Friday, November 28, 2008

Break Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac Into 10 Pieces Each

President Obama and the 111th Congress need to break up the two primary housing government sponsored enterprises (GSE) into 10 regional operations with all of them competing with each other to purchase mortgages. This competition would be much more effective in regulating the GSEs than formal government management. It would also serve to police the issuance of mortgages by mortgage bankers because the secondary purchasers will not want to purchase dubious paper. The competition will also keep housing prices in the world of reality and not let them spiral out of control and burst the bubble the way they did in 2008.
These NEW Fannie's and Freddie's should be owned by private shareholders without the government sponsored enterprise guarantee. Their investment dollars should strictly come from the income from of Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS). Of course, unfortunately, the federal government will have to pick up any debt from the OLD Fannie and Freddie and honor the debt and asset obligations. With such a large financial obligation, the Old Fannie and Freddie will probably have to become government agencies.

The GSEs would still operate under the regulatory authority of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), which was established as an independent entity within the Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992. OFHEO's mission is to promote housing and a strong national housing finance system by ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation). OFHEO works to ensure the capital adequacy and financial safety and soundness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OFHEO is funded through assessments of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OFHEO's operations represent no direct cost to the taxpayer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Exelon & NRG Energy in Nuclear Power Shootout

It is being reported that Exelon is attempting a hostile takeover of NRG Energy in order to get access to its proposed nuclear power plant project in Texas. A $6.2 billion proposal has already been rebuffed, but Exelon seems to be determined and will make another offer.

NRG Energy has a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved reactor, the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), but the proposed Exelon reactor, the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), has not yet been certified by the NRC. Evidently Exelon wants to move away from the ESBWR reactor and adopt the ABWR. It is interesting that the cost of a company is now less than the projected cost of a new nuclear reactor, which is now being estimated to cost $11-$12 billion. Both the ABWR and the ESBWR are General Electric products.

The NRC staff has issued the following design certifications:

Applicant: General Electric (GE) Nuclear Energy
Design: Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR)
Applicant: Westinghouse Electric Company
Design: System 80+
Applicant:Westinghouse Electric Company
Design: Advanced Passive 600 (AP600)
Applicant: Westinghouse Electric Company
Design: Advanced Passive 1000 (AP1000)

Design Certification Applications Currently Under Review

Applicant: Westinghouse Electric Company
Design: AP1000 Amendment
Applicant: GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy
Design: Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor (ESBWR)
Applicant: AREVA Nuclear Power
Design: U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor (U.S. EPR)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.
Design: U.S. Advanced Pressurized-Water Reactor (US-APWR)

(The Wall Street Juornal, Nov 25, 2008) (NRC Reactor Information)

Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle: The Future?

Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) can help provide electricity from coal in an environmentally sustainable way. IGCC partially burns coal to generate gas. IGCC can lower air emissions, lower water usage and produce less solid waste. Coal gasification takes place in the presence of a controlled 'shortage' of air/oxygen. The synthesis gas (syngas) is cleaned and then burned with either oxygen or air, generating combustion products at high temperature and pressureBut only two coal fired power plants in the country currently use IGCC technology.

IGCC uses a combined cycle format with a gas turbine driven by the combusted syngas, while the exhaust gases are heat exchanged with water/steam to generate superheated steam to drive a steam turbine. Using IGCC, more of the power comes from the gas turbine. Typically 60-70% of the power comes from the gas turbine with IGCC.

What Is The GM Volt Going to Cost? And the GM Provoq?

GM plans to make the plug-in, hybrid GM Volt, left, available in 2010. How much will it cost? Nobody seems to know right now. How much are people willing to pay to buy one? Nobody knows right now. Will GM still be in business in 2010? Nobody knows right now.

Our best guess for a vehicle that will sell is $30,000. Of course, we doubt GM can bring it in at that price and still make a profit. Plus, if gasoline stays around $2.00 per gallon, there will be competition from many other vehicles, including the big SUVs.

The Center is promoting a plug-in hydrogen fuel cell lithium-ion battery hybrid vehicle. GM has one in the planning stage and it is more exciting and revolutionary than the Volt. General Motors has developed the first zero-emission luxury car, the hydrogen- and battery-powered Cadillac concept car designed to run up to 100 miles per hour while emitting only water vapor. It is called the Cadillac Provoq (pronounced "provoke"). GM is now promoting the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid and the Provoq, left & right. GM wants the Volt to be available by 2010. The Provoq has a 300-mile range.

Center To Propose Clean Coal With Defense Department

The Center will be proposing legislation in the 111th Congress to implement the energy reservation program described below. We will be proposing ten energy reservation for the ten standard Federal Regions established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-105, "Standard Federal Regions."

America needs a public/private partnership that will simultaneously reduce carbon dioxide emissions from utility plants, while providing hydrogen for fuel cells and diesel fuel for military and civilian transportation purposes. We need electricity reservations that combine the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), electricity utilities, coal producers and oil companies into consortia that produce electricity from coal and nuclear power, convert carbon dioxide into diesel fuel and gasoline, produce hydrogen, use the separated oxygen for coal-fired oxy-combustion and reprocess/recycle nuclear waste - all in a closed loop system. Ten reservations strategically located around the nation producing 100,000 megawatts of electricity without releasing any greenhouse gases would provide a needed supplement to the planned rennaisance in nuclear power plant construction and pending national global warming laws. We are involving DOD to satisfy security issues related to reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. Such a reservation would also satisfy the combined goals of the Department of Energy's FutureGen and Nuclear Power 2010 programs. The technical processes are described below.

Nuclear plants will operate next to coal plants that use pure oxygen combustion in the firebox to reduce the volume of stack gases. A scrubber would still be needed for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury (Selective Catalytic Reducer). The nuclear plant (Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, Gen IV) is used to produce hydrogen via electrolysis (or high temperature electrolysis) or the sulfur-iodine cycle that will be piped away to produce fuel cells. The oxygen from the electrolysis process will be piped to the coal plant for use in the firebox. The hydrogen will also be mixed onsite with carbon dioxide from the coal plant stack in a water to gas shift to produce carbon monoxide, which will then be mixed with hydrogen using the gas to water shift in the Fischer-Tropsch process to produce a synthetic petroleum product (diesel fuel or gasoline). These processes need very high temperatures of about 900 degrees Celsius.

So carbon dioxide will be used from the coal plant to make a vehicle fuel while an adjacent nuclear plant will produce hydrogen for fuel cell production and oxygen for the coal plant firebox. The oxygen from the electrolysis will be used in the coal firebox to reduce the volume of emission gases by 80 percent, which represents nitrogen in the air. There will be little to no CO2 emitted from the coal plant because the gas will be used to make vehicle fuel. There will be CO2 released from vehicle use but these emissions would occur anyway from vehicle use.We are still studying the energy penalties for these processes and the economics. We also believe that the transportation fuel should be used by the military with any excess sold in the marketplace. If you have any input we would appreciate it. In the Fischer-Tropsch model pictured above the coal would be replaced with carbon dioxide.

Coal is used to generate 52% of our electricity. Nuclear 20%. These two aren't going anywhere soon. So we need clean coal, sequestration and hydrogen production for fuel cells to fight global warming. New nuclear power plants should incorporate hydrolysis to separate hydrogen from oxygen. The hydrogen for fuel cells and the oxygen to burn in coal-fired power plant fireboxes. Burning coal in pure oxygen instead of regular air, which is almost 80% nitrogen, will reduce the volumn of gases in the conversion process.

We will need nationwide pipelines for oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide to utilize these climate change-fighting technologies. Oxygen will travel from nuclear plant hydrolysis faciliteis to coal-fired power plants. Hydrogen will travel from nuclear plants to fuel cell manufacturing facilites and fertizer manufacturers. Carbon dioxide will be converted to gasoline onsite and will travel from coal-fired power plants to CO2 to gasoline conversion plants.

The Center believes the United States needs a program for electricity production that will supplement current efforts to meet our nation's power needs. In addition to a national grid similar to our federal highway system, we also need a massive building program that can meet America's appetite for electricity and transportation fuel. With global warming as the most important environmental issue facing us today, and with unrelenting growth in our electricity demand, we need a coordinated and integrated system for providing this power in an environmentally friendly manner that also creates green jobs. (Additional Source: Ken Schultz)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama's Economic Recovery Plan Is Green & Blue

The Center sincerely hopes President Obama will get his Green Economic Recovery Plan signed into law early in his administration. He wants to create 2.5 million new jobs by 2011 by employing people to rebuild roads, bridges and to build wind farms, solar panels, high mileage low and no emission cars, and other alternative technologies. The Center looks forward to helping him get it done.

We hope President Obama will aim some of that recovery money at replacing the drinking water lines in our older cities. We will also be recommending that he separate the Combined Sewer Overflow wastewater/stormwater systems in the older cities too. Such a retrofit would truly clean our rivers, particularly in the cities. Such 'blue' jobs will complement the green jobs President Obama seems to be dedicated to producing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Calvert Cliff's 3rd Nuclear Reactor Proposal Under Siege

As if the cost of a new reactor in a downturning economy and Warren Buffet's speculation are not enough, now the Southern Maryland Citizens Alliance for Renewable Energy Solutions, Public Citizen and others are stepping up their attacks on plans for another nuclear plant. Calvert Cliff's nuclear power plant, sitting beautifully and powerfully along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay, has never been a lightning rod for antinulear activity. It sailed right through relicensing several years ago without any trouble. Now this coalition of antinuclear environmental groups is filing legal challenges to stop the construction of a third reactor.

The Center is pronuclear and has supported Calvert Cliff's at Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearings. This does not endear us to the environmental movement in Maryland. However, we do not care because we are right and they are wrong, particularly if they believe global warming is the most serious environmental threat facing the world today. If traditional environmentalist are successful in shutting down all coal and nuclear plants (and maybe natural gas plants too), then America will face blackouts and will become a third world country. If the public and policymakers are bamboozled into believing that wind, solar and conservation can replace 90 percent of the current methods for producing electricity in America, then we pity them at election time when ratepayers have experienced blackouts and super high priced electricity. We love and promote wind, solar and efficiency, but they simply cannot carry the entire American electrical load.

Democrats Should Not Retreat on Offshore Oil Drilling Ban

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, left, recently told reporters at the National Press Club that Democrats will not work to reinstate the 26-year ban on oil drilling off the east and west coasts and off the coast of Florida. The Center strongly disagrees with this approach and we strongly suggest that the Democrats should show a backbone in this area. Our coasts are too precious to risk for the sake of our nation's oil addiction.

The congressional drilling moratorium was first enacted in 1982 and had been renewed annually until Democrats decided not to seek another extension when it ran out in October of this year. Congress was reacting to $4 per gallon gasoline and following President Bush's lead in not renewing the Executive Branch moratorium on offshore oil drilling. The lifting of the ban allows oil and gas leasing on most of the outer continental shelf from three miles to 200 miles.

The Center supports the lifting of the moratorium on expanded oil shale development in the West. The Center supports coal and oil shale liquefaction.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Henry Waxman Topples Seniority & John Dingell

The House Democratic Caucus ignored seniority to make Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) the new head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, defeating current chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) on a vote of 137-122 . This has to leave a bad taste in the mouth of Dingell, who at 82, acquiesed to increase automobile fuel economy standards last year. Maybe it is just a case of internal weakness and external attack. The auto companies coming to Washington, D.C. with cup in hand
probably did not help Dingell. The vote was still very close. But those private jets combined with a request for a $25 billion loan probably angered some members who would have normally voted for Dingell.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over health care, energy issues and telecommunications policy. Some felt that Dingell would be less friendly to the Obama agenda than Waxman. Waxman is clearly more aggressive on the environmental agenda items and will now be the point man on new energy legislation in the incoming 111th Congress.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Senator Lieberman Booted From Environment & Public Works

Senator Joseph, right, had to pay a price for campaigning against Barack Obama, left. He retained his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but the Senate Democratic Caucus booted him from the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Senator Lieberman has been a legislative global warming leader for years. He has introduced the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S. 139) and McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act (S. 1151-2005) and Warner-Lieberman (S. 280-2007) climate change bills over the the past five years.

Senator Lieberman is an Independent and has been a pivotal vote in the Senate. He is still important to the Senate Democrats in upcoming votes in the 111th Congress.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Big 3 Auto Makers Want ANOTHER $25 Billion

As Congress considers a $25 billion bail-out for the auto industry, President Bush signed a $630 billion spending bill in September that included a $25 billion loan to the auto industry to help carmakers improve overall Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE--vehicle fuel efficiency) standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, as authorized in the Energy Independence and Security Actof 2007.

The American auto companies are in such distress that they cannot wait the year-and-a half through the regulatory promulgation process before money becomes available. They need it now or just as soon at the government can get it to them. The Center is opposing all bailouts. Let the market work.

Maryland InterCounty Connector Clears Legal Hurdle

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and Environmental Defense, a national environmental group, have reached an agreement that clears the way for the ICC to continue without any further legal challenges. The ICC will link the I-270/I-370 corridor in Montgomery County with the I-95/US 1 corridor in Prince George's County starting in 2010. The terms of the agreement:

SHA will provide up to $1 million to retrofit diesel school buses in Montgomery County with exhaust systems that reduce emissions, and will work with the school system to develop a program to reduce idling.

SHA will also sponsor a three-year study that involves installing air quality monitors along a major highway selected for its similar characteristics to the ICC and I-95. The value is about $1 million.

In return, Environmental Defense Fund has withdrew its appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling from November 2007 where a judge ruled "there is no legal or equitable basis to prevent the InterCounty Connector from moving forward." The appeal is thought to be the final legal roadblock for the ICC. (WTOPNews)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Environmentalists Want To Shut Down ALL Coal Plants?

Coal and nuclear fuel 70 percent of America's electricity production. Mainstream environmental groups want to shut them down and replace them with wind, solar and conservation. We support wind, solar, efficiency and conservation too, but they cannot replace coal and nuclear power. Carbon dioxide mitigation and 316(b) are being used as weapons to close these facilities. Note the latest:

The U.S. EPA's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) made a decision on Nov 13th that could stop the construction of up to 100 new coal-fired power plants around the U.S. In July 2007, the EPA issued a permit for a proposed Bonanza coal-fired power plant in Utah. Lawyers for the Sierra Club, Western Resource Advocates, and Environmental Defense filed a request that the permit be overturned because it did not require any controls on carbon dioxide pollution. Mainstream environmental groups noted the Supreme Court's April 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which found that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

The EAB ruled that the Bush administration failed to offer a good reason for not regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from the proposed Bonanza plant. The board remanded the permit request to the regional EPA office in Denver, saying it should reconsider whether the best available pollution controls for CO2 should be required, and stressing that it must adequately explain its decision. The Obama EPA will now have to determine how to treat greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Ultimately, Congress will need to write climate change legislation to regulate carbon dioxide. EPA will only conclude that there is no Best Available Control Technology. (Grist)

Treasury Secretary Paulson Changes Direction of TARP

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has angered Congress by retreating from the plan he sold to them in October to use the $700 billion to buy so-called 'toxic assets' --i.e., mortgage backed securities. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will now be used to try to free up consumer credit. Treasury and the Federal Reserve are now developing a lending facility that will use TARP to provide investment dolars to investors to encourage them to buy securities backed by credit cards, auto loans or mortgages. It is hoped that such liquidity will increase the availability of student loans, auto loans and credit cards. Of course this program will not start until after Paulson completes the capital purchase program (American Express and GE are in line now). Paulson opposes using TARP for the auto industry, believing it is intended for financial institutions.

For good or bad only $60 billion remains from the $350 billion initially authorized by Congress. Paulson, or President Obama's Treasury secretary, will have to make the case for the second $350 billion draw. Paulson is unapologetic about his change in direction. Unfortunately, foreclosures are increasing and the Dow Jone Industrial Average keeps dropping.

Renegotiating Overdue Mortgages

The Treasury Department is trying to figure out how to assist Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in assisting mortgage banks to assist subprime mortgage holders and others in distress who are behind on their payments. The Treasury Department abandoned its initial strategy of purchasing mortgage backed securities, which is one of the ways Fannie and Freddie made money. The crisis is getting worse so fast that Treasury Paulson has risked the wrath of Congress (and they are REALLY angry) changed his strategy and is now try to direct relief directly to mortgage holders. Maybe folk will stop calling themselves 'homeowners' if they hold mortgages. Mortgages holders in trouble have quite a gauntlet to maneuver to get relief.

Mortgage holders qualify for assistance if they live in the home, are 90 days or more behind in their payments or are in foreclosure and you own less than 10 percent equity. Fannie and Freddie, starting December 15 are then working with mortgage holder lender institutions to extend loan terms (30 years to 40), lower interest rates and push back principal payments interest free. The servicer will work with you to try to reduce your payment to no more than 38 percent of your gross income. Of courese, there is no getting around making your mortgage payments.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or guarantee 31 million U.S. mortgages, or nearly 6 of every 10. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 9 percent of mortgages borrowers (approx 4 million loan holders), are behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of June.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is updating the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA), which established federal rules for home purchase transactions. The new rules will help consumers compare terms on mortgage loans offered by different lenders and limit big differences. Many people do not read guidelines or what they are signing when closing mortgage loans. Folks are simply going to have to start reading their loan documents or be held responsible for what they are signing.

CALL: Hope Now (888 995-HOPE) or your servicer.

President Barack Obama and Nuclear Power

Senator Barack Obama was mildly pro nuclear. Presidential candidate Barack Obama believed nuclear power should 'be on the table.' But he was caught on video saying "I am not a proponent of nuclear power." What will President Obama's position be as president? Our guess is that it will be similar to his past positions. He will support nuclear power and challenge the industry to solve the nuclear waste issue. Yet it will be up to him to get Yucca Mountain, the mandated repository for spent nuclear waste, opened sooner than the current projected opening date (2017). He will be in charge of the U.S. Department of Energy, which has authority under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to operate the facility. He will also be in charge of the licensing agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We suggest that President Obama should establish a separate Nuclear Waste Management Agency to manage this complex area.

Once the nuclear waste issue is under control, President Obama could embark upon a program to accelerate nuclear power plant construction in order to supply the electricity we need while simultaneously mitigating global warming. Clean nuclear power will also produce tens of thousands of green collar construction jobs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Roughneck Rig Workers and White Collar Engineers

Industry analysts estimate that experienced "roughneck," offshore oil rig workers can make $100,000 a year and top white collar engineers can make up to $500,000 a year.

Al Gore Issues 5-Part Climate Change Plan

Al Gore's five-part plan to produce 100 percent of America's electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years while moving toward solutions to the climate and economic crises and creating millions of new jobs:

First, incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

Second, planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Third, help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage.

Fourth, embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Fifth, the U.S. should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

T. Boone Pickens Wind Farm Project In Trouble

T. Boone Pickens is delaying the plan for his Mesa Power company to build the Pampa Wind Project in Texas. It was being billed as the world's largest wind farm project. Pickens spent $57 million on television during the general presidential election campaign on commercials publicizing how his plan could help the U.S. wean itself off oil imports by using wind energy to reduce natural gas use in power plants and divert it for use in vehicles. Pickens plans looked very attractive when oil was around $150 per barrel during the summer of 2008, but it is less than half that amount going into the winter months. Moreover, although renewables tax credits were extended in the financial bailout bill, the renewables industry depends on equity and credit just like other industries to complete projects. The current financial climate works against financing large capital cost projects.

Pickens planned to finance the project with 30 percent equity and 70 percent debt and the debt part is now problematic for the project considering the Wall Street meltdown. The project was to build 667 wind turbines using General Electric tirbines capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than one million homes. The first phase of the project, projected to cost $2 billion, was supposed to come online in early 2011. Pickens also blames the falling price of natural gas for the delay (or cancellation) of his project.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bush Administration's Late Game Endangered Species Regs

The Bush administration is proposing changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations that would allow federal agencies to dispense with the advice of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists about whether projects pose potential harm to federally protected species. This could weaken Endangered Species Act protections by removing preventative measures which eliminate conflict early in the planning process. The Bush Administration is making the changes before the Obama administration is sworn in.

Every administration adopts regulations at the end of their term that they think should be on the books. The regs just get reversed when the new administration comes in if it is the opposing party. President-elect Obama opposes the Bush endangered species plan and will reverse it.