Energy stimulus turns into tilting at nuke-powered windmills

From the moment the federal stimulus package was first proposed, crank-celebrity “free market” enthusiasts have been whipping up their fans by crying “socialism” as often as possible — demonstrating how little cranks understand both free markets and socialism. I’d write it off as merely tilting at windmills, except that tilting at windmills sounds too reality-based given the prominence renewable energy is playing in the country’s recovery and reinvestment plan.

The nagging question on the minds of non-crank Americans is how and when the stimulus dollars will actually begin boosting the renewables industry and filling their wall sockets with clean energy and outfitting public buildings in our neighborhoods with solar panels.

As Andrew Leonard reports, Bloomberg asked the question of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who said he wants “to start printing checks in the new loan guarantee programs” by the beginning of May, and “not three or four years from now.”

The rest of the story isn’t so uplifting.

Sounds great… until you learn that Congress already authorized another $38.5 billion in loan guarantees all the way back in 2005, and yet not a single project has yet to make it successfully through the application procedure.

One reason for the delay could be that “clean energy,” as it has been defined so far by the Energy Department, includes a wide range of projects, some of which are more controversial than others. Of the original $38.5 billion, says Bloomberg, the DoE intends to distribute “$18.5 billion in guarantees for nuclear plants; $10 billion for renewable or energy-efficient systems; $8 billion for clean coal; and $2 billion for processing of nuclear fuel.”

So when Chu says he wants to cut the 1,000-page application paperwork to a mere 50 pages, is his real goal to streamline the process of granting loan guarantees for nuclear reactor construction?

Four-year delays? Nuclear power? Major double stimulus buzz kill!

As The Colorado Independent blogged last month, Republican lawmakers who backed nuclear power development in the state got a wake-up call when a study authored by leading power-plant expert Craig A. Severance related in sober detail the high-cost/low-benefit reality that continues to define nuclear power. In Severance’s words:

Estimates for new nuclear power place these facilities among the costliest private projects ever undertaken. Utilities promoting new nuclear power assert it is their least costly option. However, independent studies have concluded new nuclear power is not economically competitive.

So, who can tell us what has to be done to get stimulus money to Colorado’s renewable energy businesses? And how much of the federal cash for nuclear will get shifted to projects that can begin generating power within the next 20 years and for under a gazillion start-up dollars?

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