Skip Navigation

Website Sections



Institute for Energy and the Environment


News

Institute & Industry News


Energy Regulation & Planning
Nuclear Energy
Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
Resource Extraction & Climate Change
Smart Grid


Energy Regulation & Planning


NUCLEAR ECONOMICS EXPERT COMMENTS ON CLOSURE OF CRYSTAL RIVER NUCLEAR POWER PLANT BY DUKE ENERGY: Implications for Levy County Reactor Project Discussed
Washington, D.C., February 5, 2013 Mark Cooper—a leading U.S. expert on nuclear reactor financing who has testified at several Florida PSC hearings since 2009—is available this afternoon to comment on the announcement by Duke Energy of plans to close their Crystal River nuclear reactor.  He issued the following statement today:

"The closure of the Crystal River plant should come as no surprise. The company's own report evaluating its ability to successfully repair damage to the reactor's concrete containment building concluded the risks associated with making necessary repairs could results in dramatic cost increases and extend the amount of time it would take for repairs to be completed.

However, still on the table is Duke Energy's plan for construction of the proposed Levy Country nuclear plant.  Even with the closure of Crystal River, there are several key reasons why it still does not make sense to construct this new reactor.

• 1)  Cost—If it doesn't make financial or economic sense to spend $1.3 billion to $3 billion to fix the Crystal River plant, then why would it make sense to spend $24 billion to build Levy?

• 2)  Timing—It would take at least 10 years to build the Levy reactor.  This would not go towards helping the situation today.  The utilities have already figured out how to make up for the lost power from Crystal River, both by purchasing power from the wholesale market initially when Crystal River went down and then by increasing production at existing natural gas facilities.  There is not an emergency need for additional power due to these steps and should not be as long as natural gas is plentiful and inexpensive by comparison.

• 3)  Alternatives—In today's reality, Florida would not build the Levy reactor anyway.  Natural gas is cheap. By the utility's own assessment released last year, building the Levy reactor is more expensive than using natural gas in seven out of eight scenarios they considered where there is no carbon tax. Today, there is none and President Obama has stated he does not intend to enact one.  The current climate policy also reduces the need for electricity, which also makes nuclear reactors less economic."

Mark Cooper is the senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment of the Vermont Law School.  He is the author of "Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics" (2012) and "Policy Challenges of Nuclear Reactor Construction, Cost Escalation and Crowding Out Alternatives" (2009).

MEDIA CONTACT: Ailis Aaron Wolf, (703) 276-3265 or aawolf@hastingsgroup.com.

Mark Cooper, Ph.D., Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, releases paper on "Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics" at University of Pittsburgh, March 27-28, 2012:
In the wake of a severe nuclear accident the attention of policymakers, regulators, and the public is riveted on the issue of nuclear safety. Scrutiny is so intense that it seems like the only thing that matters about nuclear reactors is their safety. Cooper's paper shows that in fact, and for good reason, the central tension throughout the 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the United States has been the relationship between the safety and economics of nuclear reactors, tension that is far from resolved.

Cooper's paper presents a historical analysis of the 50-year debate over nuclear safety that highlights three persistent problems, the flawed organizational structure of safety regulation, the continuing operational challenges confronting safety of nuclear reactors, and the broad scope of safety concerns that are highlighted Fukushima. The post-accident review in the U.S., Japan and around the world make it clear that we need a "new infrastructure of safety regulation."
Read Summary and Full Report.
Listen to the report.

"Least-Cost Planning for 21st Century Electricity Supply"
Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute, released a report on June 7, 2011, at the annual meeting of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference. Read Executive Summary. Read Full Report.

Public Utilities Fortnightly , March 2010
Zhen Zhang and Matthew Stern analyze the success of NERC's enforcement so far within their article in "NERC Today and Tomorrow."

2009 Freeing the Grid Released
Renewable energy advocates released the 2009 Edition of Freeing the Grid, a policy guide that grades states on their current net metering and interconnection practices. These policies empower energy customers to use solar and other renewables to meet their own electricity needs. This third edition of the report finds that, although net metering and interconnection policies still vary widely, states have made significant strides in adopting the best practices that drive renewable energy market growth and job creation.
2009 Freeing the Grid

Michael Dworkin Presented 2008 Mary Kilmarx Award
Michael Dworkin’s leadership of the Institute for Energy and the Environment, his commitment to education, and his achievements in conservation, won national recognition from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Energy Resources and the Environment Committee. Read complete press release at www.naruc.org.




Nuclear Energy


Renaissance in Reverse: Competition Pushes Aging U.S. Nuclear Reactors to the Brink of Economic Abandonment
Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis

Although Wall Street analysts expressed concerns about the economic viability of the aging nuclear fleet in the U.S., the recent early retirements of four nuclear reactors has sent a shock wave through the industry. One purely economic retirement (Kewaunee, 1 reactor) and three based on the excessive cost of repairs (Crystal River, 1 reactor, and San Onofre, 2 reactors), in addition to the cancellation of five large uprates (Prairie Island, 1 reactor, LaSalle, 2 reactors, and Limerick, 2 rectors), four by the nation’s large nuclear utility, suggest a broad range of operational and economic problems.
Read the full report.


Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis Mark Cooper releases report on effect of advanced cost recovery on reactor construction, "PUBLIC RISK, PRIVATE PROFIT; RATEPAYER COST, UTILITY IMPRUDENCE: ADVANCED COST RECOVERY FOR REACTOR CONSTRUCTION CREATES ANOTHER NUCLEAR FIASCO, NOT A RENAISSANCE":
In recent weeks, much attention has focused on the woes of the nuclear industry in Florida and the increasing number of delays and cost overruns associated with the Vogtle project in Georgia. This fragmented focus on nuclear power may create the impression that the industry’s challenges vary widely and are localized to specific reactor sites. They are not.

This paper presents an economic analysis of the new nuclear reactors being built in the South East United States, specifically South Carolina and Florida, where advanced cost recovery statutes to subsidize nuclear reactor construction have been enacted. It shows that industry-wide problems have undermined the economics of two of the three projects – the Summer reactor project in South Carolina and the Levy reactor project in Florida. South Carolina is used as the focal point of the analysis...
Read the full report.

Mark Cooper, Ph.D., Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, releases paper on "Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics" at University of Pittsburgh, March 27-28, 2012:
In the wake of a severe nuclear accident the attention of policymakers, regulators, and the public is riveted on the issue of nuclear safety. Scrutiny is so intense that it seems like the only thing that matters about nuclear reactors is their safety. Cooper's paper shows that in fact, and for good reason, the central tension throughout the 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the United States has been the relationship between the safety and economics of nuclear reactors, tension that is far from resolved.
Cooper's paper presents a historical analysis of the 50-year debate over nuclear safety that highlights three persistent problems, the flawed organizational structure of safety regulation, the continuing operational challenges confronting safety of nuclear reactors, and the broad scope of safety concerns that are highlighted Fukushima. The post-accident review in the U.S., Japan and around the world make it clear that we need a "new infrastructure of safety regulation." Read Summary and Full Report.
Listen to the report.



"Nuclear Economics after Fukushima"


Mark Cooper, Senior Research for Economic Analysis addresses the Canadian House of Representatives on Thursday, March 24th.
Read more.

“Should Minnesota lift its moratorium on nuclear reactor construction in the state‌”
On February 9th, Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, testified before the Minnesota House of Representatives Committee on Commerce and Regulatory Reform. Read more

Honey, I Shrunk the Renaissance: Nuclear Revival, Climate Change, and Reality
The "nuclear renaissance" has proven to be a promotion that cannot pass economic muster. If taxpayer support for a few first mover reactors won’t lead to meaningful climate legislation, it’s time to pull the plug. Read the complete article by Peter Bradford, Senior Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor, published in Electricity Policy. Read the paper.

Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute, releases paper titled "Two Challenges of Nuclear Reactor construction"
The paper describes two challenges of nuclear reactor construction—cost escalation and crowding out alternatives—with new and parallel data sets. The paper finds that cost escalation is endemic and hoped-for processes to lower cost, like learning by doing and increasing economies of scale, fail to materialize because of complexity, site-specificity, and excess capacity. The paper draws a logical connection not only between nuclear (central stations) development and crowding out, but also argues that cost escalation makes crowding out worse.
Importing the French approach, which is frequently held up as a model in U.S. policy debates, is a dubious undertaking, since it rests on a totally different institutional structure and the French "success" proved to be short lived and not exportable. Policy choices should reflect resource endowments and institutional structures. The U.S. has more lower cost, low carbon alternatives—efficiency and renewables—than France and other Western European nations.
Read the full news release.
Listen to audio from the news conference.
Download Executive Summary.
Download Full Report.

We may be on the hook for more nuclear plants
Peter Bradford, Senior Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor, writes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
The recent acceptance of $8.3 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees by the builders of the Vogtle nuclear reactors seems like good news for Georgia electric customers. The taxpayers of the entire country will now share in the costs and risks that had been on the shoulders of the customers of the utilities building the two reactors.
But don't celebrate too soon.
There are more loan guarantees in the pipeline - a total of $54.5 billion, none for Georgia reactors. These guarantees mean that you and I will repay the lender if the project cannot. Read more.

Mark Cooper to Testify Before U.S. House
Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment, will testify Tuesday, March 23, before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on the economic advisability of increasing federal loan guarantees for the construction of nuclear power plants. Cooper plans to tell the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's Domestic Policy Subcommittee that current cost projections make power from nuclear reactors extremely expensive and that those costs are likely to escalate, not decline, if these reactors are ever built.
Download Mark Cooper's Statement.
Download Mark Cooper's Full Testimony

The Nuclear Renaissance Meets Economic Reality
Year seven of the U.S. nuclear renaissance seems a lot like 1978. Of the 26 new reactor applications submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), nine have been cancelled or suspended indefinitely in the last nine months. Ten more have been delayed by one to five years. As plans for new U.S. nuclear power plants encounter problems, their proponents seek to shift ever more economic risk to taxpayers already staggering under the weight of other federal bailouts. Read the article by Peter Bradford published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Further Nuclear Power Subsidies are Wrongheaded
Op-Ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
In an attempt to circumvent the sound judgment of capital markets, nuclear advocates are demanding massive new subsidies for construction of new nuclear reactors...
However, shifting risk does not eliminate it. The financial difficulties facing nuclear power projects are not a market failure, but a market success—the capital markets correctly understand the grim economic realities of nuclear power. If policy makers override the judgment of the free market and force taxpayers and ratepayers to subsidize new reactors, consumers and the economy will pay a heavy price. Read the whole piece at www.thebulletin.org

Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis. Institute for Energy and the Environment, releases new report: ALL RISK, NO REWARD FOR TAXPAYERS AND RATEPAYERS: “THE ECONOMICS OF SUBSIDIZING THE ‘NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE’ WITH LOAN GUARANTEES AND CONSTRUCTION WORK IN PROGRESS”
Based on a review of Wall Street analyses and new evidence on the economics of nuclear reactors, this study shows that constructing reactors is uneconomic and faces six critical risks, technology, policy regulatory, execution, marketplace and financial. The study shows that the ultimate harm of the loan guarantees would be to encourage utilities to skip over lower cost, less risky options to meet the need for electricity and build dozens, if not hundreds, of overpriced nuclear reactors that will cost consumers trillions of dollars more than the least cost approach.
While many politicians claim to be worried about the cost of reducing the threat of global warming, they are pushing loan guarantees for nuclear reactors, which is the most expensive approach possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The study documents the reasons that Wall Street considers nuclear reactors to be risky ventures, many of which are likely to fail, requiring a downgrading the financial ratings of utilities. The loan guarantees are a bald face attempt to override the judgment of the capital markets, which will leave taxpayers and ratepayers holding the bag.
Misallocating risk and shifting it to taxpayers is exactly what got the big banks in trouble and led to the recent financial meltdown. The irony is that many of the same people who were the loudest critics of bailing the banks out with taxpayer dollars are the very same people who want to force taxpayers and ratepayers to underwrite the nuclear industry.
The study finds that the constellation of economic conditions that led to the nuclear fiasco of the 1980s – escalating construction costs, weak utility balance sheets, slowing demand growth, and lower cost alternatives – is once again making it a near certainty that a push for nuclear power today will result in another train wreck, with taxpayers and ratepayers being forced to bail the utilities out.
Download Issue Brief
Download Full Report

Cooper: Escalating Nuclear Reactor Costs Seen in Major Reversals for Industry on Wall Street and in Texas, Canada
Three major developments in the nuclear power industry in late June underscore the key findings of the “The Economics of Nuclear Reactors,” a report released on June 18, 2009 by economist Dr. Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. The Cooper report finds that it would cost $1.9 trillion to $4.1 trillion more over the life of 100 new nuclear reactors than it would to generate the same electricity from a combination of more energy efficiency and renewables.
Download the full release.

Cooper Study Shows Trillions of Dollars in Excess Costs if US Builds 100 Nuclear Reactors
Read the overview document.
Read the report by Dr. Mark Cooper
Listen to audio from the event.

The True Costs of Nuclear Power
Mark Cooper, the Institute for Energy and the Environment’s Senior Research Fellow for Consumer Energy, will be conducting a briefing for Congressional staff on Wednesday, May 6, 2009.
Download The Consumer Economics of Nuclear Reactors: Renaissance or Rip Off, the presentation materials that will accompany Cooper's briefing.




Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency


Mark Cooper, Ph.D., Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, releases paper on wind power as an attractive resource to meet the the 21st century need for electricity in the UK.
Capturing the Value of Wind shows that wind power is an attractive resource because it is a zero carbon, secure, local resource that bears none of the fuel price risk of fossil fuels. Cooper’s earlier analysis of wind power in the United States (Least-Cost Planning For 21st Century Electricity Supply), which has some of the richest wind resources in the world, reached a similar conclusion.

The report released today also shows that targeted policies to reduce the barriers to the deployment of wind generation technologies and lower their cost by promoting learning and economies of scale are urgently needed to smooth the path to a low carbon electricity sector. Read full report.

Cooper to Discuss Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Standards
Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment, on Wednesday will reject claims by some economists and environmentalists that raising the price of energy will solve climate change.
Cooper will deliver a talk, titled "The Low Carbon Economy and the Consumer: The Role of Efficiency Standards is Vital Because Price is an Ineffective Tool of Energy Policy," as part of a panel discussion at a Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue conference. The panel is slated for 1:15 p.m., Wednesday, at the Hotel Renaissance, 1143 New Hampshire Ave. NW in Washington, D.C.
"Ironically, the people who complain loudest about how much climate change policy will cost are pushing the most expensive solution to the problem," Cooper said. "We will be better off with the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon as a pollutant under the Clear Air Act, assuming the Obama administration really wants to lead on the issue and is not just playing politics."

Jack Sautter Presents at Nebraska Wind Energy Conference
Global Energy Fellow Dr. Jack Sautter presented a talk entitled “The Costs and Benefits of Net Metering: A Balanced Approached” to about 200 people. The talk was part of a larger panel on net metering in Nebraska, which included Jason Keyes of Seattle’s Keyes and Fox LLP, as well as various representatives of Nebraska’s major Public Power Districts. Jack also used the conference as an opportunity to handout the Institute’s Farmer’s Handbook to Energy Self-Reliance to interested farmers and ranchers. The Nebraska Wind Energy Conference was held at Kearney, NE, November 11th and 12th, provided a forum for business representatives, policy makers and citizens to discuss the future of wind energy in Nebraska.
Net Metering: Balancing the Costs and Benefits

Website and Handbook for Farmers Highlight the Benefits of Energy Conservation and Self-reliance
Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment will be launching its online website and handbook for farmers at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's Agriculture forum, February 20 – 22, in Des Moines, Iowa. Click here for more information.




Resource Extraction & Climate Change


The Institute for Energy and the Environment announces a series of white papers titled "Implementing the Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines in the United States and Canada”—All four IEE White Papers now available.
The Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School is pleased to present this white paper series on “Implementing the Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines in the United States and Canada.” We began the project well before the fatal April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion at the BP Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. Our objective was to compare relevant U.S. and Canadian laws and regulations for ways in which they comport with the Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines endorsed by the Arctic Council in 2009. We believe that the Guidelines, or AOOGG, can serve as a template for both countries as they revisit, revise and possibly even harmonize aspects of their regulatory systems for this fragile and resource-rich region. The series focuses on the western Arctic because both countries have offshore oil and gas jurisdiction there and share a boundary in the Beaufort Sea.
Download the White Papers:
Introduction Letter and Permitting Overview
White Paper No. 1: Operating Practices
White Paper No. 2: Environmental Monitoring
White Paper No.3: Northern Communities—Participation in Decision Making
White Paper No. 4: Decommissioning and Site Clearance

Professor Betsy Baker speaks at US Naval Academy, testifies before Canadian Senate, about the changing Arctic
Professor Betsy Baker spoke on “Legal Bases for Ongoing Cooperation in the Arctic Ocean,” at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, on June 11, 2009. Her talk was part of The 3rd Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations, sponsored by theNational Ice Center and the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Professor Baker also testified at a June 16, 2009, hearing of the Senate of Canada, Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, in Ottawa, Ontario. She addressed US-Canadian cooperation in the Arctic and responded to questions about fisheries, the Northwest Passage and other areas of common concern in the North American Arctic. She continues to speak widely about her work on the USCGC HEALY, the icebreaker that is helping to map the US continental shelfin the Arctic Ocean. She will embark with HEALY again this August for a six-week tour.

Research Associate Lisa Campion is Rapporteur for international conference on Arctic Environment and Law of the Sea
Lisa Campion served as the Student Rapporteur for “Changes in the Arctic Environment and the Law of the Sea,” the 33rd annual conference of The Center for Oceans Law and Policy of the University of Virginia School of Law, held May 20-22, 2009, in Seward, Alaska. Her notes appear on the COLP conference website.
The conference drew some hundred and fifty attendees from the U.S., Asia and Europe. A remarkable array of experts, many from the diplomatic corps and governmental agencies of Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States, addressed topics ranging from continental shelf limits in the Arctic Ocean to arctic offshore oil and gas, the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, and arctic living resources and marine biodiversity. Professor Betsy Baker also attended the conference, on which she reported in her ongoing blog about the law-science interface in mapping the Arctic continental shelf and developing governance norms for the Arctic.

VLS Receives Recognition for Geological Carbon Sequestration Project
The Institute for Energy and the Environment is working on a collaborative project with the Carnegie Mellon Department of Engineering and Public Policy, the University of Minnesota, and the law firm of Van Ness Feldman, to develop new energy technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration. Read complete article at www.ascribe.org.

VLS Receives Grant to Research Regulation of Carbon Sequestration
Vermont Law School announced today that it will share in a research grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to develop a regulatory framework for the safe sequestration of carbon dioxide in the United States. VLS is partnering with Carnegie Mellon, the University of Minnesota and the Washington D.C.-based law firm of Van Ness Feldman in the push to develop clean energy technologies. Click here for more information.




Smart Grid


U.S. Rep Welch Announces $450,000 Federal Grant for IEE Smart Grid Research
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch on Monday announced a $450,000 federal grant for Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment to conduct smart-grid research and analysis aimed at updating the U.S. power grid.
The Department of Energy grant, which was secured by Welch, will strengthen the Institute's reputation as a national leader in smart-grid implementation standards and its efforts to address the reliability, cost and environmental impacts of the nation's energy policy. Read the full release...