Editors Select Top Five Stories of 2011

POWER’s editorial staff research and write dozens of articles each year, ranging from highly technical articles focused on plant design and operation that have industry archival value to breaking news stories that may impact your work that very day. Our work appears in our family of publications: the monthly POWER in print and electronic versions, bimonthly electronic magazines COAL POWER and MANAGING POWER, and the weekly email newsletter POWERnews.

Each staff member was asked to provide a list of the most significant stories of 2011. Their selections reflect individual interests and "beats," yet each story was significant to the industry in its own way.

Let us know if your top five list matches ours by using the Comment tab below or sending us an email.

Editor-in-Chief Dr. Robert Peltier, PE

1. "The U.S. Power Industry 2011: The Sequel." Where else can you find a comprehensive review of the past year, by fuel group plus a preview of important trends to watch in the coming year?

2. "Chernobyl: Twenty-Five Years of Wormwood." Nuclear power will always have to deal with the ghosts of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

3. Special Report-"The Future of Coal." How much coal-fired capacity will the industry retire in the coming years? Two reports arrived at the same estimate using different evaluation tools. See "Predicting U.S. Coal Plant Retirements"  and "Added Regulatory Hurdles Will Accelerate Coal Plant Retirements"

4. "Global Gas Glut." Natural gas is the fuel of the future, if we can agree on the amount of our reserves.

5. "The U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy, Part 2: Playing Hardball." The cancellation of the Yucca Mountain Repository project was part political drama and part pure absurdity. 

Managing Editor Dr. Gail Reitenbach

1. Fukushima Daiichi. The catastrophe at the Japanese nuclear power complex not only had immediate and long-term consequences for the nuclear industry worldwide but also garnered global public attention.

2. Shale Gas Bonanza. It was hard for anyone inside or outside the energy business to ignore media reports (and gas industry-sponsored TV ads) about gas reserves in 2011. Fracking concerns also garnered public attention.  

3. Utility MACT and CSAPR. These two new Environmental Protection Agency rules—covering maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for mercury emissions and air pollution from fossil fueled generation crossing certain state lines (CSAPR)—kicked up a predictable dust storm over their potential impacts.  

4. Solar (and Wind) Wars. It was the year that U.S. companies pushed back on low-priced Chinese solar components and wind power equipment.  

5. California’s Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program. California became the first state to adopt a carbon cap-and-trade program. Many may see California as an anomaly, but it has a history of testing out ideas that eventually become national or global in scope.

POWER Contributing Editor and MANAGING POWER Executive Editor Kennedy Maize

1. "Too Much of a Good Thing Creates Legal Havoc." This legal commentary illustrates the inexorable march of unintended consequences, particularly when things are put into place without thought of how they can interact and what can go wrong.

2. "Global Gas Glut." We identified what may be the most important development to shape the future of the industry in the next decade or so, and did it thoroughly.

3. "Spain: A Renewable Kingdom." This overview was a complete, fair, and balanced look at how one nation is dealing with its electricity and environmental challenges, and some of the problems those decisions create-and who knew Spain’s economy would blow up later in the year.

4. "Turning Gold into Lead." If California were a separate nation, it would rank somewhere in the bottom quartile for governance, as this commentary demonstrates. Move over, Greece.

5. "Japan Nuclear Problems Escalate." This blog posting, published as events were occurring in Japan, built on past experience and gave readers a sense—accurate, as it turned out—about how bad this series of events was likely to be.

Senior Editor Angela Neville, JD

1. "The U.S. Power Industry 2011: The Sequel." An overview of the trends that the electric power generation industry was poised to face in 2011, including the surge in the use of natural gas, coal’s continued dominance, and wind energy’s recent slowdown.

2. "Chernobyl: Twenty-Five Years of Wormwood." The catastrophic events in Japan in March involving the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster prompted POWER to examine the effects of both on the electric power industry.

3. "Spain: A Renewable Kingdom." Though power policy must necessarily accommodate specific national resources and goals, Spain’s experience as an early and eager adopter of renewable energy technologies and subsidies is a cautionary tale of how the best intentions can have unintended negative consequences.

4. "Global Gas Glut." This article examines the comparative economic value, public acceptance, and political implications of the recently discovered massive shale gas reserves, including the Marcellus Shale. 

5. "The Water-Energy Balancing Act." If we want to meet our future electricity and water needs here in the U.S., public and private entities must work together to successfully develop reliable, sustainable sources of energy and water that will promote growth in our national economy.

Senior Writer Sonal Patel

1. "Japan Nuclear Watchdog: Fuel Has Possibly Melted Through Daiichi 1’s Pressure Vessel." An official report in June from Japan’s nuclear safety agency detailing the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl showed damage to the four afflicted Daiichi reactors may have been much worse than contemplated.

2. "Obama Shelves Smog Rule on Concerns About Regulatory Burdens, Uncertainty." Among numerous pivotal stories published in POWERnews regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial proposed and finalized rules was this one in September covering the beleaguered Obama administration’s struggle to balance economic growth, energy security, and climate change concerns.

3. "U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Climate-Change Public Nuisance Suit." This landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in June barred plaintiffs from seeking recovery of climate change–related damages under the federal common law of nuisance—and put to rest a high-profile case against the nation’s biggest generators.

4. "DOE’s Inspector General Critical of Clean Energy Loan Guarantee Program Recordkeeping." Months before the Solyndra scandal almost cost Energy Secretary Steven Chu his job, this underreported story in March showed that even the DOE’s inspector general was critical of the DOE’s mitigation of risks before granting loan guarantees.

5. "Cold Snap Puts Out Lights Across the U.S.; Texas Institutes Rolling Blackouts." 2011 was a year of unusually severe blackouts, reported all over the U.S. and stemming from bad weather, disasters, or operator errors. This early February event has been compared to the Northeast blackout of 2003.