Seabrook Re-Licensing, or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

News Briefs for December 3, 2010, from The New Hampshire Gazette, Volume 255, No. 5, posted on Wednesday, February 2, 2011.

On Monday Doug Bogen from the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League (SAPL) sent us a notice of a public hearing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to be held last Tuesday morning at the Portsmouth Public Library. In case it might be of use, we quickly posted that notice on our website.

The hearing appears to be the result of a petition filed by SAPL, the New Hampshire branch of the Sierra Club, and a Maryland-based organization called Beyond Nuclear. They wanted, they said, “a fair and accurate assessment of the region’s potential and plans for clean, safe and renewable energy as an alternative to another 20-years of Seabrook plant operation.” Given the overall record of government responsiveness to non-corporate entities, these groups have achieved a small victory just by getting a hearing.

SAPL’s notice summarized the context of the hearing: “NextEra, one of the limited liability corporations of the owner Florida Power & Light (FPL), is seeking a twenty (20) year license extension for the Seabrook reactor when the current operating license expires in 2030. The groups charge that the company’s environmental report, as required under federal law, is seriously deficient and misinforms the federal licensing agency on energy alternatives, particulary offshore and deepwater wind.”

We would have liked to attend the hearing but were prevented by our persistent inability to occupy two locations simultaneously. The hearing went ahead without us.

We were gratified to discover, though, that someone calling himself Dan had not just read our post online, but left the following unedited comment as well.

“Its a shame,” wrote Dan, “that these ogranizations [sic] are allowed to increase the cost of our electricity by forcing these un-based and un-reasonable hearing to happen. The ratepayers absorb the costs these out-of towners cost the electricity providers as ‘costs of normal business.’ Lets force some accountability and if the allegations are found through this process to be valid then the company should bare the costs, if no basis for these allegations are found then these organizations should bare [sic] the costs — not the ratepayers!”

In other words, Dan thinks federal regulators ought to accept the claims of corporate utilities at face value, while holding assertions from citizens to a higher standard. He could hardly have framed the issue in a way more favorable to FPL if he were on their payroll.

If Dan is on FPL’s payroll, doing a little undercover PR work, then he’s just one more guy in a long line trying to make a buck at the expense of his fellow citizens. As 19th century railroad baron Jay Gould is reputed to have said, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

Sadly, we can easily conjure up an even more depressing version of Dan: a guy who sincerely believes what he wrote and lives a mile from the Seabrook nuke in a mobile home with electric baseboard heat.

We admit that we don’t know a lot about FPL. But, what little we do know does not inspire the kind of faith that Dan professes: in 2009, BusinessWeek listed FPL in a feature they called “U.S. Companies That Paid the Least Taxes.”

“Over the past four years,” said BusinessWeek, “the Juno Beach (Fla.) company, has paid just $88 million in taxes on earnings of nearly $7 billion.” That is a tax rate of about 1.3 percent — a little low to be inspiring loyalty from ratepayers, if you ask us.

Apparently FPL got its favorable tax rates through shrewd investments — in Congress. BusinessWeek reported that in 2008, “the company paid well over $500,000 to five top-drawer firms to make its tax case to Congress, the White House and the U.S. Treasury. FPL spokeswoman Jackie Anderson says the company is merely taking advantage of incentives to develop renewable resources.”

Missing the Point Twice

WMUR televised a brief item about this hearing on Tuesday. In a little over two minutes the station didn’t just miss the point of the story, it thoroughly mischaracterized the internal dynamics, too.

The Seabrook plant’s current operating license is good until 2030, but FPL is asking the NRC to renew the plant’s license now — twenty years ahead of time.

Why? The answer has nothing to do with providing electricity and everything to do with finance. A plant with a license to run another forty years is worth a lot more than a plant with a license to run another twenty years.

If a representative of FPL were to drive a 1990 truck into a service station today and ask for an inspection sticker that was good through 2050, he’d end up in a psychiatrist’s office. But the NRC is considering whether to do just that for the Seabrook nuke.

Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t about inspection stickers, though — it was about whether the NRC would even grant the opponents of FPL’s re-licensing plan the right to argue against it at a future date. As we understand the rules, the NRC could decide, after today’s hearing, that it’s through listening to the would-be intervenors, SAPL, the Sierra Club, and Beyond Nuclear. From here on out, the question of whether to renew Seabrook’s license 20 years early could be between the NRC and FPL.

That grim reality notwithstanding, WMUR managed to make it sound as if the NRC had stacked the deck in favor of SAPL and friends. Establishing his bona fides by standing in front of the Portsmouth Public Library, WMUR’s Ray Brewer said, “Opponents of the license extension don’t have to prove their case, they just have to prove they have a case.”

That’s not just wrong, Ray, that’s dead wrong. Next time, try this: “Opponents of the license extension don’t just have to prove their case, they have to prove they have a right to make their case.”

Then, concerned, perhaps, that his pro-corporate proclivities had not been displayed to their full advantage, Brewer noted that “those opposed to the extension of the Seabrook nuclear power plant license were the first to get their chance to argue before the three-judge panel.” As if that would be an advantage.

While it would have rankled his bosses and the corporations that shovel money in their general direction, Brewer could have much more accurately described the procedure this way: “Those opposed to the extension of the Seabrook nuclear power plant license were required to present their case first, providing FPL’s lobbyists and lawyers with a better opportunity to refute it before the three judge panel.”

Doug e-mailed us a few hours after the hearing. For a guy engaged in an uphill battle he was upbeat: “We’re hopeful of having a favorable ruling for a hearing early in the New Year.”

Sheafe St. Books

“There’s a new bookstore in town,” a friend said. “That’s great,” we thought, although to tell the truth our expectations were not terribly high. Our theory was that any new bookstore would be a welcome addition to the town, even if it was only so-so. RiverRun and SecondRun are both terrific, but it’s not like a town can have too many bookstores. Hay-on-Wye in Wales has 30 of them, or one for about every 60 residents. At that rate, Portsmouth has room for 347 more.

As soon as we could we headed over to Sheafe Street, which is only a few hundred feet long, making it impossible to miss Sheafe Street Books, just a couple of doors up from Penhallow. And talk about exceeding expectations …

The shop only takes up a couple of rooms on the first floor of a house, but it seems much bigger because there are books everywhere — new books, used books, recent books, old books, collectible books, books on this, books on that … we really should have taken notes on the shop’s particular strengths, but we were too preoccupied coveting. Readers should go and discover for themselves. We can say that it is very strong on the Beats, with a lot of material we’ve never seen anywhere before. Proprietor Ken Kozick spent years working in book distribution and is a very congenial fellow.

Latest Battle in the Class War

Senate Republicans, in their sudden frenzy to pretend they are fiscally responsible, have declared that the long-term unemployed, many of whom were thrown out of work by GOP policies in the first place, are going to have to suck it up and learn how to make do without extended unemployment benefits.

The problem with extending those benefits for another year is that it would cost almost $60 billion. And the unemployed would probably just fritter away the money on food, gas, and rent. That would certainly stimulate the economy, but it would be wrong.

The nation’s beleaguered job-creators though, those who make more than a million bucks a year, are another matter. Those gentle, finicky souls desperately need an extension of the two rounds of tax breaks handed to them in 2001 and 2003, or else they might go off in a corner and sulk instead of creating more jobs.

True, those old tax cuts haven’t produced any jobs yet — but you never know when they might. And, true, giving away billions of dollars to millionaires will cost ten times as much as continuing unemployment benefits, and the money is more likely to end up building a factory in Guangzhou than in Manchester. Sometimes, though, you just have to stand up for your principles, regardless of the cost or the consequences.

Either that or the GOP takes us all for a lot of powerless fools. If that’s what they’re thinking, they might be right for once.

Kind of a Big Deal

Well, it’s a big deal to us, anyway. One of the biggest challenges in running this paper — besides trying to keep track of all the relevant shenanigans, of course — is managing our distribution. Currently we print 5,000 papers every fortnight, and deliver them to more than 160 locations scattered over an area covering a couple of hundred square miles. It’s not easy to do that efficiently, but we do it pretty well.

We’re excited now because we have just activated a new online system that can, with a little help from our readers, make our distribution more efficient. What’s more, it will help us improve our distribution even further.

We’ve just added a feature to our Google Map that will let anyone inform us when one of our locations has run out of papers. Here is what it looks like:

Now if you go to a place where you regularly pick up the paper, and find that they’re all gone, you can just go to the online map, click on the little red map pin for that location, then click the blue link — that’s it! We’ll automatically get an e-mail noting the location, date, and time.

Readers can also help sustain and improve this operation by becoming Supporting Subscribers. The subscription form on page five explains how Supporting Subscriptions work.

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