing across the Pacific could seriously contaminate Alaska.
Reactor pushers have welcomed the NRC’s approval of the new Westinghouse AP-1000 design for Georgia’s Vogtle. Two reactors operate there now, and the two newly approved ones are being funded with $8.3 billion in federally guaranteed loans and state-based rate hikes levied in advance of the reactors’ being completed.
NRC Chair Gregory Jazcko made the sole no vote on the Vogtle license, warning that the proposed time frame would not allow lessons from Fukushima to be incorporated into the reactors’ design.
The four Commissioners voting to approve have attacked Jazcko in front of Congress for his “management style,” but this vote indicates the problem is certainly more rooted in attitudes toward reactor safety.
The approval is the first for a new construction project since 1978. The debate leading up to it stretched out for years. Among other things, the Commission raised questions about whether the AP1000 can withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. Even now the final plans are not entirely complete. Only two other US reactors—in neighboring South Carolina—are even in the pre-construction phase. As in Georgia, South Carolina consumers are being forced to pay for the reactors as they are being built. Should they not be completed, or suffer disaster once they are, the state’s ratepayers will be on the hook. Read the rest of this entry →