Florida’s upcoming vote on a solar-related constitutional amendment is confusing. And supporters hope it stays that way.
As national election day nears, media outlets in the state are trying to help people understand what it means to vote “yes” or “no” on Amendment 1, a proposed change to the state’s constitution backed by nearly $20 million from large energy companies.
The Yes on 1 website is adorned with images of solar-covered rooftops and a proclamation that the amendment “promotes solar in the Sunshine State.”
The language itself seems fairly innocuous as well.
“This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall…ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do,” it reads.
On its face, the amendment preserves the right to solar ownership while protecting non-solar customers from cost shifting. And to supporters of Amendment 1 — a handful of free-market groups and big energy companies — the language would create an equitable solar market in the state.
But in private, it’s described a bit differently.
In a surreptitiously recorded speech first published by the Miami Herald, a free-market policy expert with inside knowledge of the Amendment 1 campaign described it as “political jiu-jitsu” meant to handicap solar advocates.
In a speech at an energy summit in Nashville earlier this month, Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy with the James Madison Institute, said the amendment would “completely negate anything [solar supporters] would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.”
The tape was released by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Energy and Policy Institute — two progressive pro-solar groups that have waged investigations of political spending in the utility industry.
Over the course of a 12-minute speech, Nuzzo detailed how the utility-backed group Citizens for Smart Solar co-opted solar’s popularity and designed a public relations campaign to make voters think Amendment 1 will expand the solar market.
“To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and…use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop,” said Nuzzo.
Nuzzo also poked fun at the pro-solar libertarian groups that made up the Green Tea Coalition. “They actually leveraged some of the less-savvy, less-informed tea party groups and formed what is now called the Green Tea Movement. God help us, we’re dead and destroyed,” he said.
That didn’t sit well with members of the Green Tea Coalition, who held a press call today in response to the tape.
“I was appalled by what I heard on the audiotape,” said Debbie Dooley, founder of the group. “They attacked Green Tea Coalition members as being uninformed. We are standing true to the free-market, conservative principles of competition [and] choice. We support solar because we are very [informed] as a result of research we conducted.”
The tape revealed the deep split among groups on either side of the solar amendment campaign. In his speech, Nuzzo said it had “led to an all-out war in the state of Florida.”
In the lead-up to the November vote, news organizations across the state have called for a “no” vote on the amendment. “Every single editorial board is saying vote no for 1,” said Nuzzo.
But he also said that editorial boards and pro-solar groups misunderstand the Amendment 1 campaign. “It’s an outright lie. We’re protecting…ratepayers,” said Nuzzo.
Listen to the entire tape below. The Center for Media and Democracy has also cut up the tape into smaller excerpts and posted them to SoundCloud.
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Eos Energy Storage, the startup that’s attracted utility interest from around the world in its low-cost, zinc-based batteries, is raising money to build more of them, and to get those units out in the field. Deployments are needed to prove the company’s bold claims of multi-hour, long-lasting energy storage at a cost of $160 per kilowatt-hour.
On Tuesday, Eos announced the initial closing of a sale in a private placement of approximately $23 million. The New York-based startup previously raised $23 million in May 2015 in a round led by AltEnergy, and about $27 million in two previous funding rounds from investors including OCI, NRG Energy and Fisher Brothers.
The money will fund the scale-up of contract manufacturing and commercial deployment of its Eos Aurora batteries. These cargo-container-sized, 1-megawatt, 4-megawatt-hour units use cathodes made from zinc, a much cheaper metal than lithium, but one that’s proven to be a challenge for rechargeable batteries.
Eos says it’s solved these problems through a proprietary coating that reduces corrosion over multiple charge-discharge cycles, as well as other materials and design improvements, to yield a battery with 75 percent round-trip efficiency and a 10,000-cycle, or 30-year, lifetime.
As for price, the company has long been targeting $160 per kilowatt-hour, which is about half the cost of the cheapest lithium-ion batteries on the market — although lithium-ion’s massive manufacturing base is sure to drive down those prices in the years to come.
Eos’ batteries sacrifice round-trip efficiency in comparison to lithium-ion, which is in the 90 percent range. But they have a better profile for multi-hour discharge cycles, particularly in the 4- to 6-hour range, where lithium-ion batteries really struggle.
That puts them in a class of long-duration batteries, including other water-based electrolyte designs like those from Aquion Energy, as well as flow batteries from companies like UniEnergy, Primus Power, ViZn Energy, Redflow and the now-defunct Imergy.
Eos has built partnerships with a broad range of utilities, including hometown utility Consolidated Edison, which was the first to put the company’s 100-kilowatt units into field trials. GDF Suez is also testing its units, and Pacific Gas & Electric has a $2.2 million state grant to install them in a pilot project with behind-the-meter battery startup Stem.
PG&E is also Eos’ first megawatt-scale customer, through a 10-megawatt contract with developer Convergent Energy + Power awarded as part of the utility’s 75-megawatt procurement back in December. These projects are set to be built and running by the end of the decade, under the state’s 1.3 gigawatts-by-2020 energy storage mandate.
Eos used upstate New York contract manufacturer Incodema to build its initial test units, but it has turned to larger partners to meet the scale of orders like those it’s getting from PG&E. Like the other startups competing against lithium-ion batteries, Eos faces the challenge of going up against an established manufacturing base with clear paths to cost reductions. That will make its first megawatt-scale deployments a critical test of its ability to deliver on its potentially game-changing promises.
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EnergySavvy raised $14 million in a Series D round to expand energy-efficiency program management and move into a broader suite of offerings for utility customers.
The round was led by GXP Investments. It also included the investment affiliate of Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power and Light, and Inherent Group. Existing investors Prelude Ventures and EnerTech Capital joined as well. The Series D more than doubles the company’s funding total to just over $26 million.
The Seattle-based startup expanded its enterprise energy-efficiency platform for monitoring contractor performance and utility efficiency program performance.
The newest additions to the platform are tools to help utilities better target and execute programs such as tree trimming, equipment leasing or selling distributed energy resources.
“Our theory is that you need to use the same calculation engine consistently across all customer interactions,” said Scott Case, chief operating officer for EnergySavvy. Very often, different programs are run by different siloed departments using different software.
In some cases, EnergySavvy is in direct competition with companies like Bidgely, Opower or Tendril, all of which are taking unique approaches to managing customer relationships for utilities. But EnergySavvy can also coexist alongside these other companies, said Case.
Many utilities have dozens of programs they offer customers — but they have not yet fully customized who sees what message, where they see it and how they see it. “How can we take every single barrier to action out of there?” asked Case.
EnergySavvy added five new utility customers this year, including DTE Energy and Oklahoma Gas & Electric, bringing its total to more than 40 utilities and state agencies.
Although EnergySavvy’s entire business proposition is about nudging utilities into more modern and meaningful digital interactions with their customers, they also rolled out a new direct mail option last year. Old habits die hard.
The mailer — essentially a paper-based home audit — is meant to target hard-to-reach customers. It has produced better response rates than the industry average, with an average 23 percent completion rate. It has helped about one-third of utility clients improve their targeting of elderly and/or low-income customers for efficiency programs.
Utilities don’t necessarily need new tools; they just need some help thinking about a cohesive strategy to engage customers — especially as they try to boost revenue from new or existing programs, said Case. To fulfill this need, EnergySavvy also launched a consulting practice to help utilities with the process of change management.
“If you haven’t been through it before, it’s not always obvious,” said Case.
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This is a complimentary episode of our premium podcast, The Interchange. To keep getting this content, become a member of GTM Squared.
We are at the beginning of one of the greatest economic and consumer-behavior experiments ever seen in the energy sector. How do we refine pricing in order to rapidly transition our aging, centralized grid to a clean, decentralized one?
And can we do it so that we limit the economic losses, pay for the fixed costs of operating the grid, and make everyone whole?
It’s a complicated question. The range of actual rate design options — revenue decoupling, minimum bills, demand charges, fixed charges, and time-of-use rates — offer many varying benefits and drawbacks.
Everyone agrees that we’re moving to a distributed grid. But there’s a lot of disagreement on how to pay for it.
That is what we’re tackling in the show this week. We’re joined by Lisa Wood, the executive director of the Edison Institute for Electric Innovation, and Ralph Cavanagh, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Their perspectives on rate design are featured in a new report from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, called Recovery of Utility Fixed Costs: Utility, Consumer, Environmental and Economist Perspectives. We’re going to discuss their agreements and disagreements on the issue.
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New York has an ambitious plan to reform its utility sector. Now come the difficult details.
With a mandate to transform into open platforms for distributed energy, how will the state’s major utilities reform their business plans? The pieces are starting to come together, forming a picture of how New York’s utilities will seek to transform themselves.
This summer, New York’s five major investor-owned utilities filed their initial Distributed System Implementation Plans (DSIPs), and a follow-up filing is due out by November 2. Their initial proposals reveal a similarity of approaches to foundational technologies, which include smart meter networks, advanced grid operating technologies, and online market platforms.
In examining these plans, the question becomes: Are utilities prepared to animate and enable a real-time, integrated, transactive energy market at the distribution level?
Onlookers close to the process believe so.
“These documents show utilities are capable of this change,” said Walter Rojowsky, an energy and utility advisor for PA Consulting.
But the DSIPs varied widely in their approach to market animation.
Con Ed was quick out of gate with its Brooklyn-Queens Demand Management project at the beginning of the REV process — and the utility is making it a key piece of its DSIP. The project is meant to defer the build-out of a large substation by utilizing demand response, efficiency and storage. This is an example of non-wires alternatives to infrastructure that REV is designed to encourage. Con Ed recently awarded 22 megawatts of demand response contracts for the project.
Yet in its DSIP, the utility remained “light on information in this stage of the process about how to handle an animated market in long run,” said Rojowsky.
In contrast, Avangrid was more detailed in outlining its approach. The utility is planning an “energy-smart community” demonstration project in Ithaca, New York to test an online platform for customer engagement. It will also create new rate designs that properly value distributed energy and efficiency, which will ultimately be scaled to form the full DSIP. Finally, the utility wants to network rooftop solar systems and make them more responsive to grid conditions.
“Avangrid’s project is unique — it will be a real-world lab to pilot and test operations for market enablement and animation, as well as grid operations and integrated system planning,” said Rojowsky.
Investments in “foundational technologies” must happen quickly. The DSIPs are focused on the next five years, and every plan mentioned specific technology investments to increase control over distributed resources.
“There’s a lot of discussion around advanced distribution management systems. ADMS technology is a key enabler for the distributed system platform vision,” said Zach Pollock, an energy and utility advisor for PA Consulting.
For example, Con Edison, Avangrid, National Grid and Central Hudson are all proposing investment in distribution automation systems and smart meter networks — creating a layer of control when more distributed energy systems get connected to the grid.
But how will utilities pay for these technologies?
“Of course, utilities are concerned with rate recovery for the costs of such technologies,” said Pollock. “They need confidence to make these investments.”
On that front, the New York Public Service Commission bolstered utility confidence in May with the Track Two Order on cost recovery.
Rojowsky explained: “This order identifies a combination of revenue model reforms to encourage a high level of penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs), while maintaining a sustainable business model for the utilities. It envisions the utilities receiving platform services revenues for the operation or facilitation of markets for DERs, as well as earnings adjustment mechanisms for achieving outcome-based results aligned with policy objectives.”
This order presents the possibility of rate recovery for some operational expenditures, not just for capital expenditures. This could substantially improve the economics of deploying foundational technologies such as advanced distribution management systems and distributed energy management systems.
In turn, this could speed deployment, allowing utilities to contract with providers of key IT systems under the software-as-a-service model — traditionally an operational expenditure.
“The REV process provides a way for utilities to articulate what investments they need to make. And the door is open to different kinds of recovery,” said Rojowsky.
DSIPs are a way to concretely address what kind of investments are needed and where they’re needed. In early November, utilities will collectively submit a plan for coordinating their technology deployment through the joint DSIP filing.
The DSIPs are a promising first step in a complicated process.
“The DSIPs strongly articulated kinds of investment they need to make to better understand how their systems are currently operating at a granular level, and how they will operate with higher DER penetration,” said Rojowsky
The next step will be establishing incentives on the customer side to complement the DSIPs.
“For true market enablement and animation, customer incentives need to change too. Until we have a future where customer incentives and rates are different than today, we can’t animate the market. That will be a heavy lift,” said Rojowsky.
And then there’s the challenge of communicating all these changes to customers “in ways that empower them, rather than overwhelm them,” said Rojowsky.
More details will emerge when the state’s utilities officially file their joint plan on November 2. When that plan is released, New Yorkers will get a better sense of how their state’s energy future will unfold.
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This year is proving to be a momentous one for the climate. There have been both wildly depressing and wildly hopeful milestones.
On the downside, carbon dioxide passed the symbolic 400 parts per million threshold permanently (in our lifetimes anyways), the planet is going to have its hottest year on record for the third year in a row and a rash of extreme weather events shook the world this summer. More positively, the Paris Agreement was ratified, a new treaty was put in place to ban a potent greenhouse gas and renewable energy continues to surge.
The 15 hottest months on record have all occurred since March 2015.
It’s an interesting time to be alive, but perhaps an even more interesting time to join the climate science field. We’re at a crucial turning point for both the field and humanity.
Scientists entering the field now are standing on the shoulders of more than 150 years of climate change research. Our scientific knowledge of climate change has expanded tremendously since John Tyndall’s work on greenhouse gases starting in the 1850s (and even since James Hansen’s 1988 testimony before Congress for that matter).
Yet there are still questions to be answered about climate change, in particular pinning down what comes next for the world and the people, plants and animals that call it home. To get a sense of what comes next for field and how it feels to start a career at a time when so much is clearly at stake, Climate Central talked with a handful of early career researchers on how they view the field. Below are some of their answers, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
How does it feel to start your career working on climate at a time when the impacts of climate change are becoming clearer and clearer?
Sylvia Dee, postdoctoral researcher at Brown studying climate over the past millennium: It’s an exciting time to be in this field for many reasons, not least of which is a relatively new interest from the community for public lectures and teaching. We have more and more students taking classes in atmospheric and ocean science, and many of us are increasingly being asked to give outreach lectures to organizations (in my case) like the Girl Scouts of America or the United Methodist Women. Public interest is an incredibly valuable tool for improving climate education.
From a research perspective, I think many of us early career climate scientists feel the same: there are so many questions to answer, and so little time! Whether we like it or not, humans are performing an active experiment on the earth through the continued emission of greenhouse gases. I think (and hope) we are poised to make some major breakthroughs in our understanding of complex climate system feedbacks that could shape our high-greenhouse-gas future.
Zack Labe, PhD student at University of California, Irvine studying Arctic climate change: There is a mixture of emotions. On one hand, OK, we are doing something right. The climate models are not clueless. On the other hand, human carbon emissions are amplifying societal and environmental impacts signaling the call to act. Nevertheless, it is an exciting time to enter this field as technological advancements are rapidly changing our understanding of both natural and anthropogenic climate change.
Kate Marvel, associate research scientist at NASA studying climate modeling: On a scientific level, there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing physical theory reflected in the real world. It’s amazing that we understand and can make predictions about the way the world works. And as a scientist working to understand the specifics of what climate change actually looks like, it’s gratifying to see wide interest in the field. But on a personal level, I find it deeply unsettling. I worry about the mess we’re leaving our kids, and it upsets me that the people most affected by climate change are the ones least responsible.
Sarah Myhre, postdoc at the University of Washington studying abrupt ocean changes: Kind of hard. Weird. Complex. Lots of cognitive dissonance. Some existential crisis. I’m not going to lie, it’s a gritty place when you are staring down at data and probabilities for how your favorite places in the world will change during your kid’s life span. Honestly, being a parent has also really changed my approach to my career. Having a kid and seeing how much my parents love my kid has made me feel so connected to people in the future. It’s a hard question because I love my career. I am supremely privileged to get to do the work that I do. But there is a big part of shouldering the knowledge of this global crisis that has been challenging for me. It’s caused me some grief and it’s really forced me to grow up.
Why did you get into climate research in the first place?
Zack Labe: I was your pretty stereotypical weather nerd growing up, staying up way too late to watch a Northeast snowstorm, running outside in a thunderstorm (do not do this) and so on. I expected to take an operational weather forecasting career path. About midway through undergrad, I contacted a new professor in the department to try something different: research. During the rest of my time in undergrad, I spent a lot of time looking at climate models and reading the literature on this very dynamic field. The problems and impacts of climate change seemed outlined right there, yet, the term ”climate change” is almost taboo in some social settings. This missing link really seemed to strike an interest with me in continuing research while still having an interest in weather and the atmosphere.
Kate Marvel: I studied theoretical physics because I wanted to know how the universe worked. But during my PhD I realized that my favorite place in the cosmos is Earth, and that there was still lots to learn about it. I don’t regret my physics training — it taught me great problem-solving skills — but I prefer working on more applied problems.
Sarah Myhre: To go scuba diving. Actually, no. That’s not true. I got into research because I wanted to work underwater. I spent about 1,000 hours working as a seafloor ecologist with NOAA out of Hawaii, diving in some of the most remote marine ecosystems in the world. Then I went on a marine geology research cruise when I was just starting graduate school. That cruise changed my life, because I got to work with some of the most brilliant paleoceanographers. That cruise showed me that I could use all of my experiences in the modern ocean to understand ocean environments in the past.
Daniel Swain, postdoc at UCLA studying extreme weather events: I’ve always been fascinated by the atmosphere. I grew up watching clouds and reading weather maps. As an undergraduate studying atmospheric science, it became apparent to me that despite our solid understanding regarding the “big picture” surrounding global warming, there was still quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the details. How is regional climate changing, and how does global warming affect extreme weather? It seemed to me that the answers to these kinds of questions are critical in making practical adaptations in a warming world.
How do you hope your research can help the field (or world for that matter) understand the challenges climate change poses and how to address them?
Zack Labe: We know that changes in the Arctic are one of the key indicators of climate change, but the effects on the rest of the Earth system remain very uncertain. For instance, it is not only the fact that sea ice is melting, but the rate of change at which it is occurring. What does this mean for the balance of the rest of the climate system? I hope my research can better evaluate these questions and further communicate the issues to a broader audience.
Data from ship logs, military records and satellites show 100 years of Arctic sea ice minimums.
Credit: Zack Labe
Sarah Myhre: I hope that the work I do is useful and meaningful, both for my scientific peers and for society. I am working to make a contribution to the field of abrupt climate change, by looking at marine sediment records of past events of climate warming. As they say, “the past is the key to the future,” so if we can come to a more direct understanding of how oceans changed during past events of warming, we are equipping ourselves with the tools to interpret the changes we see in the modern world.
Daniel Swain: Given my longstanding interest weather and short-timescale atmospheric phenomena, I approach climate research from a slightly different perspective than some scientists. I think it’s helpful to view climate as “weather in aggregate,” and since it’s ultimately extreme events like storms, floods, and droughts that cause the most harm in a societal context, it makes sense to focus on how global warming is affecting the character and causes of these sorts of high-impact conditions. Ideally, this work will yield scientific insights into underlying atmospheric processes while simultaneously informing real world decision-making.
Where do you see the field of climate science going in the next 10 years?
Sylvia Dee: The earth is, for lack of a better term, very large. We have a ton of data and we have massive super computers constantly running coupled model simulations that can take months and yield terabytes of output. In the next 10 years, we’re going to have to learn how to effectively use this massive body of data we have access to and filter out the robust signals from the noise.
Kate Marvel: I’m actually really excited for the future of the field. My peers are amazing — there is so much talent among early-career scientists. I think we’ll have a better understanding of the climate feedbacks that can speed up or slow down warming, particularly what clouds will do. We’re getting better at quantifying and communicating uncertainty. I also think we’ll get better at understanding and projecting regional climate and talking to more people — not just policymakers, but ordinary people who are going to be affected by climate change. I do think we need to get even more serious about diversity. If scientists don’t reflect society, how can we be sure we’re not missing important questions? We waste an awful lot of potential brilliance right now, and I’m optimistic that we’ll take steps to stop that.
Daniel Swain: There are two avenues that seem especially promising to me at the moment. The first is the ever-increasing capacity and sophistication of global climate models. I’m particularly intrigued by the prospect of large “ensembles” of high-resolution climate simulations, which may help us constrain the still relatively large uncertainties regarding regional climate change and will hopefully also yield better information regarding changes in extreme events in the climate system.
The second is the rapidly spreading recognition that climate science communication is a critically important endeavor. Increasingly many institutions are recognizing that the obligations of the modern scientist extend beyond the generation of novel research, and that there is a real need for practicing scientists to engage with the wider world. Actively connecting with decision makers, journalists, and the public will be key in building a resilient society in the face of rapid environmental change.
Are you hopeful or does climate change get you down?
Sylvia Dee: I would say that I’m cautiously hopeful. I find the rate at which policy accepts and moves on scientific consensus to be frustrating, but I think I’m not unique in my attempts to be proactive instead of throw in the towel, so to speak. I certainly never feel defeated or upset about it the way I do about a few other political issues.
Kate Marvel: Whisky. (Editor’s note: Marvel received a different version of this question framed as how to stay positive in the face of seemingly continual bad climate news. Her response was too good not to include.)
Whisky: sometimes it comes in handy.
Credit: Thomas Hawk/flickr
Sarah Myhre: The answer to that question is yes. It is such a huge problem and I feel the gnawing pain of it in my day-to-day life. I definitely carry my work around with me wherever I go. But I also have to feed my heart with other things. I am living my life while doing this hard work, and I think every moment that I despair at these data must be compensated by a moment where I experience joy and connection. The world is still beautiful and I’m lucky to be here, that’s what I tell myself. I also remember that I signed up for this and that everyone needs to serve someone, and this is what my service looks like.
How concerned are you about the political polarization of climate change and possible solutions?
Sylvia Dee: I’m mostly concerned about the problem from an education perspective. Earth science puts educators in a unique position: we have suddenly been tasked with teaching a politically charged topic, in a field highly underrepresented in K-12 education. Students often enter our courses with erroneous preconceived notions about earth science. I have a strong desire to address the widespread confusion about climate change, and the best way I know how is to teach and to do more outreach. The recent media circus surrounding global warming has highlighted an urgent need for policymakers and the public to understand very basic principles of geoscience, and my teaching experience has alerted me to profound knowledge gaps at the undergraduate level. High school science curricula focus on biology, physics, and chemistry, but a basic understanding of geoscience is also crucial for a society accelerating into a future with a human-altered atmosphere.
Zack Labe: Science requires discussion. It requires skepticism. And it requires revisions. But we are in an era where political drivers are leading to poor discourse and public communication concerning the state of our understanding of climate change. We need a common voice and one that emphasizes our certainties and uncertainties. How do we go about doing this? I think this is a critical question looking ahead in removing the political and agenda-driven divide. Most importantly, let’s keep science . . . science.
Sarah Myhre: I am honestly sickened by it. We need basic science in our public lives and in our leadership. This is the 21st century. I have a computer in my back pocket. We have an instrument driving around Mars. We landed another instrument on a damn comet. Science works and it shouldn’t be on the table to debate any longer.
Daniel Swain: It is very frustrating to see just how decoupled the national political conversation surrounding climate change has become from the physical reality of the world we live in. Recognition of basic factual information shouldn’t be a partisan issue and yet one of the two major political parties in the U.S. currently rejects the overwhelming factual evidence demonstrating that humans are largely responsible for global warming. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s possible to envision a future where scientific consensus forms the basis of a political common ground, in which there there are legitimate ideological disagreements regarding what should be done about climate change but a shared reality regarding its existence and causes. I’m hopeful we can get there.
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This will be a two-on-one combined-cycle station
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Task force looks at 3,000 MW to 5,000 MW of annual nuclear additions
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The event will be held on Nov. 15-16 at The Capital Hilton hotel
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The construction of Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County power plant isn’t the only thing that might be costly
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