Fresno

RECENT POSTS

Planting Seeds for a New CA Nuclear Plant

Could California’s next nuke be on the horizon?

Backers of a new Fresno “clean energy park” aim to use nuclear power to clean up salty irrigation water in California’s Central Valley.

The twin cooling towers of the decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. Could the Central Valley see another nuke constructed near Fresno? (Photo: Craig Miller)

They see the state’s 35-year-old moratorium on expansion of nuclear power as a mere speed bump in the road. They wouldn’t be the first. There have been several attempts to challenge the ban over the years – in the courts, in the legislature, and even a couple false starts through the initiative process.

But the idea of simply drawing up plans for a plant and gearing up to build it – without getting permission from the state – that’s a new approach, which I explain in my Wednesday radio feature for The California Report.

Fresno Nuclear CEO John Hutson told me he thinks it would be much more profitable to sell precious clean water to farmers than to generate electricity for the grid. Continue reading

Not Giving Up on Central Valley Nuke

Cooling towers from the defunct Rancho Seco nuclear power plant rise above vineyards near Lodi. Photo: Craig Miller

Cooling towers from the defunct Rancho Seco nuclear power plant rise above vineyards near Lodi. Photo: Craig Miller

According to a report in the Fresno Bee, the notion of building a nuclear power plant near Fresno is still alive, if on life supports. California still has an effective ban on new nuclear plants. That hasn’t stopped some from pushing the plan, as Amy Standen reported for Quest last spring.

And apparently some French investors haven’t given up, either.

Maybe they were inspired by the juxtaposition of vineyards and cooling towers at the site of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear plant, near Lodi.

Last summer I reported on the prospects for expanded nuclear power as part of California’s low-carbon energy push. Then in November, the advocacy group Environment America issued a report down-playing the potential role of nuclear. The report, bluntly entitled “Generating Failure,” made the claim that: “Even if the nuclear industry somehow managed to build 100 new nuclear reactors by 2030, nuclear power could reduce total U.S. emissions of global warming pollution over the next 20 years by only 12 percent.”

Proponents of nuclear point to its mportance as a steady source of “base load” power, generated 24/7, as opposed to the intermittent or cyclical nature of many renewable sources.

Updated: Disaster Status Sought for Valley

Five days after filing it, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was still awaiting some response from the White House to his request for a federal disaster declaration, to address drought conditions in Fresno County.

Meanwhile, the Washington bureau of the McClatchy newspaper chain (which includes the Fresno Bee) reports that the request is something of a longshot.

The Governor made the request last Friday, one day after he faced a tense gathering in Fresno, where water issues upstaged even the precarious condition of state finances, and shortly after a meeting with farmers in Mendota.

The governor has had a standing statewide drought emergency in effect since February. Friday he signed an executive order freeing up state resources to help ease drought-related impacts. A federal declaration would allow affected businesses to apply for federal aid. President Obama has since signed several other disaster declarations last week, in response to storms in Missouri, wildfires in Oklahoma and other incidents.

California’s Water Meter Rebellion Withers

City water conservation specialist Marilyn Creel shows Fresno resident Mary Ann Evans how to adjust her sprinklers to point them away from the sidewalk.

City water conservation specialist Marilyn Creel shows Fresno resident Mary Ann Evans how to adjust her sprinklers to point them away from the sidewalk.

Monday on The California Report, Central Valley Bureau Chief Sasha Khokha tracks one city’s longstanding rebellion against water meters–and says the day of reckoning is nearly at hand. Listen to Sasha’s story here.

I admit it. I wanted to do this story because I saw so many of my neighbors watering their driveways. What I learned is that unmetered cities are a long and slow-dying tradition in the Central Valley.

Martin McIntyre, who used to head Fresno’s water agency, explained how vehement anti-metering forces swayed voters and banned meters in the city charter:

“They were really false arguments. The simple phraseology was ‘meters are taxing machines,’ and they’re going to use meters to fund city hall activities. And, in fact, as is the case for all municipal water supply systems, the funds collected from ratepayers by law can only be used for the operation and improvement of the water supply system. Nonetheless, that resonated with some of the public and it was very easy for a handful of people to get prominent headlines above the fold simply by saying city hall is taxing us to death.”

State lawmakers overrode Fresno’s rule, because they understood that cities with meters use less water.

Ellen Hanak, a water researcher with the Public Policy Institute of California, has found that metered cities use about 15 percent less water than unmetered cities. And cities with a tiered rate system save an additional ten percent on top of that. In addition to usage, her report compares different cities’ water rates. Of course, San Franciscans get away with using less water because–guess what? Many of them don’t have front yards.

Hanak crunched statewide residential water rate numbers and determined that more than half of San Joaquin Valley residents don’t have water meters. (For further details, read the survey disclaimer.)

But meters are coming, one way or another.

There are basically three laws that will eventually require the entire state to install water meters. One says that all homes built after 1992 must have meters. Another dictates that cities that get federal water (like Fresno) have to install meters by 2013. And yet another law says that all California cities (including holdouts like Sacramento) have to be metered by 2025.

Fresno is gearing up to install its first meters this year. They’ve even created a handy Q&A for skittish customers.

And if you thought Central California was the only laggard, this might make you feel better: many Chicago residents don’t have meters, either.

But they probably don’t have the sprinkler ladies–who can fix any leaky, squeaky, spritzy sprinkler, and make sure it’s pointing away from the sidewalk.

KQED’s Sasha Khokha braves sprinkler spray to record Fresno’s city water conservation team at work.

KQED’s Sasha Khokha braves sprinkler spray to record Fresno’s city water conservation team at work.