35 Years of NAWO History
The North American Water Office (NAWO) grew out of the Powerline Struggle that began in the mid 1970’s and raged for years across Minnesota and North Dakota. NAWO Co-founder Lea Foushee was Chair of the North Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club at the time, organizing ranchers, farmers and Indians against coal companies’ intent on eating the land and poisoning the water to sell electricity. Co-founder George Crocker was working with farmers across West-Central and South-Central Minnesota, organized as the General Assembly to Stop the Powerline (GASP) and as the Southern Landowners Alliance of Minnesota (SLAM).
GASP, SLAM, and their North Dakota allies confronted the CU Project, which consisted of the Coal Creek Power Plant near Underwood in North Dakota, an 800 kV DC powerline from Coal Creek to the Delano Substation just west of the Twin Cities, and the 345 kV Wilmarth Line from Delano to Mankato. The CU Project was owned and operated by United Power Association (UPA) and Cooperative Power Association (CPA), which later merged to form Great River Energy.
SLAM beat the Wilmarth Line, which was never built. But at a critical time in the struggle, the large national environmental organizations that were involved particularly in North Dakota, decided to abandon grass-roots struggles around the country in favor of focusing all available resources on efforts to block the Alaskan Pipeline. In the ensuing vacuum, opposition to coal interests in North Dakota all but collapsed. But the struggle continued in Minnesota. Towers toppled, insulators got shot out, and there were hundreds of non-violent civil disobedience arrests but very few convictions. In September 1978, GASP organized a conference in Glenwood, Minnesota, for landowners and communities being victimized by powerlines, coal mines, and the development of other energy facilities. People from 32 states and several foreign nations attended. Ms. Foushee met Mr. Crocker, and the powerline struggle continued. As a result, even though Coal Creek and the DC powerline got built, energy management would never be the same again, as documented in Powerline: The First Battle of America’s Energy Wars by the late Dr. Barry M. Casper and future US Senator, the late Paul David Wellstone.
By 1979 it was clear that 27 multinational corporations were set to carve up the sacred Paha Sapa, the Black Hills of South Dakota for energy and other resources. Documents describing the proposed “development” called the region “a national sacrifice zone.” GASP worked with the Black Hills Alliance (BHA), formed at the request of Lakota elders, and Ms. Foushee moved to Minnesota to help organize the National Gathering of the People in 1979 and the Black Hills Survival Gathering in 1980, which kicked the corporate looters out of Paha Sapa and secured a 30-year moratorium on new uranium mining in the Black Hills. These actions were documented in Keystone to Survival, The Multinational Corporations and the Struggle for Control of Land by the Citizen’s Review Commission on Energy Developing Corporations sponsored by BHA. If you go take a look now, you will see that the Black Hills are still there in relatively good shape. But the 30 years has expired, and extraction industries are at it again, so maybe you should go look soon.
When NSP, now Xcel Energy, came forward in 1981 with an application for a Certificate of Need for Sherco 3, an 800 MW coal-fired power plant in Becker, between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, Minnesota, Ms. Foushee and Mr. Crocker teamed up with physicist Dr. Wendell Bradley from St. Peter, Minnesota, who had also been instrumental during the powerline fights and the Black Hills Survival Gathering. Ms. Foushee, Dr. Bradley, and Mr. Crocker formed “The Kilowatt Organization,” TKO, with the slogan, “You Megawatt, We Kilowatt.” TKO did its best to kill Sherco 3, and succeeded in raising a host of vital issues that, to this day, remain at the center of debate over how best to deliver electric utility services. In particular, TKO drew attention to the fact that mercury from burning coal was contaminating fish and other aquatic life as well, posing a particular threat to Indigenous Peoples. As a result of the TKO focus on mercury, the Minnesota Health Department began publishing and distributing fish consumption advisories. TKO also identified viable supply and demand-side alternatives, and a much more rational methodology for both managing and forecasting electric utility usage, based on end-use analysis of electrical consumption, rather than simplistic but useless exponential growth projections. But decision-makers were interested in Sherco 3, not cleaner, cost-effective, more intelligent and equitable alternatives, and the plant was authorized.
TKO was retired after the Sherco 3 case, and the North American Water Office was formed as a 501 (c) 3 organization in 1982. We set up our own organization so that never again could some far-away outfit with a separate agenda dictate what we would do, how we would do it, or what resources we would have at our disposal. Ever since, our work has focused on the relationships connecting, or failing to connect energy development with economic democracy, our environment, public health, and social justice. Our Board of Directors has not allowed us to quit. Some highlights are listed below.
1983 – 1986: Acid Rain Educating and Organizing
Educating and organizing to Stop Acid Rain was NAWO’s first major campaign, but in reality, the foundation for this effort was set down in the wake of the powerline fight. Largely because of that fight, by 1982, a critical mass of people throughout Minnesota were informed and concerned enough about energy issues, including acid rain, to cause the State Legislature to pass a first–in-the-nation law requiring Minnesota to set an acid deposition standard.
While proceedings to establish the required standard would not actually occur until 1986, NAWO built on that foundation by convening the Founding Conference of the U.S. Acid Rain Network at Grand Portage, Minnesota, in September 1983. Conference participants directed us to research and document global acidification developments. As forests died, buildings and bridges dissolved, lakes became sterile, and rates of human respiratory diseases increased, NAWO published information about the causes and consequences of acid rain, and solutions to the acid rain problem, in 17 installments of the “Acid Rain Intelligence Report” between 1984 and 1987.
By 1984, NAWO had identified every power plant, smelter and refinery in the US that annually emitted more than 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, a primary acid deposition precursor. All 507 of them. We located each point source on a big map, which was the centerpiece of a large convention-style display booth. We took the display to “Acid Rain 1984,” a national citizen’s conference held in New Hampshire in January 1984. For the first time, it became clearly visible to a national audience that specific smoke stacks from specific power plants, smelters and refineries were causing the problem. One highlight of the conference was a dinner of foods threatened by acid rain, and our Acid Rain Network provided the wild rice. NAWO published the “SO2 Point Source Directory” in 1985, which included the map and provided specific details about each of the 507 point sources.
In 1986, NAWO introduced “Pollution Indicators,” which provided significant evidence that cleaner companies in the above-mentioned industries, even in the highly regulated electric utilities industry, tended to be better managed, and therefore more profitable. In this timeframe, NAWO also introduced the concept that high efficiency screw-in fluorescent light bulbs were in fact also pollution control devices, because each one reduced acid rain precursors, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, by about 16.7 pounds during its life, compared to using about 10 conventional light bulbs for the same period of time to do the same job. The reduced electrical consumption saves a lot of money for consumers, too, compared to using conventional bulbs. Now days, LED lights provide even greater benefits. Unfortunately, at the time, North American Philips and other lighting manufacturers were not willing to associate their products with pollution. It took them about 10 more years before they figured out the “green” value of doing so.
Our work on acid rain culminated in the 1986 Minnesota Acid Deposition Control Act Proceedings, where NAWO intervened, and was instrumental in establishing a relatively protective acid deposition standard of 11 kg wet sulfate/hector/yr. NAWO made the case for a more protective standard of 7 kg wet sulfate/hector/year, while the industry wanted a standard of 21 kg, in which case they wouldn’t have to spend any money to clean up. In its attempt to get a 21kg standard, NSP brought over two “experts” from Germany where acid death was rampant. These guys testified that there were some 168 distinct theories as to where and why the acids originated and what caused them to do damage, and in the face of scientific uncertainty regarding this complexity, Minnesota’s efforts to set standards that would force industry to spend lots of money on pollution control equipment were entirely premature.
When NAWO cross-examined these experts, we asked, “Isn’t it true that all your 168 odd theories can be boiled down to just two, either it’s anthropogenic, or it’s not?” They had to agree, and we were pretty much on our way. The fact that Minnesota established a standard at 11 kg broke the logjam, so to speak, that had blocked federal action to control precursors of acid deposition. It was no longer politically viable for states to continue bickering over who was responsible for causing what destruction where, while Congress used the bickering as an excuse to do nothing. Setting a standard in Minnesota forced federal action, and some protection was then afforded by “cap & trade” legislation.
1984 – 1997: Indigenous Women’s Network (IWN)
Ms. Foushee co-founded IWN, a network of Indigenous women from the Americas and the Pacific Islands, in 1984. She administered IWN until 1997.
In 1985 Ms. Foushee was a recipient of the Ford Foundation Leadership award to attend the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization’s Forum ’85 on the Status of Women in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa.
Ms. Foushee compiled the “Native Survival Resource Guide” in 1987, which was generously printed by NSP. Between 1991 and 1997, Ms. Foushee published and distributed seven issues of “Indigenous Woman,” the journal of the Indigenous Women’s Network.
In 1990, Ms. Foushee was an IWN delegate to the Second International Indigenous Women’s Conference in Sapmiland, Karasjok, Norway.
1988: Sherco 3 Rate Case
Being as TKO failed to prevent Sherco 3 from getting built, NAWO did penance by intervening in the rate case before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that raised electric utility rates to pay for it. NAWO pointed out that consumers were being required to purchase energy from a major source of pollution, while conservation options costing about 1/10th as much were being ignored. Shortly after, the industry and its regulators initiated “Integrated Resource Planning,” which is a marvelous process whereby government bureaucrats order electric utilities to incorporate demand-side as well as supply-side management options into 15-year business plans that must be approved by regulators. But demand-side options continued to adversely impact corporate financial health by reducing sales and eroding earnings. So the utilities offer up utterly anemic conservation programs while they all (regulators, bureaucrats, and utility minions alike) claim and agree, pat, pat, that everyone is doing as much conservation as possible. NAWO pointed out the perverse nature of financial incentives that reward consumption and therefore also reward producing more pollution that everyone claims to be against.
It turned out that in this time-frame, the end-use analysis initiated by TKO during the Sherco 3 Certificate of Need proceeding bore a little fruit. A 1988 Minnesota Department of Public Service document entitled “State Energy Policy and Conservation Report to the Legislature” included a fairly sophisticated state-wide end-use analysis of electrical consumption, and concluded that 52% of the electricity we consume could be saved if people used the most efficient commercially available technologies to perform their end-use functions. More sophisticated analysis conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, for example, placed the technical potential to get more efficient at upwards of 75%. To this day, due to ignorance, stupidity and greed, utilities and regulators continue operating the electric utility industry with perverse incentives that reward consumption thereby limiting the ability to capture conservation that is cost-effective from a public perspective to at the most, about 3% of total electrical energy sales. Go figure.
1989: Demand-Side Incentives for Electric Utilities
The Public Utilities Commission finally did acknowledge that utility rate structures rewarded the wrong kind of behavior, because consumers paid less per kWh as they consumed more, and utilities made more money as they sold more power and released more pollution into the environment. NAWO introduced an “Energy Intensity” rate-structure model and worked with NSP to actually design and implement a rate structure in which utility profits rose as utility investments into conservation caused electric consumption to drop. This structure was only applied to the small percentage of NSP expenditures spent on demand-side programs, though, and not to the total rate-base as we intended. Nonetheless, it was applied and as a result, to this day, Xcel Energy is among industry leaders, such as they are, regarding conservation. And for a short time there, we were full of hope, with a collaborative spirit.
1989 – 1991: White Earth Land Recovery Project
NAWO enabled the creation of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, and provided organizational structure and administration services until it could incorporate and acquire its own federal tax-exempt status.
1990: NSP Rate Case
NAWO presented the Public Utilities Commission with its “Energy Intensity” model for utility rate design that would tie electric utility financial health to the efficient use of electricity, and attempted to convince the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that it could restructure financial incentives to reward efficiency rather than wasteful consumption. Unfortunately, before this innovation could reach fruition, utilities, regulators and politicians got distracted. Captains of Industry from all across America changed the focus to what they called “competition,” and succeeded in injecting their version of it into several electric utility markets. So instead of incentives consistent with public interests (rewarding efficiency), we got a mad, frenzied rush to the bottom in terms of prices per kilowatt hour of electricity produced, regardless of actual production costs, ecological consequences, or impacts on system reliability. Corporate gangsters followed their nature, and criminal gaming ripped into electricity markets. By 2001, this frenzy produced the ENRON debacle and triggered a fire sale on NSP stocks as its ENRON competitor, NRG, got caught up in the mess. Blackouts rolled through California.
1989: NSP Goes For Dry Cask Storage Of High-Level Nuclear Waste On Prairie Island
In 1989, NSP applied to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for 48 high-level nuclear waste dry storage casks on Prairie Island. We knew this was coming, and were watching for it, because back in 1978, while NAWO founders were fighting powerlines, NSP re-racked the storage pool at Prairie Island for the first time. This was done pretty much without opposition, just 4 years after Prairie Island Unit 2 came on-line. Then, in 1981, while TKO was fighting Sherco 3, NAWO founders were also involved with the Prairie Island Project, an organization that challenged the second re-racking of the high-level nuclear waste storage pool at Prairie Island. The Prairie Island Project got rolled, but we learned a lot, including that there are no solution for high-level nuclear waste management problems so long as corporations profit by making more of the stuff.
The pools needed to be re-racked twice within the first 7 years of plant operations because when the plants were built, the industry expected that spent fuel rods would only remain in the storage pools for a few years. After that time, they thought, the waste would get sent to a reprocessing facility where it would be dissolved in acids, processed, and re-fabricated back into reactor fuel. But reprocessing nuclear fuel in the US was abandoned during the Carter Administration because of nuclear weapons proliferation issues and because reprocessing plants, like at West Valley in New York, caused so much radioactive contamination to the environment that workers and neighbors kept dying young. With nowhere to send the waste, the storage pools filled up. But re-racking required waste fuel assemblies to be stored closer to each other, allowing more waste to fit in the pools, but also reducing margins of safety. After re-racking twice, the waste assemblies could not be stored any closer together, and the only option that would allow the power plant to continue operating required evacuation of the pool. Hence dry storage casks.
When NSP filed for dry-cask storage in 1989, we were ready. NAWO challenged the completeness of the application and by demonstrating its inadequacy, we successfully delayed the proceeding for about a year, during which we organized. With direction from the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Tribal Council, NAWO created and provided leadership for the Prairie Island Coalition to oppose dry cask storage, in favor of more responsible options for nuclear waste management as well as for providing electric utility services. The Prairie Island Coalition ultimately consisted of over 30 safe-energy, student, environmental, tribal, labor, legal, business, religious, social justice, and community-based organizations.
The case came to trial before Administrative Law Judge Allen Klein in November 1991, and despite the massive resources used by NSP, state agencies, and business associations to support dry cask storage, we made the case against cask storage well enough so that Judge Klein found in his report that no casks were acceptable. The risks and uncertainties of dry cask storage on Prairie Island outweighed the potential benefits, he found. The Public Utilities Commission couldn't accept that, however, and in June, 1992, authorized 17 casks, instead of the 48 that NSP wanted. So we took them to court, and won, and the nuclear waste struggle intensified.
1992 – 1993: NAWO Administers $100,000 Phase I Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) Grant From The Federal Department of Energy to the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Council
In an effort to find a willing interim host for the nation’s growing volume of high-level nuclear waste, the Federal Department of Energy (DOE) sent a letter to every one of the thousands of local units of government (counties) and Indian tribes in the country. The letter offered each of them $100,000 to educate their community about the benefits of hosting a nuclear waste dump at what they called a Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) Facility. The dump would consist of a very large number of dry storage casks. There were 20 responders, 17 of which were Tribal communities. The County Commissioners in each of the three counties that responded were all removed from office, some by impeachment, before their programs got under way.
The Prairie Island Tribal Council recognized, however, that their community would be hosting a MRS-type nuclear waste dump anyway, thanks to NSP’s dry cask storage facility. The Tribal Council therefore applied for and received a $100,000 MRS grant, and then contracted with NAWO to administer its Monitored Retrievable Storage program. NAWO proceeded to educate the Prairie Island Community, and much of Minnesota and Southwest Wisconsin as well, not only about what it would mean to host such a facility, but about health and safety issues attached to every link in the nuclear chain. We also began to focus on the disproportionate impacts nuclear industry operations were having on the most disenfranchised members of society. Shortly after, DOE cancelled the MRS program.
DOE’s MRS cancellation also had to do with the heroic work of Grace Thorpe, President of the National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans (NECONA), who organized against Monitored Retrievable Storage in each of the 17 Indian Nations that responded to DOE’s letter. In 1995, NECONA presented Mr. Crocker with an “Award of Merit” for exceptional efforts in helping Native Americans resist federal government and nuclear industry efforts to store nuclear waste on tribal lands.
1992: Co-founder of Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy (ME3)
With the creation of ME3, NAWO was no longer alone in its effort to connect energy development with economic development and the environment. In due course, ME3 also embraced the social justice aspect of energy development. For many years ME3 provided increasing weight and status to the need for accomplishing the energy transition. Then its weight and status changed, and it changed its name, and supported powerlines that large corporations need to preserve their market share as renewable energy resources get developed. Sorry. Way of the world.
1993: Legal Victory Over Prairie Island Nuclear Waste Storage
The Prairie Island Community, Prairie Island Coalition, and MPIRG appealed the Public Utility Commission’s Order granting permission for NSP to use up to 17 storage casks to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We argued that Minnesota law required that only the Minnesota Legislature, not bureaucrats, was authorized to permit the permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste in Minnesota. This law was passed in 1982, also in the wake of the powerline struggle when people in Minnesota were still focused on energy issues. When the law was passed, its purpose was to prevent the federal government from using Minnesota’s granite shield as a permanent nuclear waste repository.
(The feds later singled out Yucca Mountain, and decided to use it as the repository site for the nation. Yucca Mountain is located on the Ghost Dance Fault in the Western Shoshone Nation, in Nevada. Attempts to develop the repository were abandoned during the Obama Administration, but the Trump Administration is trying to revive the process. Opposition to a Yucca Mountain Repository continues to be committed and effective.)
But by 1993, the case before the Minnesota Court of Appeals hinged not on differences between casks and granite or volcanic tuft, or between federal and state bureaucrats, but on the definition of “permanent.” If the waste is put in casks on Prairie Island, we therefore asked the Court, when will it leave, and where will it go? As no one could answer the questions, the Appellate Court agreed that dry cask storage on Prairie Island would be permanent, and the MN Public Utilities Commission therefore had no authority to site such a facility. The Supreme Court decline to further review the matter, and thus the stage was set for a bitter struggle over dry cask storage of high-level nuclear waste that consumed the 1994 Minnesota legislative session.
1994: Nuclear Waste Storage Legislative Fight
In coalition with Minnesotans For Nuclear Responsibility, the Prairie Island Coalition, the Prairie Island Tribe, the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action and others, NAWO fought successfully to block the nuclear waste dump on Prairie Island until the very last day of the 1994 legislative session. We kept saying, “No casks!” and politicians kept putting more and more renewable energy provisions into their law authorizing casks, and we kept saying, “No Casks!” The bill to authorize dry cask storage was defeated in two House Committees, a Senate Committee, and by an overwhelming vote on the House floor. In virtually any other situation, a single defeat in a single committee kills a bill, at least for the duration of the legislative session.
None of that mattered. Like a murderous Vampire that never dies, the dry cask storage bill kept getting resurrected. On the last day of the session, in a bitter defeat that is still painful, Pretend Democracy prevailed at the Capitol and gave NSP 17 casks. The only redeeming factor is that before the bill could pass into law, we forced it to contain so many provisions for renewable energy that it jerked the electric utility industry in North America into the modern era. At the time, these provisions caused NSP to be accused by its industry colleagues of “giving away the store,” and Jim Howard, NSP CEO at the time, offered to get Mr. Crocker a job protecting panthers in the Florida Everglades.
Among the conditions, a few of which worked, some of which got perverted, and most of which never amounted to anything more than empty promises, the 1994 PI law mandated:
- A total of 825 MW of renewable wind energy in increments of 225 MW, 200 MW, and 400 MW;
- 125 MW of “closed-loop” farm produced biomass electrical generation capacity;
- A Renewable Energy Development Fund to be paid for by NSP in the amount of $500,000 per year for each cask on Prairie Island during that year;
- A Nuclear Phase-Out Plan complete with a Worker Transition Plan, a Cask De-Commissioning Plan, a Study of Alternatives to Dry Cask Storage, and a moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction;
- Low-Income electrical rate relief;
- Enhanced conservation goals; and,
- A Legislative Electrical Energy Task Force with a long list of charges intended to make electric utility management more compatible with public interests.
1994 -1996: Participation in Discovery Phase of Westinghouse V. NSP Nuclear Lawsuit
While Xcel was telling Minnesota decision-makers in 1994 about how good PI was, hence the need for more waste storage capacity, NSP was also suing Westinghouse Electric Corp. in federal court because the PI nuclear steam generators sold to NSP by Westinghouse were prematurely aging, cracking and leaking. In 12 previous suits between Westinghouse and electric utilities, the public was prevented from learning about steam generator problems because the discovery process took place behind protective orders. Then, on the eve of trial, the parties agreed to proprietary settlements, and the public remained in the dark. That changed when NSP sued Westinghouse.
The suit started out with NSP at one table glaring at Westinghouse at the other table glaring back, before Judge James Rosenbaum, who commented on the snarling nature of the litigants. There we were in the back of the courtroom, raising our hands and waving to be recognized. “What do you want?” asked the Judge. “Well,” we responded through our long-time friend and ally Ken Tilsen, “if these private parties are resorting to this public forum to resolve their private differences, the public at least has the right to know the nature of those differences with regard to matters of public health and safety and public energy policy.” To our amazement, Judge Rosenbaum agreed, and he ordered NSP and Westinghouse to allow us to participate in the discovery process.
We were in, but NSP and Westinghouse got very creative in the tactics they employed to prevent us from actually reviewing documents, and from securing copies of those that we wanted because they were pertinent to public health, safety and public energy policy. We were forced to go back to court on five different occasions seeking Motions to Compel. We needed Compliance Orders from the Judge that forced them to provide all of our team with access to the site where documents were located, to review all pertinent documents, to give us copies of the documents we asked for, to remove our copies of documents from the location where we were reviewing them, and in general to be able to continue our discovery work. On each occasion, Judge Rosenbaum granted our request. The difference was, though, that when we went back to court to get these Compliance Orders, NSP and Westinghouse were not snarling at each other from opposing tables any more.
Instead, they sat together, and they were joined by INPO (Institute of Nuclear Power Operators, a private and very secretive internal nuclear industry association), EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute, the industry’s research organization), Siemens, the German nuclear reactor maker, Babcock &Wilcox, the Canadian nuclear reactor maker, and Framatome representing the French nuclear industry. With the exception of General Electric, which makes boiling water reactors of Fukushima fame but that don’t have steam generators, virtually the entire nuclear industry of the “Free World” was in court, and they were all snarling at us.
Nevertheless, we organized a small army of about 40 people and were able to review over 1,000,000 pages of internal nuclear industry secrets. We secured copies of 60,000 of the more incriminating pages. These pages validated our primary fear, which was that steam generator tube degradation, in the form of stress-corrosion cracking, was creating a mounting potential for simultaneous, cascading multiple steam generator tube failure, leading to a catastrophic loss-of-coolant accident. In such an event, thousands of gallons of 600°F water would lose pressure and erupt in a massive steam explosion that would breach the containment vessel. The core would melt and on-going steam explosions as the molten fuel contacted surface and ground waters would highly contaminate a very large region with extremely radioactive material. The documents showed that each of the several hundred pressurized water reactors around the world was vulnerable.
As it became clear that we had the documentation necessary to go public, the reality of this mounting potential for catastrophe was independently confirmed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in a report published by “Inside NRC” on March 4, 1996. From that point on, the nuclear industry stopped haggling over who was responsible, and got serious about replacing steam generators wherever replacement was warranted. As John Hodgeman says, “You’re welcome.” The information we secured during the discovery process remains available to the public on a video and CDROM.
1994 – 1997: Defeated Mescalero Apache High-Level Nuclear Waste Dump in New Mexico
One reason the Minnesota Legislature finally authorized 17 casks in 1994 was because NSP assured legislators that the waste would not long remain on Prairie Island. It would soon be sent to the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico, NSP said, because tribal leadership there wanted it for economic development purposes. But internal tribal opposition was intense, and NAWO went to the Mescalero Apache Reservation to help people organize. After a bitter and protracted struggle during which Tribal Members voted the waste proposal down only to see it come back again and again, the People of the Mescalero Apache Nation finally succeeded in rejecting the dump proposal. NSP simply went to the next Indian community on its list, which was developed during the DOE’s MRS program, the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes in Utah.
1995 – 2000: National Nuclear Waste Citizens Coalition
After the Minnesota Legislature imposed the Prairie Island nuclear waste storage capacity limit of 17 casks, NSP with Minnesota bureaucrats in hand went to Washington, D.C. to get Congress to pass a law authorizing the transportation of high-level nuclear waste to a parking lot next to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the proposed site for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste dump. NAWO followed them to D.C. to oppose this legislation, which was affectionately dubbed “Mobile Chernobyl.” We helped organize the national Nuclear Waste Citizens Coalition and participated on its Steering Committee. Every year, for six years running and against an overwhelming amount of money spent by the nuclear industry and its allies to get their legislation passed, the Nuclear Waste Citizens Coalition beat back Mobile Chernobyl legislation.
This work also focused on the scientific and political bankruptcy of the Yucca Mountain fiasco, and as noted, at least until the Trump Administration, that project was abandoned, as well.
1995 – 2000: Worked With Communities United for Responsible Energy (CURE)
One condition the 1994 Legislature made for authorizing 17 casks on Prairie Island was that NSP had to make a “good faith effort” so find an alternate dump site in Goodhue County, where so many people wanted the dump to preserve nuclear jobs and tax money, but off Prairie Island, because the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Community did not want it. Scattering nuclear waste storage sites around and about for political purposes, however, is a recipe for nuclear disaster. So when a Southern Goodhue County site was selected, grassroots opposition formed, and NAWO helped the opposition. This was a very difficult time and our relationship with the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Community was destroyed. Curiously enough, the Minnesota Department of Public Service was at the time helping NSP lead the charge in Washington D.C. for Mobile Chernobyl, which meant shipping waste for thousands of miles to a parking lot in Nevada. But due to grassroots opposition, that same Department of Public Service ended up killing the alternative Southern Goodhue County dump because transportation risks of shipping waste about 10 miles from Northern Goodhue County to Southern Goodhue County made the risks of the alternative site “not comparable” to the risks of leaving the waste on Prairie Island. Go figure.
1995 – 1997: Defeated Louisiana Energy Services Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Plant
Louisiana Energy Services (LES) fabricates nuclear fuel, and in the late 1980’s began looking throughout Southern USA at more than 100 sites for a new plant. As the site selection process continued and certain sites were rejected, communities surrounding remaining prospective sites had higher and higher concentrations of African Americans. The final “winner” turned out to be Homer, Louisiana, which is almost entirely of African-American descent. NSP was a primary member of the LES consortium. For three straight years, NAWO organized shareholder resolutions that brought NSP’s corporate image into question as a result of its participation in this racist behavior. The escalating pressure created by this campaign caused NSP to withdraw from LES, dealing a serious blow to the consortium. Shortly after, due to tenacious opposition in Homer and excellent legal work in Washington, D.C., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected the LES application for the proposed Homer facility because it found that LES had violated Environmental Justice policy. LES then tried to get a plant sited in Tennessee and got kicked out, and then moved on to try its luck in New Mexico.
1996: “Confronting Nuclear Racism,” a Prairie Island Coalition Report
This report, covering a conference on nuclear racism organized by the Prairie Island Coalition at Wilder Forest northwest of Stillwater, Minnesota in September, 1995, documents how nuclear racism is a fundamental part of every link in the nuclear chain. About 50 selected organizers from Minnesota attended the conference, with 10 special guests from throughout North America. These guests included representatives from the Prairie Island Mdewakanton; from Homer, Louisiana; from the Western Shoshone in Nevada where the 1868 Treaty of Ruby Valley should have precluded any attempt to site a repository at Yucca Mountain; from the Mescalero Apache where NSP wanted to send Prairie Island waste; from the Skull Valley Goshutes in Utah where NSP and Private Fuel Storage, the consortium of nuclear utility companies NSP organized, wanted to send all the nuclear waste after the Mescalero Apache rejected it; from Hopi and Navaho Nations in the Southwest where uranium is mined and milled; from Cree Nations in Alberta, Canada, where uranium is mined and milled; and from Cree Nations in Manitoba, Canada, where waste repository sites in the granite shield had been proposed. Without nuclear racism, there is no nuclear industry.
1997 - 2002: Stopping Xcel Energy and Private Fuel Storage
With federal high-level nuclear waste management programs failing to provide either permanent or interim storage facilities, and after having been rejected by the Mescalero Apache Nation, NSP - soon to be Xcel Energy - set up a consortium of nuclear utilities called Private Fuel Storage (PFS), which sought to develop its own private interim storage facility. PFS set its sights on an impoverished and isolated Indian community in the Utah desert, about one hundred miles south of the Great Salt Lake. The PFS proposal was extremely divisive within the Skull Valley Goshutes Nation, pitting family members viscously against one another, and NAWO worked hard to ensure that the vast majority of Tribal members, in opposition against leadership corrupted by PFS, had as much information and organizational support as we could give them. In the end, PFS also failed because the opposition never quit, and also, in part, because the US Navy flies jets over the proposed site from time to time, so it can practice dropping bombs. Turns out the Navy and the NRC didn’t think it was a good idea to have thousands of high-level nuclear waste storage casks sitting out on the approach to Naval bombing range.
2002-2003: Nuclear Responsibility Now!
Even though NSP vowed to the Legislature in 1994 that if it was authorized to use 17 casks on Prairie Island, it would never ever again come back and ask for more, the liars were back in 1996. We stopped them then, and again and again, but they kept coming back year after year until 2003, when they finally got their way. During that time, NAWO worked with an ever-diminishing coalition that initially included Clean Water Action, MPIRG, the Sierra Club, ME3, Women Against Military Madness, Bluff Land Environmental Watch, Communities United for Responsible Energy, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and a number of additional organizations and individuals to defend the 17-cask storage capacity limit set in 1994. In 2003, we organized under the banner of “Nuclear Responsibility Now!” but we knew we were in trouble. While the vast bulk of the environmental community was otherwise engaged, primarily with fertilizer run-off, the 17-cask limit for high-level nuclear waste storage on Prairie Island was rescinded. As of July 2017, 40 loaded casks sit on the pad, and Xcel has authority to put as many casks as it wants on Prairie Island.
1998 – 2000: Chisago Powerline
NSP and Dairyland Power brought forth a proposal to build a 230 kV powerline from the Chisago Substation north of the Twin Cities into Wisconsin, with a dramatic and very intrusive crossing of the wild and scenic St. Croix River at Taylor’s Falls. Local citizens organized and asked for help, and NAWO intervened. During the hearings, the basic question was whether the line was needed to serve local loads, or if instead its primary function would be to transmit bulk power from remote generators to distant load centers for economic transfer purposes. In other words, for private profit as opposed to public benefit. NAWO brought forward knowledge gained during the GASP/SLAM era as well as knowledge about how the electric utility industry operates, and consulted extensively with Concerned River Valley Citizens, the grassroots organization that opposed being abused by the Chisago Project. The utilities were not able to support their claim of need to serve local loads. In the end, a smaller line wound unobtrusively down the valley and crossed the St. Croix River along the dam just north of Taylor’s Falls.
1998: Manufactured Gas Plant Waste Combustion at the A.S. King Plant in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota
NAWO, working with the Oak Park Heights community, prevented the combustion of manufactured gas plant wastes contaminated with heavy metals at the A.S. King Plant. NAWO also worked with Oak Park Heights to prevent the spreading of A.S. King coal ash, which is contaminated with mercury and other heavy metals, as a soil amendment that they wanted to use to firm up soil at soggy construction sites all around the Upper Midwest. NAWO also helped Oak Park Heights prevent the combustion of contaminated refinery wastes from Koch Refinery at the King Plant.
2000 – 2001: NAWO Gets a Corporate Sponsor! What a Hoot!
As the above recitation indicates, after the nuclear waste storage crisis climaxed in Minnesota during the 1994 legislative session, just about all of the organizations and individuals who had been part of that struggle turned their attention elsewhere. It was pretty much left up to NAWO to persevere with the mounting load of unresolved nuclear waste storage issues left in the wake of storage cask authorization at Prairie Island. While NAWO dealt with the Mescalero Apache situation, and Skull Valley and LES and Mobile Chernobyl and failing steam generator tubes and so forth, others were paying more attention to how NSP fulfilled the renewable energy obligations it incurred in exchange for only 17 wink wink casks. But we were watching, and attended the parties NSP threw when it proudly dedicated various deployments of the required wind generation capacity and loudly proclaimed its leadership status among electric utilities regarding renewable energy development.
We were intrigued when Zond Wind, the company to which NSP nefariously awarded the contract to develop the first installments of the mandated wind, got bought out by ENRON, which set up ENRON Wind as a wholly owned subsidiary to feed NSP the mandated wind power. NAWO therefore went to visit with ENRON Wind a couple times, and informed ENRON Wind people of our role in making possible the business opportunities they were enjoying in Southwest Minnesota, and we asked for financial support so we could keep working. Imagine our surprise when ENRON Wind agreed to support NAWO to the tune of $1,000 a month for 2 years! They even sent us Christmas cards! Of course, before the two years were up, the criminals at ENRON got busted and GE, now of Fukushima fame, bought out ENRON Wind. ENRON Wind was the only remnant of ENRON that sold for anything approaching actual market value.
1999 – 2005: Working with Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) in Wisconsin and Minnesota Against the Arrowhead-Weston 345 kV Powerline
The Arrowhead-Weston Powerline is another instance in which power companies claimed a need for transmission to serve local loads, while the real reason for the additional transmission capacity was to provide for bulk-power economic transfers in less regulated wholesale electric markets. In this case, hydro-electric generators on the Churchill Nelson River System in Northern Manitoba are the primary source of power. Massive dams turned pristine boreal forests into ecological slums, devastating the Cree People who have lived there for thousands of years. The mess was massive. Imagine debris created by trees killed from flooding, that is so thick along eroded shorelines that moose cannot reach the water!
People from Duluth, Minnesota to Wausau, Wisconsin, fought back, and NAWO again intervened in both Minnesota and Wisconsin proceedings. We had three objectives. First, we failed to stop the line and institute more equitable, less abusive options for delivering electric utility services. Actually, we did beat Arrowhead. The Douglas County Board of Supervisors in Wisconsin refused to allow the line to cross county lands under their jurisdiction, which killed it. But the power companies went to the Wisconsin State Legislature and got the law changed, stripping County Supervisors of their authority. Pretend Democracy. Again. Second, we were marginally successful at educating electrical energy consumers in Minnesota and Wisconsin about the desecration of the Northern Boreal Forests and the despair cause by that destruction, all for “cheap” power south of the border. Third, we were moderately successful at forcing the utilities, both those purchasing the power in the US and those producing it in Canada, to begin cleaning up the mess made by the hydro development, and to begin the process of restitution for those who were abused. Xcel Energy actually sent combustion engineers to Manitoba Hydro to help clean up the debris. The Arrowhead Line is now operational.
2000: Organized a Conference on “Environmental Justice and Energy Policy in the Upper Midwest” with the University of St. Thomas and ME3
This Conference, keynoted by the late Senator Paul Wellstone, was a landmark event in terms of our collective ability to begin shedding light on the reality of “electric racism.” In addition to participants from throughout the Midwestern United States, we were joined by several of the Northern Manitoba Cree Nations adversely impacted by Manitoba Hydro projects. This high-profile event was responsible, in significant part, for bringing Environmental Justice issues into focus, and causing implicated electric utilities to review and begin amending their operations relative to the people and environment along the Churchill Nelson River.
2000 – Present: Environmental Justice Networking
Ms. Foushee served four years on the Board of Directors of Clean Water Action Alliance. She was also an advisory board member of Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy’s Just Energy Campaign and she is also a founding Board Member of Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota.
The NAWO program to address hydropower, the third central-station technology (after coal and nuclear), focused on large dams and the powerlines that bring this electricity to markets. NAWO has worked toward preventing additional massive hydro development that would cause additional disruption to indigenous populations.
In 2016, Under Governor Mark Dayton’s leadership, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency established a 16-member Environmental Justice Advisory Group. Ms. Foushee was appointed to this group by the Pollution Control Agency Commissioner for a two-year term, and in that capacity, testified before the USEPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC).
2001 – 2002: Powerlines for A Little Bit of Good, Not Evil
More powerlines were needed if wind energy from Minnesota’s rich wind regime on Buffalo Ridge was to be transmitted to load centers further east. Proceedings to decide whether and what powerlines to build are on-going, and there are two major problems. First, if high-voltage transmission is built, North Dakota coal interests will take as much of the new transmission capacity as they can to ship more electricity from lignite power plants. Second, virtually all the wind generation on Buffalo Ridge is owned by large outside corporations who take the money and run.
Here’s the issue: A primary driving force behind the development of wind energy resources is for environmental improvement. Wind electric generation does not pollute once the turbines are installed, but to make any difference from an environmental perspective, a very large number of wind turbines must be installed relatively quickly. So the public organized to mandate renewable energy development, and made the commitment to pay for it. The installation of these turbines amounts to major industrial development in rural communities, and people in those communities must live with the impacts of that industrial development. But now, here come multinational energy cartel corporate interests intent on extracting the value of the harvested wind and using it for their own private cartel purposes. And big powerlines authorized by public utility regulators, and paid for by the public, not only enable, but are necessary for these cartel interests to continue with the extraction.
NAWO got involved with the Four Powerlines in Southwestern Minnesota to ensure that wind is on the wires, not coal, and that the people who live in Southwestern Minnesota can also profit from the wind that is blowing across their farms. We were successful in attaching conditions to the certification of four high-voltage powerlines that require the utility to provide transmission access to smaller, locally owned projects. This resulted in transmission outlet capacity of 60 MW, or about 1/10th of the outlet capacity of these transmission enhancements, being dedicated to community-based wind power. Two projects of 30 MW each, Community Wind North in Lincoln County and Community Wind South in Nobles County, were authorized by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission as conditions for certifying the Four Powerlines. This activity set the stage for Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED).
2001 – Present: Indigenous Woman’s Mercury Investigation
NAWO launched the Indigenous Women’s Mercury Investigation (IWMI) in 2001, which began by documenting the importance of water and value of fish for Minnesota’s Indigenous Peoples, both Dakota and Ojibwe. This was a necessary first step because fish are heavily contaminated with mercury, polychlorinated biphenyl, dioxin, pesticides, and perflurochemicals that come from electric power plants, agriculture, and other industrial sources, and because State Pollution Regulators were publicly expressing the mistaken belief that Indigenous Peoples no longer relied upon fish as a primary source of protein in their diets. While rules have been set to limit pollution, they still allow for contamination so severe that pregnant women cannot safely eat certain species, such as walleye, more than once a month. For fish-dependent cultures, this amounts to cultural genocide. The documentation collected by this project serves as a starting point for decision-making that takes account of cultural differences, and calls for standards that are protective of all people.
IWMI worked in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health through their Department of Environmental Health to develop a questionnaire that, with authorization from the White Earth Tribal Council, was administered by their White Earth Home Health Agency to two hundred families in their client base who have children. The questionnaire scientifically documents that those families do, in fact eat fish in excess of the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines. It also scientifically established that children who have mercury in their teeth have a statistically significant higher rate of behavioral disorders and other health conditions associated with mercury contamination. These findings were later confirmed by the Minnesota Department of Health using invasive blood-testing methodology.
These findings, along with information about which traditional foods can be used to remediate and mitigate these disorders, cultural information that provides a traditional context for this information, and magnificent photographs of artifacts and natural beauty, are all presented in Sacred Water - Water for Life by Lea Foushee and Renee Gurneau. This book is currently sold out, but may again become available for purchase if we can raise the money for another printing, and more information about it is available on this website.
2010-2017: Wild Berry Project/Sacred Food Equals Health Lives
NAWO’s Wild Berry Project began as a solution strategy to help bring back access to wild fruits and berries across White Earth Reservation. Initially 2,000 trees, bushes and plants were gifted to the White Earth Tribal and Community College and Reservation Businesses and individuals. An Annotated Bibliography was created to document the Indigenous Science as well as Western Science efficacy of using these fruits and berries as medicine. A collaboration with Dream of Wild Health planted another wild fruit and berry installation on their farm in Hugo, Minnesota.
NAWO received a grant from the Minnesota Environmental Fund to enable two new installations of our Wild Berry Project, one with the Grand Portage Tribe and the second with Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College at Cloquet. These funds are the result of a Federal legal settlement when Mineralien Schiffahrt, the German Companys’ MST bulk freighter Cornelia dumped oily wastewater into the Great Lakes. The Minnesota Environmental Fund received a portion of this settlement and subsequently distributed the funds to member organizations engaged in restoration and remediation projects along Lake Superior.
2013 Nibi Manoomin Symposium
The University of Minnesota’s College of Food Agriculture and Natural Resources (CFANS) contracted with NAWO staff to coordinate the Nibi Manoomin (Water/Wild Rice) Symposium on the White Earth Reservation. Responsibilities included promotion, agenda development with CFANS committee, registration, contacting keynote speakers, photography, and developing a final report and illustrating into Traditional Indigenous Knowledge and Keynote Speakers.
2014-Present: Dirty Oil Pipelines, Sulfide Mining and Wild Rice
Wild rice, the food that grows on water. is under attack in Northern Minnesota. NAWO staff have been engaged with Total Tactic in our efforts to protect the water and the rice beds. Activities include: Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review and comment for the NorthMet/Polymet mine, participation in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Wild Rice Rule process, EIS review and public comment before the Department of Commerce Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline that crosses the wild rice beds and disproportionately harms Minnesota Anishinaabeg Tribes.
2016 to Present: Landscapes of Conflict Poster Exhibit
Landscapes of Conflict is a photographic montage gallery depicting Indigenous pre-contact way of life, European invasion and colonization, as well as present and future viewpoints. Its purpose is to evoke visceral awareness and connection. Both brutal and beautiful, it challenges us to awaken our full humanity and to rise up and learn what this difficult history might teach us as we move toward the possibilities of a more promising future. It invites us to reflect upon the legacy of colonization still echoing through our educational, food and health institutions, and to bring the best of ourselves to the work of transforming reality.
2005 – Present: C-BED Initiative
By 2004 the race was on to take advantage of Minnesota’s commitment to renewable energy, and it was clear that electric utility companies like Florida Power & Light, and large multi-national corporations like enXco, were grabbing all they could grab. Big business had tremendous advantages in terms of developing the wind resource in at least three distinct ways: 1) cost allocation issues associated with new powerlines have yet to be fully engaged, and so the consuming public continues paying for new infrastructure these private entities needed to extract the wealth; 2) by its nature, big business can organize and manage the necessary very large financial structures (tens to hundreds of millions of dollars) with minimum resistance; and 3) federal tax policy provides big business with massive passive income tax credit subsidies, and being as tax credits account for about 1/3 of the revenue produced by wind turbines (the other 2/3 coming from the purchase of the power by the purchasing utility), ordinary people who have little if any appetite for passive income tax credits cannot participate in the wind development.
For better or worse, people started getting fed up with the corporate rip-off of wind power long before we’re even beginning to solve the environmental problems, and meanwhile, there is minimal local economic development when large multi-nationals own the projects. NAWO went to work with a number of truly inspirational wind developers who were struggling to develop wind resources in ways that optimized local ownership and local economic development. The result was C-BED: Community-Based Energy Development. The first C-BED legislation was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2005, and it established a framework within which qualifying projects could negotiate with purchasing utilities for Power Purchase Agreements. Google C-BED for more information.
Unfortunately, the analytical capacity of many in the environmental community prevented them from understanding the need to link local economic development with environmental protection. These individuals and organizations said they were “agnostic” as to ownership, and just wanted more renewable energy, regardless of ownership. They fail to realize that society will not get enough renewable energy to make any difference if it’s a cartel rip-off, and does not enjoy the political support that comes with local economic development. So, the politics got twisted, and Renewable Energy Standards got pitted against C-BED and the safe-energy community fractured. As the fracturing unfolded, inherent weaknesses in C-BED legislation allowed utilities and regulators to marginalize community-based energy development. The primary weakness has to do with the fact that tax credits required to make all US wind projects cash-flow only apply to passive income, virtually all of which accrues to large corporations. But to qualify for C-BED, a designated fraction of the revenue generated by the project over the course of its life-time production was required to flow to local entities. This requires judgment, and judgment can be arbitrary. The potential for arbitrary judgments and “picking winners,” along with the profound intent of cartel players to preserve their market share has, so far, stunted C-BED. We’ll see.
2006 Monticello Dry Cask Storage
The tenacity with which cartel interests act to preserve their market share is demonstrated by Xcel Energy’s move to get dry cask storage for high-level nuclear waste at Monticello. The storage pool, which is up at the top of the building (an issue, maybe?), was filling up and the Operating License was due to expire in 2010. So Xcel went to the NRC for re-licensing and a power up-rate, and to the state for the required Certificates of Need. NAWO intervened, and documented how, during the re-license period of 2010 to 2030, a combination of more modern supply and demand-side options could deliver the equivalent amount of power as Monticello could produce for almost a billion dollars less. Turns out, we miscalculated. The Monticello up-rate cost more than twice as much as Xcel said it would, and the modern alternatives are now costing significantly less than NAWO projected. Be that as it may, nobody cared. Now we have an aging and deteriorating reactor, designed just like the Fukushima reactors, pushing safety limits by producing more power than its original rated capacity due to the up-rate, that routinely emits significant amounts of gaseous and liquid radiation into the air and water, and that continues generating solid wastes that no one knows what to do with. Details about this case are available on this website.
2007–2009: Dispersed Generation Transmission Outlet Study
NAWO succeeded in getting the 2007 Minnesota Legislature to pass a first-in-the-nation law that required transmission analysis for dispersed generation. The study was to identify the potential for smaller scale electrical generators, in the range of 10-40 MW, to be strategically sized and located so that the existing transmission system could collect the energy and deliver it to market without the need for new powerlines, and to establish an analytical framework for identifying the need for new lines that were smaller, cheaper, and quicker to build than big powerlines.
The basic idea is that the deployment of new strategically sized and located generation will first enhance the efficiency of the existing transmission system, and then the next increments of new strategically sized and located generation will inform the need for new lower voltage infrastructure, which in turn, will inform the need for new higher voltage transmission lines in terms of location, timing, and size.
This legislation grew out of a deal NAWO struck several years earlier with a utility consortium that wanted to build the Big Stone II power plant just across the Minnesota border in South Dakota. NAWO agreed to not intervene in that case (we were tied up with Monticello, anyway) in exchange for a study of the ability of the existing transmission system in West Central Minnesota to collect energy from strategically sized dispersed generators and deliver it to market. This preliminary analysis found massive potential to do so with minimal new transmission infrastructure costs, and set the stage for the 2007 legislation.
The study was concluded in 2009, and the conclusions that study authors chose to draw from the results are dramatically at odds with the results themselves. The actual results demonstrated a massive potential for Minnesota’s existing transmission system, with a few very cost-effective enhancements that could be constructed within months, to accommodate thousands of megawatts of new strategically sized and located dispersed generation capacity. This is ideal for C-BED and therefore anathema to cartel market- share interests, and these results threatened to fatally undermine the rational for conventional expansion of the transmission system, such as the CAPX 2020 Projects. See below for more on CAPX 2020.
So study authors presented conclusions that denigrated the results of the study by presuming outrageous assumptions, most notably, that all new generation in the Upper Midwest queue for interconnection, which amounted to over 10,000 MW, would be interconnected prior to the transmission model year (2014). Never mind that this amount of new generation capacity is more new generation each year for four straight years than has ever been installed in Minnesota in any given year. All this, while electric consumption was depressed by problems with the economy. But with all this new generation on-line, they concluded, there would be virtually no room for new dispersed generation, and hence, new big powerlines are needed no matter what. A detailed discussion of this lying, cheating deceit is available on this website. It appears that the methodology developed by this analysis is being applied with a bit more integrity in California.
2008–2009: NAWO Participation on the Citizen’s Advisory Task Force on Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant Power Up-rate and Dry Cask Storage Proposal
Xcel Energy was intent on re-licensing Prairie Island Units 1 and 2 so they can operate until 2033 and 2034, respectively, and to increase the generation capacity of these aging units by 9 MW each. Such operations would require more storage casks for high-level nuclear waste. Before the Certificate of Need proceeding required for the power up-rate and more dry casks could occur, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needed to be prepared, and NAWO agreed to participate in the EIS proceeding, knowing with a fair degree of certainty that the decisions had already been made. Nevertheless, we did our best to at least ensure that the record contained our concerns regarding radiation and safety issues, security issues, abusive behavior at every link in the nuclear fuel chain, and alternatives that are infinitely better from a public interest perspective. We made the record once again, and once again, the state gave Xcel what it wanted.
2008: CAPX 2020
The smart way to build out the transmission system, if one is looking to optimize the efficiency of the system, the cost-effectiveness of the transmission investment in a timely fashion, and the amount of renewable energy that can be brought on-line for environmental protection and local economic development, is to identify locations on the existing system where strategically sized new generation can be located in the present, and to then build out the lower voltage system to accommodate the next increments of new dispersed and strategically sized generation. As this iterative process is repeated, it will inform decisions about size, location, and timing for higher voltage transmission enhancements.
The stupid way is to simply build big powerlines from points A to B. But the stupid way is exactly what cartel interests need so that they can ship more bulk power from remote generators that they own (wind farms in the Dakotas) to distant load centers (Twin Cities, Chicago, and points east). So in 2008, the local cartel utilities applied for 3 new big 345 kV powerlines: one from Fargo to Monticello, the second from Brookings, South Dakota to just southwest of the Twin Cities, and the third from Prairie Island south to Rochester and then east to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Proposals for these three powerlines were lumped together for Certificates of Need, and called CAPX 2020. NAWO intervened, and demonstrated, in each instance save for the Monticello to St. Cloud segment of the Fargo Line, how lower-voltage enhancements were by far the smarter and much less expensive alternative. The decision-makers didn’t care. The mainstream environmental groups supported the cartel lines. For all the CAPX 2020 details, link to www.ilsr.org and follow your nose.
Sure enough, shortly after the powerline to La Crosse was certified, cartel utilities applied for a permit to construct a 345 kV powerline from La Crosse to Madison, Wisconsin. Their whole idea all along was to ship bulk power from coal plants and massive wind farm that they own, into major markets in the Chicago area and to large load centers further east.
2010-2011: Course Correction
Since its inception, NAWO intervened in proceeding after proceeding and presented energy decision-makers with information, across the entire spectrum of issues, as to why and how the modern technologies of the energy transition out-perform their central-station competitors. Our evidence and testimony demonstrated how faulty rate structures and incentive mechanisms could be corrected to accelerate the paradigm shift toward energy systems that are cleaner, safer, cheaper, more reliable and more economically equitable from a societal perspective. We thought that was the objective. We were wrong.
It turns out that the first, the most fundamental, bottom-line Obligation of all institutions, public and private, that have primary decision-making responsibilities regarding how electric utility services get delivered is to protect investments already sunk into electric utility infrastructure and the Central Station machine. Period. The First Corollary of this fundamental Obligation is to protect market share interests of electric utility cartel players as renewables and diminutive efficiency improvements get inserted at the margins. It doesn’t matter whether Republicans or Democrats are in control. The only difference is that the margins are slightly bigger when the Ds are in charge, and they all but disappear when the Rs win.
The existential proof that such an institutional obligation exists is that virtually every single dirty old central station facility planned for beginning in the 1950’s and then brought on-line through the 1980’s is still operating late in 2017. These are exactly the same power plants primarily responsible for cascading ecological destruction and wholesale economic disparities. After all this time and struggle, new renewable energy capacity and the little bit of energy efficiency improvement that gets deployed, compared to the technical efficiency improvement potential, are still primarily limited to covering growth at the margins of energy consumption. And virtually all renewable energy that is deployed comes from massive wind farms and solar installations owned by cartel players, thereby demonstrating the First Corollary of the fundamental Obligation of public and private electric utility decision-making institutions.
In addition to electric utility industry executives and Wall Street financers, at the federal level, these decision-making institutions include Congress, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and when necessary, the federal courts. At the state level, they include Legislatures, Public Utilities Commissions, Departments of Commerce, Pollution Control Agencies and other state bureaucracies, and when necessary, state courts.
The cheating and lying and ignorance that negated the Distributed Renewable Energy Transmission Study painfully clinched our conclusion that we were barking up the wrong tree. So in 2011, after spending decades in venues designed to thwart our intent, and months of screaming obscenities in the woods, NAWO made a course correction.
We had the competition in the wrong place. We were trying to make modern technologies and systems compete against the Central-Station Paradigm in venues designed by rule and culture to protect the Central-Station Paradigm. We changed that with the advent of Minneapolis Energy Options and Community Power.
2011 to Present: Community Power
By 2010 it was abundantly clear that readily available modern technologies and control systems make it possible, without any doubt, to produce all the electricity society needs cleanly, deliver it intelligently, manage it equitably, and consume it efficiently. In 2011, we realized with rebounding hope that we might have discovered a new and separate pathway capable of shifting the energy paradigm. Instead of forcing technologies to compete in venues with pre-determined outcomes, maybe we could force the competition into the arena of who gets to decide which technologies get deployed to meet the energy needs of specific sets of constituents. Thus, Minneapolis Energy Options was born.
Many municipalities, including Minneapolis, have “franchise agreements” with the energy utilities that serve customers within the municipality. Franchise agreements are contracts that historically have typically had 20 year terms, whereby the utility is allowed to use municipal property for its infrastructure (electric poles and wires, and gas pipes) in exchange for collecting a “franchise fee” every month on every meter that serves a customer within the municipality. Franchise fees are remitted to the municipality and typically become part of the general operating budget, and the utility is given the exclusive right to serve customers within the municipality. Franchise fees for Minneapolis, from Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, have recently been in the range of about $20 million/yr.
The previous Franchise Agreements between Minneapolis, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy were signed in 1994, when NAWO was otherwise occupied. But that meant the agreements were up again in 2014. In between those years, the City of Minneapolis established for itself goals for renewable energy and conservation very far beyond what Minnesota required from Xcel and CenterPoint, but the utilities didn’t really too much care what the City wanted because the City had no authority over energy management. Or so the utilities thought.
So, beginning in 2011, with much support and encouragement from several City Council members and their staffs (in particular, from the Green Party’s Cam Gordon and his aid Robin Garwood), NAWO organized with MPIRG, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and several other groups to create Minneapolis Energy Options. We launched a campaign that initiated a long, convoluted and complex process that if successful, would ultimately lead to the municipalization of energy services in Minneapolis. If the utilities won’t play nice by working with the City to meet Minneapolis energy management goals, to Hell with them. We’ll get the City to terminate the Franchise Agreements in 2014, and work toward municipalizing energy services for Minneapolis energy consumers. We were threatening to kick Xcel and CenterPoint out of the city.
We gained traction. With this campaign, instead of technologies competing in state-run venues, City officials began competing with state officials and utility executives over who gets to decide which energy technologies get deployed to meet the energy needs of Minneapolis energy consumers. We had traction because the Mayor and City Council Members are much closer and more accountable to their constituents than are state legislators and bureaucrats, and certainly more so than utility executives are accountable to their consumers. Instead of protecting sunk corporate investments, leadership in Minneapolis was already committed to clean, local, equitable, affordable and efficient energy management because that’s what their constituents wanted.
Minneapolis Energy Options learned much from a successful municipalization campaign against Xcel Energy going on at the time in Boulder, Colorado, and mobilized enough pressure so that CenterPoint soon decided that instead of spending $10 million or so fighting us, it would promise to become a very good energy partner for Minneapolis. After Xcel Energy got over its petulant ranting about all the ingrates running amok in Minneapolis, it came to the same conclusion, and from that point on, both CenterPoint and Xcel proclaimed to all, including legislative committees, the Public Utilities Commission, the Minneapolis City Council, the press and the public, how committed they were to achieving Minneapolis energy management, production, and consumption goals.
This led to the nation’s first formal city/utility partnership, the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership, which is managed by a Board of Directors consisting of the Mayor, the City Administrator, two City Council members, and two people each from CenterPoint and Xcel Energy. Visit its website.
The program of the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership is determined by a formal Work Plan, which is designed by a 15-member Energy Vision Advisory Committee appointed by the Board, and all 15 members represent groups and organizations within the City that are very informed regarding what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. Minneapolis is adjusting the Franchise Fee collected by CenterPoint and Xcel from gas and electric meters within the city to help provide the budget needed to implement programs in the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership.
Once the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership was established, in 2014, Minneapolis Energy Options evolved into Community Power, and, as a project of the North American Water Office, applied for its own independent 501 (c) 3 tax status from the IRS which it received in 2017. NAWO Executive Director George Crocker and Board Member Louis Alemayehu sit on the Community Power Board, and Louis is also a member of the Energy Vision Advisory Committee.
In addition to helping guide the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership, Community Power, in coalition with numerous organizations, provides key staff and leadership for an Inclusive Financing campaign. Inclusive Financing makes it possible for anyone who pays an energy bill, regardless or rental/property ownership status, credit score, or availability of renewable resources at the site of their meter, to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy and finance the investment with the savings the investment produces on their bill. A fraction of the savings reduces their bill, and the other fraction pays over time for the improvement. Community Power and coalition partners are also involved with the effort to establish an equitable Avoided Cost for Qualifying Facilities under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act. Visit the Community Power website www.communitypowermn.org for more information.
Mid 1990’s to Present: NAWO’s “Right to Know” Campaign Regarding Routine Radioactive Releases from Nuclear Power Plants
Nuclear power plants explode Uranium 235 atoms to produce heat to boil water to make steam that spins turbines to generate electricity. When U 235 atoms explode, two or three main chunks and a bunch of debris is created, along with a lot of heat. During a chain reaction of exploding U235 atoms, between the chunks and debris, every element on the Periodic Chart, and all of their radioactive sons and daughters are produced at some level. When we talk about high-level nuclear waste, we’re almost always talking about solid waste. But liquids and gasses are also in the Periodic Chart. These gaseous and liquid fission products are also high-level nuclear waste, but instead of collecting them and carefully managing them and arguing with each other over how to care for them for the required millennium, we simply contain them for a little while and then release them into the air and water. These routine releases happen continuously and in batches, and they are reported to the NRC. The reports identify each species of radionuclide that is released, and the curie count of each species that is released. Every year, every nuclear reactor is responsible for the release of at least tens, often hundreds, and sometimes thousands of curies. One curie equals 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second.
Up until 2005, there was an ongoing debate in the scientific community regarding what the level of exposure to ionizing radiation was, below which there were no adverse biological consequences. In June, 2005, the National Academy of Sciences came out with its BEIR VII Report (Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation) in which it firmly concluded that there was no such safe level of exposure. In other words, there is no safe dose. Every biological exposure to the energy emitted when atoms disintegrate increases the chance for biological harm in the form of cancers and mutations.
There was strong scientific evidence much earlier that this was the case. Based on that evidence, in 1994, in the wake of the Prairie Island defeat, NAWO raised money to purchase 10 air filters that were capable of trapping radio nuclides, and we placed them at strategic locations in the river valley around Prairie Island. We did this with the presumption that we would be able to raise the money needed to analyze the filters in a laboratory to see if any “fingerprint” radionuclide might be present. But this lab work is expensive, and unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in raising the necessary funds.
Nevertheless, we retained the notion that the public has the right to know if it is being exposed to agents that are, or can reasonably be expected to cause harm. The next opportunity we recognized to act on this notion was in 2008, when we actually were able to get the Minnesota House of Representatives to pass a bill that would require radiation monitoring sophisticated enough to define the dispersion pattern of reported radiation releases. Unfortunately, we lost this legislation during the Conference Committee.
Then Fukushima blew up in March, 2011. While it has been clearly evident for years that technologies exist that are capable of tracking minute quantities of radioactive materials over vast distances of time and space with precise detail, Fukushima events demonstrated such capabilities beyond all doubt and with great public visibility.
Here’s the deal: all reactors routinely release reported amounts of ionizing radiation into the air and water; no exposure to ionizing radiation is safe, and every exposure increases the risk of biological damage; and technologies exist to document the presence of radioactive materials with exquisite precision. The public has a right to know.
Society has decided that it will utilize nuclear power, just as it has decided that it will use automobiles with the resulting 50,000 or so deaths per year in the US. But there are signs out on the highway, and people drive on highways with an understanding of the risks involved, and the public is routinely informed of those risks. We must make it be the same with nuclear power. The public has a right to know.
NAWO has formally informed the NRC that it is obligated to provide the public with information that defines radiation dispersion patterns at every reactor in real time, and over time. NRC staff agrees that no radiation dose is safe, that the technology exists to precisely track radiation, and that every reactor routinely releases radiation. We are waiting to hear back from the NRC as to why it cannot provide the public with “right to know” information. But to NAWO, it seems clear that the public has a right to know the definition of the dispersion plume of radioactive releases from each reactor site in real time, and to know the definition of that plume over time. If you agree, contact the NRC and tell them so.