Alternative Energy Watch: Nuclear Power Old and New; Cape Wind Farm Gets US Approval; Boeing Plant Going Solar (ETR, NRG, BA, FSLR)

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Today’s alt energy news leads off with the latest developments for two nuclear power plants. The Cape Wind project also got the go-ahead from the federal government, and a new airplane factory in South Carolina is going solar.

The fate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant owned by Entergy Corp. (NYSE: ETR) remains undecided, but not inactive. The company has filed suit in federal court to prevent the state of Vermont from shutting down the plant when its original license expires on March 12, 2012. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted the plant a 20-year extension to its operating license, but the state has refused to extend its operating permit.

Entergy wants a temporary injunction preventing the state from slowing or stopping operation of Vermont Yankee while the suit is being considered, and it also wants a ruling that would prohibit the state from closing the plant. Entergy agreed to comply with state review requirements when it bought the plant in 2002, but now claims that the state changed the rules in 2006 by requiring the state legislature to approve an extension before the state public utilities commission could grant an operating permit.

Entergy tried to sell the plant, but found no takers. This story has a ways to run yet, and the central issue — do the states or the feds control nuclear power licensing — may not be decided for years.

From a nuke trying to remain in operation to a new nuclear project that has apparently been killed. NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NRG) has announced that it will write down approximately $481 million in connection with its development of two new nuclear generation plants at its South Texas Project. The write-down will be taken as a pre-tax charge in the company’s first quarter earnings.

NRG is blaming the nuclear disaster in Japan for the move, saying that the Japanese incident has injected “multiple uncertainties around new nuclear development” in the US. NRG and its partner, Toshiba, will continue to seek licenses, loan guarantees, and customers for the new nukes. The bad news is that the suspension of engineering work will cause the company to reduce its workforce. NRG did not specify how many employees would be let go, but did say that it expects one-time charges of more than $20 million in its second quarter.

The 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound has received construction approval from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement. The project comprises 130 turbines to be installed about five miles from the coast. No construction starting date has been announced, and there are sure to be further legal challenges before construction begins.

Finally today, the Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) will install 2.6 megawatts of solar PV panels on the roof of its new 787 assembly plant in South Carolina. The plant will be a 100% renewable energy site once the solar panel installation is complete. It will be the sixth largest solar PV installation in the US, and will use thin-film solar laminate panels. Boeing did not say which company would supply the panels, but “thin-film” usually means First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR).

Paul Ausick