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Cyber attack shuts down power plant

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Authorities say hackers, likely with the backing of a country, launched a cyber-attack against power plant software, shutting down operations at the as-yet unidentified power plant.

California-based cybersecurity company FireEye Inc. told Reuters about the incident Thursday. The software targeted was made by Schneider Electric, according to reports.

Schneider said it could confirm the attack targeted its Triconex industrial safety suite, which is used in the energy industry to automate fossil-fired and nuclear power plants.

The victim of the attack, duration of the outage or the location of the plant are as yet unknown, but one cybersecurity firm interviewed by Reuters said the plant may be sited in Saudi Arabia.

According to Accenture, nearly two-thirds of utility executives think their country could see blackouts due to a cyber attack soon.

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New Jersey rolls out nuclear power plant subsidy bill

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey‘s electric utilities would be required to purchase credits from nuclear power plants to help rescue the industry under new legislation.

Lawmakers on Friday introduced a bill aimed at helping the state’s nuclear power plants.

The state’s biggest utility, PSEG, testified before lawmakers that their nuclear power plants are headed toward shuttering within two years if they do not get state help.

The cost of the credits is not clear in the legislation, but environmental groups are criticizing them as a “direct subsidy from the ratepayers.”

PSEG did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the bill.

The legislation comes during the Democrat-led Legislature and outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s lame-duck period. Christie has said he’d consider a bill to rescue PSEG’s nuclear plants.

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California regulators want tougher vegetation rules after wildfires

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Devastating California wildfires this year — and expectations of more to come under the extremes of climate change — prompted regulators Thursday to toughen rules for utility companies to keep power lines clear of brush and tree branches that can easily spark into flames.

Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker called the regulations adopted unanimously by the board “a major rewrite” of the state’s fire-prevention rules for utilities as climate change drives up wildfire risks in much of California.

In a year when the state’s fire season threatens to go year-round, state officials “accept and acknowledge that the scope of the problem is changing,’ Picker said.

The board’s action comes as fire officials look for the causes of wildfires currently burning in Southern California, including a 380-square-mile fire that has become the fourth-largest in state history. The Los Angeles Times on Thursday quoted a witness as saying she saw arcing power lines throwing sparks at the scene of one of the fires in the San Fernando Valley.

Fire officials also are looking at any role that sparks from wind-whipped power lines played in October’s wildfires in Northern California, which killed 44 people and caused more than $9 billion in property damage, more than any fire recorded in the United States, according to insurance industry figures.

The new state rules for utilities, power lines and vegetation concentrate on areas deemed of higher fire risk. The changes increase the minimum space among power lines and between power lines and vegetation, and speed up timetables for patrols and repairs in areas of higher fire risks.

The agency first began considering the issue after a series of Southern California wildfires in 2007. Those fires were tied to swaying and arcing power lines, some of which fell during heavy winds.

Currently, a redrawing of California’s fire-risk maps is more than doubling the area that officials consider at heightened risk of wildfire, from 31,000 square miles (80,000 square kilometers) to 70,000 square miles (180,000 square kilometers), or 44 percent of the state’s land.

State officials and climate experts point to increasing extremes of weather in California, which last winter swung from five years of drought to near-record rain.

The U.S. Forest Service this week reported a record 129 million trees have perished, raising fire risks, in the state since the drought began. They were killed by hot, arid weather and forest pests that are thriving in the warmer conditions.

Utility companies cooperated with regulators in developing the tougher rules.

“PG&E supports this as a good, next step, and we know there is more to do,” the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said in a statement.

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Wartsila to build 52 MW solar photovoltaic power plant in Jordan

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Technology group Wartsila signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract to supply a 52 MWp solar photovoltaic power plant to AM Solar BV/ Jordan, a joint venture between energy provider AES Jordan and Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co., Ltd. The order was booked in November 2017.

This is the first utility scale photovoltaic solar plant signed by Wartsila globally. NEPCO (National Electrical Power Co.) is the offtaker of the solar plant and will be responsible for constructing the interconnection facilities.

Wartsila’s scope is full engineering procurement and construction and the PV plant will be connected to a 132 kV grid.

The new PV solar power plant will be installed near IPP4, a 250 MW Wartsila-built smart power generation plant, which has been operational since 2014. The construction of the new plant is expected to start in June 2018 and the commercial operation is expected to take place in July 2019.

Wartsila has been found to be the right EPC partner for Mitsui & Co., Ltd., having already demonstrated capability to deliver projects within schedule while following all quality requirements, with supportive teams during all aspects of the project finalization.

Jordan is an important market for Wartsila; as of today, the company has been delivering 900 MW of Smart Power Generation solutions on EPC basis, which represents around 20 percent of the country’s installed capacity. The PV Solar plant is expected to provide jobs to 500 Jordanians during construction period.

Wartsila offers utility-scale solar PV power plants as well as solar PV solutions combined with engine power plants and energy storage.

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E.On reaches one million electric vehicle charges at E.On Denmark

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(Above: E.On electric vehicle charge point. Photo courtesy of E.On)

More than one million electric vehicle drivers have charged their car batteries at E.On stations in Denmark over the past three years. The one million charges cover a distance of 36 million kilometers.

E.On entered the Danish e-mobility market in 2014 and became with 1,300 charging stations the number one in Denmark. The company intends to maintain this position in the future and is therefore continuously expanding its store network.

E.On is currently constructing additional charging points in the Danish capital – in places where drivers can park their cars for a certain amount of time anyway and make good use of the parking time to charge their electric vehicles.

Therefore E.On is entering into partnerships with operators of car parks, fast-food and petrol station chains and municipalities. In addition, E.On is currently building 80 new charging stations in neighboring Malmö, Sweden.

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Entergy Louisiana to start $100 million transmission upgrade soon

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Entergy said that Entergy Louisiana will begin construction in January 2018 on a nearly $100 million technological upgrade to its electric power transmission grid in Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana.

The project will enhance reliability, increase transmission capacity, and help ensure the availability of affordable power now and into the future for the parish, according to Entergy Louisiana.

The upgrade covers about 900 square miles, almost all of which is within Jefferson Davis Parish, and encompasses the construction of some new transmission lines, as well as rebuilding many existing lines, the company said.

Both the new and rebuilt sections of line will use steel structures that can withstand winds of up to 140 miles per hour and employ reinforced high-voltage wire that will move power more reliably and efficiently, the company said.

An Entergy spokesperson on Dec. 12 told TransmissionHub that there are multiple new lines and existing lines that will be rebuilt as part of the Southwest Louisiana 69kV Improvement Project.

“We will be replacing the existing Colonial Welsh [138-kV] tap line with two new [138-kV] lines (Henning-Lake Charles Bulk and Henning-Bayou Cove),” he said. “We will be installing a new [69-kV] line between the new Henning Substation and the existing Carter Substation. We will also be rebuilding the existing Carter-Serpent and Compton-Elton [69-kV] lines. Finally we will be installing two new [69-kV] lines from the new Henning Substation to the Line 13 Tap location.”

The hub of the project will center around the new Henning substation, the company said in its statement, adding that most of the construction will take place between the Compton and Elton substations along Louisiana Highway 395, across farm fields between the Carter and Serpent substations, and along Louisiana Highway 90 between the Derouen and Lawtag substations.

In total, about 58 miles of lines will be added or upgraded, the company said.

Depending upon weather and other variables, the project is currently scheduled to be completed by February 2020, Entergy said.

The company also noted that it has developed a communication plan to keep communities, businesses, institutions, and government agencies up to date on the project’s progress. Residents should expect lane closures and possible traffic delays associated with the work, Entergy said.

Noting that it has identified a few locations that will require brief service interruptions as a result of the project, Entergy said that it will provide advance notice to all affected customers so customers can plan accordingly.

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China sees natural gas shortage after coal ban

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BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities have commandeered supplies of natural gas to heat homes, forcing chemical plants and factories to shut down, after efforts to clear smog-choked air by banning coal use backfired by causing energy shortages in frigid weather.

The disruption highlights the government’s difficulties in its campaign to clean up China‘s smog-choked cities and reduce reliance on coal.

The latest shortages stem from Beijing’s effort since 2013 to shift 3 million households in China’s north to gas. That boosted demand while supplies failed to keep pace.

The overall economic impact is unclear, but gas supplies to factories and other industrial users in areas throughout China have been reduced or cut off.

“The situation is quite serious due to the suspension of gas supplies to industrial and commercial consumers in hopes of meeting the demand from civilian use,” said Chen Yunying, a gas industry analyst for ICIS in Shanghai.

On Tuesday, German chemical giant BASF invoked “force majeure,” or forces beyond its control, for a disruption in supplies of MDI, an ingredient in polyurethane used in packaging, from its facility in Chongqing in the southwest. BASF said it had no word when gas supplies would resume.

The gas company in the central city of Wuhan, a center for auto manufacturing and other industries, announced last week supplies to commercial customers were being shut off “to ensure people’s basic needs.”

China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, is investing heavily in solar, wind and other renewable energy to help clean up its despoiled environment. But it is forecast to rely on coal for at least two-thirds of its energy for the foreseeable future.

On Monday, the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank announced it approved a $250 million loan to connect some 220,000 rural Chinese households to a natural gas distribution network

State-owned energy companies have invested billions of dollars to develop shale gas and other sources, but supplies have failed to keep pace with surging demand.

Total gas consumption from January to August rose 17.8 percent from a year earlier, outstripping a 10.8 percent production increase, according to a Cabinet planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

Combined with unexpectedly low imports, that left China with a 10 billion-cubic-meter shortfall this winter, according to Chen of ICIS. He said that compares with total annual consumption of about 220-230 billion cubic meters.

News reports say the swift switch in northern China left some households without heat after coal was banned.

The business news magazine Caixin said its reporters found nearly half the 300 households in Zhouzhou, a village in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, had no heating for several weeks in temperatures as low as -6 C (21 F). It said farm families had been ordered to dismantle coal-fired furnaces before gas pipelines were laid to their homes.

“The government’s effort to shift from coal to gas as an energy source is a good policy that can improve air quality,” said Chen of ICIS. “But during implementation, some governments went too far and rushed to cut coal supplies when they hadn’t found supplemental gas supplies yet.”

The city government of Beijing, which in March closed its last coal-fired power plant, issued an emergency order last week to restart a coal-burning generator.

Natural gas supplies about 7 percent of China’s total energy, according to the government. Beijing wants to raise that to 10 percent by 2020 and to 15 percent by 2030, according to the NDRC.

China’s annual gas production is forecast to more than double to 340 billion cubic meters in 2040, with shale gas a major contributor, according to a report this week by the International Energy Agency. But it said consumption should grow even faster, reaching 600 billion cubic meters.

To boost imports, government oil companies are spending billions of dollars to build pipelines from gas fields in Russia and Central Asia.

On Wednesday, China National Petroleum Corp. announced it was speeding up laying pipe for a 3,371-kilometer-long line from Russia. Construction began in 2015 and is due to be finished in 2020.

Imports of Russian gas “will have far-reaching significance for optimizing China’s energy structure, cutting emissions and improving air quality,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.

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Toshiba fulfills $3.68 billion guarantee obligation for Vogtle nuclear expansion

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Georgia Power and the other Vogtle nuclear power plant co-owners, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, have now received a total of $3.68 billion in parent guarantee payments from Toshiba, the full amount owed by the parent company of former primary Vogtle contractor Westinghouse.

Toshiba originally agreed to make monthly payments through January 2021 but, under a new agreement reached earlier this month, delivered all remaining installments in a single payment of about $3.225 billion on December 14. Georgia Power‘s proportionate share of the payment is $1.47 billion.

Parent guarantees were put in place to protect Georgia electric customers as part of the original contract for the Vogtle nuclear expansion. The payments will reduce the total cost of the plant for Georgia Power by about $1.7 billion with every dollar received from Toshiba being used to benefit customers.

From the beginning of the Vogtle expansion, Georgia Power has worked to pursue all available benefits for customers and minimize the impact of the new units on electric bills. In addition to receiving 100 percent of parent guarantee funds available from Toshiba, the company recently announced a conditional commitment of about $1.67 billion in additional loan guarantees for the project from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Today, after including anticipated customer benefits from federal production tax credits, interest savings from loan guarantees from the DOE and the fuel savings of nuclear energy, the projected peak rate impact to Georgia Power retail customers is about 10 percent, with 5 percent related to the project already in rates – well below original projections of about 12 percent.

Final approval and issuance of the additional loan guarantees by the DOE cannot be assured and are subject to the negotiation of definitive agreements, completion of due diligence by the DOE, receipt of any necessary regulatory approvals, and satisfaction of other conditions.

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Japan court orders shutdown of nuclear reactor near volcano

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TOKYO (AP) — A court ruled Wednesday that a nuclear reactor in southwestern Japan should not operate because it is too close to an active volcano and could be affected by a major eruption.

The injunction ordered by the Hiroshima high court is likely to force the Unit 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime prefecture to stay offline after its regular inspection ends in February.

The court said the nuclear regulators’ risk estimate for Mount Aso, 130 kilometers (78 miles) southwest of the plant, was inadequate, citing a past eruption tens of thousands of years ago that caused pyroclastic flows that exceeded that distance.

Judge Tomoyuki Tanoue ruled that the plant’s operator, Shikoku Electric Power Co., had underestimated the potential impact of a cauldron explosion at the volcano, and said the possibility of a pyroclastic flow and ash reaching the reactor is “not small enough.”

The judge said the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety approval of the reactor was “irrational” and that the lives of the plaintiffs could be endangered by radiation in the event of a major accident.

The decision reverses a lower court ruling and upholds the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction through September to protect the safety of residents while their lawsuit demanding a permanent shutdown is pending.

A higher court decision carries a greater legal weight, and the ruling could result in nuclear operators having a greater burden in proving the safety of their reactors.

Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, welcomed the decision as a victory.

An extended closure of Unit 3 would be a major business loss for Shikoku Electric, and the utility said it will appeal the decision. The utility had earlier decided to decommission the 40-year-old Unit 1 reactor, while the Unit 2 reactor has been shut down since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

All operating reactors in Japan were temporarily stopped for safety checks after the Fukushima accident. Five reactors, including Ikata No. 3, have since resumed operation under a tougher post-Fukushima safety standard, with seven others in the final stages of restarting.

Dozens of lawsuits and injunction requests have been filed across Japan over safety concerns since the Fukushima disaster, slowing down a government push for more reactors to be operated. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-business government wants nuclear power to remain a key component of the energy mix for resource-poor Japan.

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