Tag Archives: loan guarantee

SO CEO Fanning: Policy, jobs, and the economy plus fracking

You may have wondered, how was Southern Company (SO) CEO Thomas A. Fanning so ready and able to respond at length to any question at the SO shareholder meeting? Because he’s a class A CEO who does his homework, such as this white paper he wrote dated September 2011: American Energy Policy, Jobs and the Economy, in which he explains what he meant by “the revolution we have seen in the shale gas industry”.

So, natural gas is important, but it’s not a panacea. Here’s why.

First, the reason prices have dropped so far is because of a new technology called fracking, which releases natural gas from so-called tight rock formations, such as shale gas. Fracking is the injection of chemicals underground, which have the effect of fracturing the rock deposits, thereby releasing the natural gas. There are environmental concerns around the chemicals associated with the fracking process. Those concerns have to be resolved.

Those concerns range from polluted groundwater to earthquakes. It’s great that SO is turning away from coal. I don’t think it’s so great to trade dirty air from coal for dirty water and earthquakes from fracking.

Secondly, many of these shale gas deposits are in places where there is no sufficient pipeline infrastructure necessary to move the gas to the places it’s needed to generate the electricity. Pipelines will have to be built. It will take time. We need to resolve that issue, too.

Meanwhile, rooftop solar Continue reading

Plant Vogtle is why Georgia is not a leader in solar power today

Could Georgia approach that German 20 gigawatt solar power figure? We’d already be there if we weren’t building Plant Vogtle.

Remember, John Hanger figures:

The Vogtle $913 million cost overrun by itself could have paid for approximately 1,000 megawatts of natural gas generation; 450 megawatts of wind power; and 330 megawatts of solar power.

That’s not 20 gigawatts. But the population of Germany is about 81 million, while the population of Georgia is about 9.8 million people, so the Georgia equivalent of 20 gigawatts would be about 2.4 gigawatts. The federal government has guaranteed about $8.3 billion in loans related to Plant Vogtle. That $8.3 billion would pay for about 3 gigawatts of solar power.

That big dish at Plant Vogtle? That’s not just a nuclear containment vessel, it’s a solar prevention wall. Preventing jobs, energy independence, and profit through solar power in Georgia.

Plant Vogtle is why Georgia is not a leader in solar power today.


For the 99% Chernobyl, water and Plant Vogtle –Stephanie Coffin @ SO 2012-05-23

What about renewable clean energy such as wind off the coast instead of a water-sucking nuclear plant? Stephanie Coffin for the 99% asked Southern Company (SO) CEO Thomas A. Fanning. She also mentioned Chernobyl, and said more than once that he hadn’t addressed these questions either in the Q&A section or in his earlier performance.

CEO Fanning once again didn’t address those questions, instead enumarating the points he’d told me (scale, financial track record, and operational credibility). He did refer to SO’s Chief Environmental Officer, Chris Hobson.

But he liked the water point:

I think frankly water, more than air, is the issue of the future.

Here in the south Georgia protracted extreme drought with groundwater at historically low levels, water is the issue not just of the future, but already for years now.

He continued:

One of the things we should be very proud about Southern Company is that we are a company that is engaged in offering solutions, not just rhetoric. We remain the only company engaged in proprietary research and development. We’re the only company in America today that has a 1600 person engineering and construction service. So we have the credibility to do whatever our words say.

He also talked about carbon capture research (for DoE, in Alabama), about gassifying coal to “strip out 65% of the CO2” to make it comparable to natural gas (which is what SO mostly uses now to generate energy), and about using the CO2 in oil recovery.

He finally got around to water:

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Exit strategy for when this big nuclear bet goes bad? –John S. Quarterman @ SO 2012-05-23

At Southern Company’s (SO) shareholder meeting, I enumerated some examples in the U.S., Japan, and Germany of nuclear gone bad, and pointed out Japan, Germany, and even Bulgaria had already or were getting out of nuclear, while Southern Company and Georgia continued to bet the farm on nuclear, and I asked what was SO’s exit strategy for when that bad bet goes bad? SO CEO Thomas A. Fanning said they had learned everything there was to learn from Fukushima, and besides Plant Vogtle is 100 miles inland where there are no earthquakes. He didn’t mention the same description applies to Chernobyl. He did say SO planned to make the U.S. nuclear industry the best in the world.

You kept using big bets and then bet the farm. Very interesting terminology.

Um, the title of SO’s corporate biography that SO was giving out in the lobby in paper, video, and audiobook formats is Big Bets: Decisions and Leaders That Shaped Southern Company. And ‘nuclear’s “bet-the-farm” risk’ is, as I mentioned, bond-rater Moody’s phrase.

He said the new Plant Vogtle units were planned for $14 billion and 10 years to build, and

…it is a big investment.

He said a company to do such a thing needed scale, financial integrity, and existing credibility of operations.

Scale seems to me a problem, since SO seems deadset on building mainframes in a networked-tablet world.

SO’s nuclear financial track record is that four nuclear plants were originally planend for Plant Vogtle at a cost of $660 million and only two were built at a cost of $8.87 billion. The new units at Plant Vogtle are already overbudget by almost a billion dollars. The Georgia Power bonds that SO CEO Fanning mentioned: aren’t they guaranteed by the $8.33 billion federal loan guarantee?

Regarding operations credibility, a year ago Vogtle Unit 1 shut down 2 days after the NRC gave Vogtle a clean bill of health. But the SO CEO says it’s all better now.

Here’s the video, followed by links to sources for the points I made:

Exit strategy for when this big nuclear bet goes bad? –John S. Quarterman
Shareholder Meeting, Southern Company (SO),
Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Georgia, 23 May 2012.
Video by John S. Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE).

Here are the main points I was reading from, with links:

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