New nuclear plants in USA axed in situation eerily similar to Hinkley C

“Billions of dollars spent on two new nuclear reactors in South Carolina went up in smoke Monday when the owners nixed plans to finish them after years of delays and cost overruns, dealing a severe blow to the industry’s future.

South Carolina’s state-owned public utility has voted to stop construction on two billion-dollar nuclear reactors. The reactors were set to be among the first new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in decades, but the vote by Santee Cooper’s board on Monday, July 31, 2017 likely ends their future.

The reactors were set to be among the first built in the U.S. in decades. While the decision will save customers billions in additional costs, customers of the two utilities — Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas — may get little to nothing refunded of the billions they’ve already paid for the now-abandoned project.

“I’m disappointed today not just for Santee Cooper and its customers but for our country and the industry as a whole,” said Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter. “If you really believe we need to reduce carbon, this was the way to do it.”

Energy demands are far less than the utility’s pre-Great Recession projections that factored into the initial decision to build.
But Monday’s decision may eventually result in the utility putting a coal-fired unit idled earlier this year back in operation. Another option for supplying power needs in the decades to come include building a natural gas unit.

“Absolutely, this pushes us back to more carbon, whether it’s natural gas or coal,” Carter said.

Santee Cooper’s board said the decision to end construction will save customers an estimated $7 billion. The utility had already spent about $5 billion for its 45 percent share of the project, and completing it would have cost an additional $8 billion, plus $3.4 billion in interest.
“I’m not celebrating,” said Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth, which has questioned the project from the outset. “This is a sad day for South Carolina. So much money has been wasted. Ratepayers are losers any way you take it.”

He said the group will work to “get to the bottom line of how this happened, who’s responsible” and what that means for customers.

Gov. Henry McMaster called for legislators to hold hearings to get customers’ questions answered.

The project has been shrouded in doubt since earlier this year, when primary contractor Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection.

The utilities have since determined the project likely wouldn’t have been finished until 2024. Under a timeline adopted in 2012, the first reactor was supposed to be operational earlier this year. Westinghouse hasn’t been forthright since, according to Santee Cooper.

South Carolina Electric & Gas, which owns 55 percent, announced its plans shortly after Santee Cooper’s unanimous vote. SCANA, SCE&G’s parent company, will seek approval from regulators Tuesday about their abandonment plans.
Under the approved Santee Cooper resolution, all work will end within six months. How quickly within that timeframe workers at the site will lose their jobs is uncertain.

About 5,000 people are employed at the site by contractors and subcontractors. SCE&G employs an additional 600 workers for the project, according to the utility.

The utilities announced last week that Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba Corp., agreed to jointly pay them $2.2 billion regardless of whether the reactors are ever completed.”

http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2017/Billions-of-dollars-spent-on-two-new-nuclear-reactors-in-South-Carolina-have-gone-up-in-smoke-when-the-owners-nixed-plans-to-build-them-because-of-delays-and-cost-overruns/

Times article: scrap Hinkley C, frack for shale and to hell with carbon reduction

Britain’s energy policy keeps picking losers

by Matt Ridley

The public have paid the price for years of missteps: it’s time to scrap Hinkley Point C and support the shale revolution

Shortly before parliament broke up this month, there was a debate on a Lords select committee report on electricity policy that was remarkable for its hard-hitting conclusions. The speakers, and signatories of the report, included a former Labour chancellor, Tory energy secretary, Tory Scottish secretary, cabinet secretary, ambassador to the European Union and Treasury permanent secretary, as well as a bishop, an economics professor, a Labour media tycoon and a Lib Dem who was shortlisted for governor of the Bank of England.

Genuine heavyweights, in short. They were in general agreement: energy policy is a mess, decarbonisation has been pursued at the expense of affordability and, in particular, the nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C in Somerset is an expensive disaster. Their report came out before the devastating National Audit Office report on Hinkley, which said the government had “locked consumers into a risky and expensive project [and] did not consider sufficiently the risks and costs to the consumer”.

Hinkley is but the worst example of a nationalised energy policy of picking losers. The diesel fiasco is another. The wind industry, with its hefty subsidies paid from the poor to the rich to produce unreliable power, is a third. The biomass mess (high carbon, high cost and environmental damage) is a fourth.

The liberalised energy markets introduced by Nigel Lawson in 1982, embraced by the Blair government and emulated across Europe, delivered both affordability and reliability. But they were abandoned and, in the words of the Lords committee, “a succession of policy interventions has led to the creation of a complex system of subsidies and government contracts at the expense of competition. Nobody has built a power station without some form of government guarantee since 2012.”

All three parties share the blame. Labour’s Climate Change Act of 2008 made Britain the only country with mandatory decarbonisation targets, a crony-capitalist’s dream. The Lib Dems who ran the energy department for five years, Chris Huhne and Ed Davey, negotiated the disastrous Hinkley contract. The Tories reviewed the decision in 2016, by which time it was clear we had managed the unique feat of finding a technology that was untested yet already obsolete. They decided to go ahead anyway, missing the chance to blame the other parties for it. As the energy analyst Peter Atherton put it, the three parties “have managed to design possibly the most expensive programme for delivering nuclear power we could have come up with”.

The chief Lib Dem mistake was to ignore the shale gas and oil revolutions under way in America and assume that fossil fuel prices would rise from already high levels. By 2011, influenced by peak-oil nonsense and lobbied by professors of “sustainability”, the department of energy and climate change was projecting that the oil price would be between $97 and $126 per barrel in 2017. Today it is about $50 a barrel, roughly half the lowest of the 2011 projections. Gas prices were expected to be about 76p per therm by now, whereas they are actually about half that: 37p.

The shale revolution is gathering pace all the time. Britain has very promising shales and could prosper and cut emissions if it joins in, so let us hope the first wells about to be drilled in Lancashire by Cuadrilla, against the determined opposition of wealthy, middle-class protesters, prove successful. (No, I don’t have a commercial interest in shale.)

American industry pays about half as much for its electricity as we do
This forecasting mistake is behind much of the rising cost of Hinkley. In 2015 the whole-life cost of its power was expected to be £14 billion. Now it is £50 billion. Because consumers are on the hook to pay the difference between the wholesale price of electricity and the “strike price” for Hinkley, we must hope that the project is badly delayed, because that way our children will at least spend fewer years paying inflated electricity prices.

These bad forecasts, widely criticised at the time, make all strike prices horribly expensive, for onshore and offshore wind and solar as well. Lib Dem ministers kept saying at the time that subsidies for renewables and Hinkley would protect the consumer against “volatile” gas prices. Yes, they have done so: by guaranteeing high prices. Oh for a little downward volatility!

Britain’s industrial and commercial users now have some of the highest electricity prices in the developed world, which find their way to households in cost of living and a downward pressure on wages. American industry pays about half as much for its electricity as we do, and everyone benefits. Energy prices are not just any consumer price: they determine the prosperity of the entire economy.

It is just possible some new arrangement could be salvaged

Well, no use crying over spilt future money. What are we to do? Here is where it could get interesting. Almost nobody wants Hinkley to go ahead, apart from the contractors who get to build it. EDF and Areva, the French owner and developer, are in trouble over the only two comparable reactors in Europe. The one at Flamanville is still to start working, many years behind schedule. The French unions want Hinkley cancelled. Lord Howell of Guildford, the former energy secretary, wisely pointed out in the Lords that the key player is China, a partner in the project. Rather than cost, the government’s excuse for revisiting Hinkley last year was partly worries about security. This was a silly worry and bad diplomacy. However, it is not clear China wants to go ahead, and subtle negotiation could tease this out. The great prize for China was regulatory approval through Britain’s gold-standard “generic design assessment” process, which could unlock foreign markets and give a green light for a Chinese-built reactor at Bradwell in Essex.

But Lord Howell says the Chinese increasingly realise that the Hinkley design is a dead end, as costs escalate and delays grow. And they know that the future for nuclear power must lie in smaller, modular units, mass-manufactured like cars rather than assembled from scratch like Egyptian pyramids. Their “Nimble Dragon” design could slot into both the Hinkley and Bradwell sites, perhaps beside the larger Hualong design.

Cancellation would cost some £20 billion. But if the initiative comes from Beijing it is just possible that some new arrangement could be salvaged from the certain wreckage of the EDF scheme, without seriously damaging both livelihoods and our relations with China.”

1 in 5 MPs still employ family members – including both our MPs

Swire employs his wife as his researcher on about £35,000 a year, Parish employs his wife at a lower salary as a junior secretary on about £15,000 (but we don’t know how many hours that is for):

“One in five MPs are still using taxpayer-funded expenses to employ members of their family – despite the practice being banned for new Members of Parliament.

Official data shows that, of the 589 MPs who returned to Parliament after the June election, 122 have declared the employment of a relative in the latest Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Yet under new rules, none of the 61 new MPs elected for the first time on 8 June are allowed to do so.

Alexandra Runswick, the director of campaign group Unlock Democracy, said: “The ban on new MPs employing family members reflects the public’s concerns about nepotism and the potential abuse of public money.

“If MPs employing family members is wrong in principle, then when the MP was first elected is irrelevant.”

Among the MPs who have continued to employ spouses following the June election are several members of the Cabinet, including Tory chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Several of Jeremy Corbyn ’s top team also employ spouses, including Labour chairman Ian Lavery and shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner.

There is no suggestion any of the existing MPs who continue to employ family members have done anything wrong.

Ms Runswick said it was ‘reasonable’ to give MPs’ families time to prepare for a new clampdown – but said a ‘time limit’ was needed on how long the current situation could continue.

“A transitional period is reasonable, particularly as the snap election means that these rules have come into force three years earlier than expected,” she said. …

… Darren Hughes, acting chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said it was fair to phase out the practice over the coming years.

“Given the high rate of turnover of both MPs and staff, it is clear that within the next few electoral cycles it will apply to the vast majority of Parliamentary staff,” he said.

“Voters must be able to have confidence that our democracy is resourced in an open and transparent way, so it’s welcome that Parliamentary authorities have taken steps to reform the system.”

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/one-five-mps-still-using-10907964

Make sure you are registered to vote says EDDC Electoral Registration Officer

And will those who don’t return their forms be canvassed for follow-up? Your guess as good as Owl’s since Mr Williams believes it isn’t necessary to follow up and told a parliamentary committee that phone calls (how you get the phone number is a mystery) will suffice:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/voter-engagement-in-the-uk/oral/14118.html

“East Devon residents will soon receive a form asking them to check whether the information that appears on the electoral register about their address is correct.

East Devon District Council is asking residents in East Devon to look out for the form in the post and to make sure that they respond as soon as possible.

The aim of the form is to make sure that the electoral register is up to date and to identify any residents who are not registered so that they can be encouraged to do so.

Being registered to vote gives you the right to vote in elections and can also improve your credit rating

Mark Williams, Electoral Registration Officer at East Devon said: “It’s really important that residents respond as soon as possible, so we can make sure we have the right details on the electoral register for every address in East Devon. Simply check the form when it arrives and respond as soon as you can.”

If you’re not currently registered, your name will not appear on the form. However if you decide to apply to register, you will still need to complete the form and then send it back to us. The easiest way to get yourself registered is to go online to apply to register at

http://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

or we’ll send you information explaining how to do this in the post. You can also provide the information over the telephone.

It’s particularly important that anyone who has moved address recently looks out for the form and checks whether they are registered.

Research by the independent Electoral Commission indicates that recent home movers are far less likely to be registered than those that have lived at the same address for a long time. The research showed that across Great Britain, 94 % of people who have been at their property for more than sixteen years will be registered compared to 40% of people who have lived at an address for less than one year.

Any residents who have any questions can contact the registration team on 01395 517402 or electoralservices@eastdevon.gov.uk”

http://www.devonlive.com/residents-in-east-devon-urged-not-to-miss-important-voter-registration-information-in-the-post/story-30463309-detail/story.html

Report recommends capping cost of all judicial reviews

The protective costs rules in environmental cases should be adapted and extended to all judicial review claims, Lord Justice Jackson has recommended.

In his Review of Civil Litigation Costs: Supplemental Report Fixed Recoverable Costs the judge said: “Whilst those rules were originally introduced to achieve compliance with the Aarhus Convention, they are in principle suitable for judicial review cases in general, all of which are of constitutional importance. Citizens must be able to challenge the executive without facing crushing costs liabilities if they lose.”

A report was written for the judge by Martin Westgate QC of Doughty Street Chambers on how the Aarhus Rules might be developed for general application across the whole landscape of judicial review.

Lord Justice Jackson wrote that government lawyers were “perhaps unsurprisingly….less enamoured of the idea” and had suggested that there was no access to justice problem which needed to be addressed.

His recommendations were based on his conclusions that:
“(i) Even though many JR cases fall into a standard pattern, costs are too variable to permit the introduction of a grid of FRC [fixed recoverable costs].
(ii) CCOs [costs capping orders] are of little practical value, because the procedure for obtaining such orders is too cumbersome and too expensive. The criteria for granting CCOs are unacceptably wide and the outcome of any application must be uncertain. Also, that outcome will not be known until too late in the day.
(iii) There would be merit in extending the Aarhus Rules, suitably amended, to all JR claims. The fact that most JR cases fall into a standard pattern makes it possible to set default figures as caps, even though it is not practicable to draw up a grid of FRC.
(iv)The discipline of costs management should be available in larger JR claims, at the discretion of the court.”

Lord Justice Jackson went on: “I accept that it is both tiresome and expensive for hard pressed public authorities to face (as they do) (a) a stream of unmeritorious claims and (b) and a much smaller number of meritorious claims. The fact that most claims are knocked out at the permission stage is not a complete answer. By then the defendant authorities will often have incurred significant costs in investigating the facts and drafting the acknowledgement of service.

“Despite those unwelcome burdens falling on public authorities, the ready availability of JR proceedings in which public bodies are held to account for their actions and decisions, is a vital part of our democracy. Both JR and a free press are, in their different ways, bulwarks against the misuse of power.”

Under the proposal:

The regime should be available in any case where the claimant is an individual (or an individual who is a representative of a number of natural persons with a similar interest) without legal aid.
The regime should be optional. Any judicial review claimant should be able to opt in.
There must be some form of means testing for those claimants who opt in.
Any investigation of means should be in private and the claimant’s disclosure should be made only to specified individuals within a defined confidentiality ring.
The default figures of £5,000/£10,000 for claimants and £35,000 for defendants should remain, but be subject to three yearly reviews.
Any application to vary those figures should be made by the claimant in the claim form and by the defendant in the acknowledgement of service. Such applications should be dealt with at the permission stage. Such applications should only be entertained later in exceptional circumstances, for example a fundamental change in the case or the discovery of dishonesty in the claimant’s disclosure.
If the claimant’s costs liability is increased above the default figure, they should be permitted to discontinue within 21 days and (if they do) only be liable for adverse costs to the extent of the previous figure.
Lord Justice Jackson argued that the fact that the defendant would not normally be liable for more than £35,000 in costs would protect the public purse against open-ended liability.

“The opportunity to vary the default figures at an early stage provides (a) an additional opportunity for claimants to secure access to justice, as well as (b) an opportunity for defendants to protect the expenditure of taxpayers’ money in litigation brought by wealthy claimants,” he added.
Lord Justice Jackson said the proposals could not be made by rule change alone, and legislation would have to be amended or repealed.

The judge also called for costs management to be introduced, at the discretion of the judge, in ‘heavy’ judicial review claims.
He proposed that in any judicial review case where the costs of a party were likely to exceed £100,000 or the hearing length was likely to exceed two days, the court should have a discretion to make a costs management order at the stage of granting permission.

Lord Justice Jackson rejected the courts being given a discretion to override agreed judicial review budgets.

“Both public authorities and claimants must be assumed to act rationally,” he said. “The defendants have a duty to conserve taxpayers’ money. Claimants and interested parties have their own commercial interests to protect. It would be a waste of scarce judicial time for judges to pore over the details of agreed budgets in JR cases.”

Elsewhere in his report the judge recommended a grid of fixed recoverable costs (FRC) for all fast track cases. Above the fast track, he called for a new ‘intermediate’ track for certain claims up to £100,000 which can be tried in three days or less, with no more than two expert witnesses giving oral evidence on each side. This intermediate track will have streamlined procedures and a grid of FRC.” …

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32046%3Aextend-protective-costs-rules-to-all-judicial-review-claims-lord-justice-jackson&catid=56&Itemid=24

Are Cranbrook’s streets too narrow?

The fire service has already said so:
http://www.devonlive.com/service-issue-warning-inconsiderate-cranbrook/story-29053868-detail/story.html

and a highly critical report mentioned the problem of cars parked in streets – one which has not gone away:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/09/14/what-mainstream-media-isnt-telling-you-about-that-dcc-cranbrook-report/

Now the bus company with the near monopoly in Devon, and which sends only single-decker buses through the town, issues a warning:

“Residents on newly built housing estates are being cut off from the bus network because developers are failing to construct wide enough roads, according to public transport bosses.

One of Britain’s biggest operators warned that buses were being forced to avoid many estates amid concerns over narrow roads, sharp bends, overzealous traffic calming and parked cars.

Stagecoach said that high-density developments were being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators needed 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors.

It blamed planning rules that have cut road widths or pushed the layout of sharp bends to keep car speeds down.

The company also said that national guidelines introduced by Labour 17 years ago intended to clear roads of cars by providing less off-street parking had backfired, with many motorists leaving vehicles on the street.

Stagecoach has issued its own guidance to councils, urging them to build roads at least 6.5m wide, with sweeping bends and off-street parking provided.

It also said that “shared space” schemes that seek to declutter streets by stripping out kerbs, road markings and traffic signs should be redesigned to “avoid buses straying into areas intended mainly for pedestrians”.

Nick Small, Stagecoach’s head of strategic development for the south, said examples included the Shilton Park estate in Carterton, Oxfordshire, where the company could not operate a full-size bus, and the Kingsway development, Gloucester, which had areas “impenetrable by buses”.

Daniel Carey-Dawes, a senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Bad design will lock our towns and countryside into toxic congestion and car dependency for decades.”

Martin Tett, housing and transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “We will be looking closely at this blueprint and continuing to work hard to deliver places where our communities can thrive.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)