Thursday, March 31, 2005

Earth Day and the DC Department of Energy

During the first meeting of the DC Chapter of Young Generation in Nuclear, a member proposed putting together some type of public education exhibit to coincide with Earth Day. After a little research we identified that the District of Columbia's Energy Office was holding a week long Earth Day event and that this would be the best venue.

About a week ago, I contacted, Marielle Avilla, the woman in charge of the event. She seemed to understand why a group like NA-YGN would like to participate in a public education day on energy. As we finished our conversation, she promised to send me the registration materials that afternoon.

Fast forward to this week and I was still waiting for the materials, so I decided to call Ms. Avilla. She responded to me via email asking me to provide a brief paragraph as to "why we wanted to exhibit". I emailed the following:

Nuclear energy is the largest, emission free source of baseload electricity production. With the current environmental situation in the states, nuclear power has had a major comeback with decisionmakers as to a solution for carbon based pollution. NAYGN (North American Young Generation in Nuclear) is the professional association that comprises professionals working in all facets of nuclear technology (medical, energy production etc.). We have numerous brochures and other educational materials that will explain the environmental benefits of nuclear and how, with more nuclear plants in the United States, we could fit into many of the carbon control programs being considered on the local, state and federal levels.
Not long after that, I got a call from Avilla's boss, Tomaysa Sterling, informing me that they would not be able to "accommodate our request to participate" in the event. The reason given was that nuclear energy was not considered a "renewable" form of energy and they were only extending invitations to producers of "renewable" energy. I mentioned that while I understood the need to push the renewable message, I thought that it was unfair for a government entity to exclude the largest, non-emitting source of baseload electricity as it has less of an environmental impact than some renewables (windmills and hydropower).

During our conversation, Ms. Sterling mentioned that the decision to decline our participation was really made because of two factors:

DC does not draw any of it's electricity from nuclear power Nuclear energy is seen as "dangerous and unsafe" by the public

**UPDATE** PEPCO estimates that just over 30% of the electricity generated for the District of Columbia and the Maryland suburbs is generated by nuclear power. Less than 1 percent is generated by renewables.

While it seemed that Ms. Sterling was only following guidance she got from management, any "negative" perception of the industry is because of groups like the DC Department of Energy who only give a partial explanation of the entire energy picture. And in any case, some of the latest public opinion data contradicts her assertion quite dramatically.

As you have read on this blog, NEI supports a diverse portfolio of electricity generation (and included in this is a renewable portfolio). Giving the message to the general public that renewable energy is the only way to solve the carbon, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions issue is just plain wrong -- and some of the world's leading environmentalists agree.

Currently all power generated inside of the borders of the District of Columbia is oil powered. With prices climbing and the environmental impacts that occur with burning oil for electricity, you would think that the DC Government would be looking for other sources of baseload power production. Eventually a portion could come from "renewables", however it is unlikely in the next 20 years.

The two other states that make up the DC metropolitan region generate more than 20 percent of their power from nuclear (Maryland - 26% and Virginia - 34%), so why is DC adamant about leaving nuclear out of any Earth Day festivities?

Better public education on electrical generation and its environmental impact is critical to informed public debate. Without a balanced discussion, with every stakeholder presenting, the public will not have all the information it needs to make an informed decision.

Ms. Sterling, identified herself as an energy professional, but she seemed to foster many of the stereotypes that the anti-nuclear movement has pushed for the last 25 years. As I mentioned, she brought up "health effects" during our conversation and cited Three Mile Island as an example. This despite the fact that a University of Pittsburgh study showed there were no lasting health effects as a result of the accident.

Public education about the benefits of nuclear needs to happen, but how can we accomplish this without being allowed a seat at the table?

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2 comments:

Kelly L. Taylor said...

Is this the end of the story? Will the DC Chapter of NA-YGN have a booth at the Earth Day activities? How can we find out what happens next?

Lisa Stiles-Shell said...

Since the DC Department of Energy receives public funds, isn't it obligated to allow any group space at their event?