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Climate Change Group Launches Richmond, VA Chapter

Last night was the official kickoff of the Richmond, VA chapter of Chesapeake Climate Action Network,or CCAN. According to their website, CCAN is an organization that is “dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming” in the states bordering the Chesapeake Bay. As sensible environmentalists, we decided to attend this meeting ourselves to see how we could help.

The meeting was held in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond. It attracted 21 attendees, including several Sierra Club members, members of the church, and five of us NA-YGN types – Joe Montague, Delbert Horn, Kelly Taylor, Chris Peterson, and Michael Stuart.

As CCAN rep Diana Dascalu explained, they have found much success in focusing a lot of effort on one or two goals, which she spoke of to the newly-forming chapter.

The first goal is to get Richmond’s mayor (and former Governor of Virginia) Doug Wilder to sign the Mayor’s Climate Protection agreement. This agreement is basically a pledge to address global warming concerns locally by reducing urban sprawl, improving public transportation, investing in renewable energy credits, improving energy efficiency standards in building codes, and enacting policies and programs to meet the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

The second goal is to influence the state legislature to adopt the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which calls for a 15 to 20 percent reliance on renewables by 2015.

The document promotes the use of renewable energy but virtually disregards any additional nuclear capacity. Because of this apparent oversight, even the most optimistic renewable portfolio standard of 20% renewable energy by 2015 calls for an increase in coal power (approx 500 MW of additional capacity) and a net increase of 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 2003 values. Their own documentation seems to expose a flaw in the logic of reducing carbon dioxide emissions while meeting increased energy demand. If CCAN is “dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming,” is acknowledging nuclear power’s potential contributions (over 70% of all US emission-free electricity) too much to ask?

One of the big advantages of renewables (as the RPS not-so-clearly indicates, and the CCAN representative tried to explain) is that everyone who has been forced to use renewables has actually *saved* money on their electric bills. The theory is that the more renewables are used, the less natural gas is needed for power generation, resulting in the market suddenly being flooded with cheap natural gas.

I had to ask, “If renewables are so cheap, and there are so many real-life examples to support it, why must states mandate their use? Shouldn’t the free market pressure be enough to bring about their use?”

My question generated some follow-up discussion and questions, but the given answer was essentially that renewables face large up-front capital costs that fossil stations do not. As the energy market moves to deregulate, those capital costs are viewed negatively by the utility conglomerates as a risk of stranded expenses that may not get recovered. The focus of the group was to bring about legislation forcing the up-front investment in renewables research, development and construction with the result of lower energy bills for everyone.

Before and after the meeting I was able to speak with several people. When I mentioned nuclear energy, the reaction was generally skepticism or shock, but when I explained how the RPS failed to adequately address their concerns, everyone seemed willing to listen. In fact, we were able to briefly address the concerns of several of the attendees about nuclear energy. (We even generated enough curiosity to be invited to meet with them this Saturday to talk about GAIA theory and nuclear energy!)

In conclusion, our goal was to contribute our expertise to help Richmond CCAN truly realize their goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One way to do this is to ensure that this group does not become another anti-nuclear organization with great intentions of addressing the need for clean energy, but with no clear plan of how to do it.

I’m pleased to report that this newly-formed group seems to be open-minded and supportive of making a real difference. I genuinely hope that this attitude endures.

Comments

Anonymous said…
“If renewables are so cheap, and there are so many real-life examples to support it, why must states mandate their use? Shouldn’t the free market pressure be enough to bring about their use?”

By the same logic,

“If nuclear is so cheap, and there are so many real-life examples to support it, why must the federal government heavily subsidize new plants? Shouldn’t the free market pressure be enough to bring about their construction?”
Paul Primavera said…
Actually, as a pro-nuclear person, I agree with Anonymous. The government should favor no one source of energy production and treat each method with the same level of regulatory rigor in protecting public health and safety and the environment. I believe that if that were done, then coal would lose because it can't sequester its wastes without becoming unprofitable, wind and solar would lose because with such an intermittent source of energy supply they can't compete economically with large base-load anyway, oil and gas would lose if only because of the costs of green house gas emissions. Only one would win: nuclear which internalizes just about all its own costs. If the regulatory playing field were leveled, then subsidies for nuclear wouldn't be required. But all this is just opinion and I don't have all the facts and figures readily available to back up such a gut-level feeling. It's just than my plant refuels once every two years and never emits any air pollution - it just sits and makes electricity. And its spent fuel eventually goes into dry casks sitting onto of a concrete pad. Cheap, abundant electricity with no pollution.

Here's a good article:

Alternative Energy and the American Enterprise
< http://www.energypulse.net/centers/article/article_display.cfm?a_id=1255 >

As one commenter wrote:

"Governments of all stripes have so altered the energy costing picture with subsidies and credits on the positive side to taxation on the negative side that it is hard to argue that a rational and science based approach is sorely need."

The solution: level the regulatory playing field and keep government out of the Free Market. Government's job is public health and safety, NOT big business.
David Bradish said…
Anonymous is right. However every time I hear this about nuclear it is coming from the anti-nukes and environmentalists. Little hypocrisy there don't you think?

I'm all for free market but in the energy sector I believe it is a little different. I think we need the government to push for cleaner air, more energy security and more diversity. And one of those ways to push those is through subsidies and incentives.

I'm willing to pay more of my tax dollars for cleaner air and I'm sure many others are as well.

If there were no government intervention our air would be much worse, we would be consuming more fossil fuels, and renewables and nuclear probably wouldn't be in the picture.
Anonymous said…
The hypocrisy here comes into play when some try to sustain the dual claims that 1) renewables don't make the cut because they're not competitive, and 2) we should subsidize nuclear because it's a clean source of energy.
David Bradish said…
Anonymous,

You're exactly right and I hope you understand that we at NEI don't say that. Look at my previous comment. It did not say anything about nuclear being subsidized and renewables not.

It's a bit irritating when others claim nuclear can't exist without subsidies but then preach renewables are the solution and fail to acknowledge their subsidies.

I think it is great that the CCAN acknowledged this. So what if an energy source is subsidized? We're breathing cleaner because of it.
Anonymous said…
David makes a fair point. My issue is with those who make apples-and-oranges comparisons of nuclear with non-nuclear renewables which then reject renewables because they're not economically competitive. That's often true at current price points, but it's not a level playing field. Who knows what the situation would be if non-nuclear renewables had received, or were to receive in the future, subsidies per kw installed as large as has nuclear over the past 60 years?
Anonymous said…
Keep in mind that nuclear's subsidies have been relatively small once you subtract out the weapons and other defense parts of the budget.
Paul Primavera said…
As I have indicated before, government should favor no one industry over another. No subsidies should be provided to anyone for any reason. This is nothing more than wealth redistribution and the beginning of corporate socialism. Rather, the regulatory playing field should be leveled. All energy industries should be required to have zero green house gas emissions as nuclear has. All should be required to isolate their radioactive waste from the environment as nuclear does (yes, coal gives off more radioactive emissions than a nuclear power plant of equivalent power output). The rules to protect public health and safety and the environment need to be equally and fairly applied across a level playing field. Then let the Free Markey decide which business comes out on top. Who knows? Maybe clean coal with complete CO2 sequestering could turn out to be most cost competitive than any of the rest, or maybe wind and solar would really live up to their promises, or maybe nuclear really is too cheap to meter? But we'll never know if Nanny Government is always getting involved.

Government's job is public health and safety, not economic profitability. Keep government small and keep business men honest in a level regulatory playing field, and we won't have the problems that we currently do have.
Michael Stuart said…
I apologize for not being clear. My statement was not a question of whether or not renewables should receive subsidies, but whether or not states should mandate their use.

I will speak to that more momentarily, but first I'd like to speak briefly about subsidies.

Make up your mind: Are you for subsidies or against them? It's quite a quandry, isn't it?

If you say you're against them, then a large-scale implementation of renewables will all but fail. Of course, in the *short term*, new nuclear will likely fail as well.

But here's the problem: if you believe that climate change is occurring because of carbon emissions from energy production, then we don't have time to sit back and see what the market will choose.

Simply because I believe that a combination of renewables and nuclear is desperately needed ASAP, then I am not against sensibly supporting these technologies with our tax money to further their use.

Now back to my comment.

My point in asking the question during the meeting, and I apologize for not being clear about it, is that if renewables already receive federal subsidies, then why must states adopt an RPS to mandate their use? Won't the free-market take into account the attractiveness of renewables, given their already-generous subsidies? How would you respond if nuclear energy was mandated by legislative action?
Rod Adams said…
I will take Mike's challenge and be clear.

I am against subsidies in the energy business. They distort the market and place politicians and bureaucrats in the position of making choices that should be made by people with more personal responsibility for their decisions. Even as a nuclear advocate and entrepreneur, I do not believe that nuclear power needs any subsidies.

One of the biggest hurdles that I have faced in trying to bring my Adams Engine to market is the fact that the largest subsidies go to the largest companies. These companies have the scratch to pay the lobbyists and the staff to fill out all of the required applications. In many cases, you can find that the staff filling out the applications once worked on the Hill and wrote the darned rules in the first place.

Nuclear fission is competitive in the marketplace RIGHT NOW without any need for subsidies. I have run the numbers and am continuing to place my personal assets at risk based on that analysis. Sure, there are going to be up front investment costs to get the industry rolling again, but that is the case in many other industries.

AAE is working hard to figure out how to raise the capital that we need without asking for government support, but it makes it more difficult when our large competitors are getting hand outs.

I know that this position puts me solidly in opposition to NEI's activities. Oh well, thinking people cannot agree, even with friends, all of the time.
Robert Merkel said…
Anonymous: for what it's worth, I'd take the view of Paul and others to what I regard as its logical conclusion: governments should stop subsidising energy producers and simply charge them for their externalities. But, in its infinite wisdom, the US federal government isn't prepared to take that path. But if you're going to subsidise renewables on the basis of their lack of carbon emission, logically nuclear should be subsidised on the same basis.

But where I'd have to disagree with anonymous is their comment

"Who knows what the situation would be if non-nuclear renewables had received, or were to receive in the future, subsidies per kw installed as large as has nuclear over the past 60 years?"

The past is the past. We cannot run history backwards. While it's an interesting "what if" exercise to speculate what might have been if certain choices had been made (a particularly entertaining one is what our space program would be like if nuclear rocketry had been widely adopted), the technologies we have are the the technologies we have. And, right now, when the time comes to build new baseload power plants renewables can't do it. Nuclear can. An d if global warming is as serious a threat as most environmentalists believe it is, aren't the problems with nuclear power miniscule in comparison?
Anonymous said…
There's no hypocrisy on the part of the nuclear industry. If you're going to directly subsidize piddle power because it is supposedly clean and safe, then it is only logical that the nuclear power industry ask for the same treatment because it is every bit as clean and safe. On the other hand, if you're giving the coal-burning industry a subsidy of 30,000 lives a year, you must either punish the coal-burning industry with punitive taxes, or reward the nuclear power industry with subsidies or reduced taxes.

Anti-nukes always forget one thing when they discuss subsidies to the nuclear power industry. They never mention the state, federal and local property taxes paid by the nuclear industry. It's a logical failing akin to looking at only the liability half of a balance sheet. I saw one study where the NRC annual budget was considered a subsidy to the nuclear power industry! Never mind the user fees.

A nice project for NEI would be to tally up the annual taxes/user fees paid by nuclear industry, and integrate this over the industry's history, to come up with a total number that offsets any subsidies the industry received over the decades. My bet is that taxes paid exceeds subsidies received. So when the anti-nukes harp on $100 billion in subsidies over fifty years, the NEI can come back with, "Maybe so, but we paid back even more."
David Bradish said…
Check out the Economic Benefits Reports we have done on quite a few units. They specifically address the economics the plant plays into for their community. We also model the plant's primary expenditures to show how much secondary spending occurs from the plant. At some places, the amount of spending by the plant creates two to three times the jobs outside the plant.

In some of the reports we show what the taxes are paid by the plant versus how much the community receives.

http://www.nei.org/index.asp
?catnum=2&catid=282

I'm not exactly sure about this but I believe the Energy Bill past last year was the first time the industry received federal subsidies besides R&D for new plants.

The University of Chicago study came out back in 2004 and pretty much said the first few nuke plants will be pretty expensive. However, after the first few are built than the Nth of a kind plants are expected to be competitive with other sources of energy.

We at NEI took their advice and pushed subsidies for the first few plants to get the industry rolling again. You won't see us pushing for more subsidies for new plants probably again.

David
Randal Leavitt said…
When the Titanic sank the person in charge of the life boats on one side insisted that women and children had to get into the life boats first. On the other side the person in charge just got everyone in as fast as possible, no gender checks required at the gunnel. The "everyone" approach saved a lot more lives. Having a nice ideology to address a problem is good I guess, but it can cost lives. I am amazed that people can calmly debate the subsidy ideology while the world is catching fire all around them. Nobody seems to get it - global heating is killing the planet now. I don't care about your subsidies, your taxes, or even your vacation schedule. Turn off the carbon dioxide vents now! And if you want the lights to come back on, do it cleanly. Nuclear is pretty clean - use it. Then figure out later how to spread around the little wealth that remains. Use subsidies, bursuries, gifts, anything you want. It will be pretty easy since most everyone will be dead anyway.

One way or another the carbon dioxide vents will be turned off. You can turn them off yourself now, or you can debate and argue and politic until the sun lights you all on fire and turns the vents off for you. I find it fascinating that everyone seems to prefer the second approach.
Paul Primavera said…
Randal Leavitt,

What you wrote means that Rod Adams 'Atomic Engines' should receive subsidies on the same order commensurate with its size that NuStart receives from the Federal Govt. Rod's ideas would provide small reactors to replace diesels and gas turbines in ships, perhaps power railroad trains or small out-of-the way villages, etc. Now why doesn't his organization (that could end up displacing a lot of fossil fuel) receive such subsidies?

Because he isn't big and mighty (no offense, Rod) and can pay all those lucrative taxes for money-drunk politicians.

No subsidies ever (no offense, Dave Bradish, but this is a matter of principles first and always).

And Randall, consider what Robert Heinlein wrote:

"All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplus, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly which can--and must--be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a 'perfect society' on any foundation other than 'Women and children first!' is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly--and no doubt will keep on trying."
Michael Stuart said…
Regardless of whether or not you support subsidies, the question posed to this group was basically whether or not states should mandate the use of renewables through an RPS.

Through all of this discussion, I have decided that any mandate that has a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions will fail unless it includes a provision for new nuclear. Therefore, I cannot support the RPS, as written.

Some of you may ask whether it is necessary to mandate anything, but to those I ask: Will the "free market" prevent climate change?

You may be tempted to shoot from the hip and say, "Sure! It's not in the interest of the market to ultimately destroy itself with climate change issues. If and when conclusive evidence exists of global warming, then the market will respond by adopting the most sensible technologies available at the time."

While this response may hold true for problems that *can* be corrected, I'll ask you to consider the following "what-if":

(Even if you don't believe in global warming) What if Dr. James Lovelock is right about the carbon dioxide "tipping point"? If we wait until such evidence exists, the "free market" may go down with the ship.

Given that consideration, the government needs to respond by doing what it is charged with - namely protecting the interests of the people whom it serves. Just like the government is charged with spending tax money to provide for a national defense (which is certainly outside the purview of the free market) it must also spend a part of our tax money to provide for defending ourselves against the cumulative effect of our actions - namely climate change.
Jim Hopf said…
Pertinent to this discussion is the following press release concerning the European Commission's ExternE study, which estimates the external costs of various energy sources. It shows that while nuclear's external costs, if any, are small (a fraction of a cent/kW-hr or less), the external costs of coal and oil are enormous (several cents, or enough to double their cost).

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/headlines/news/article_05_10_21_en.html

Not paying real, tangible external costs is a subsidy, period. And it's a huge one (the largest of all that are out there). By comparison, the net effect of all of nuclear's subsidies is a fraction of a cent at best. In fact, these financial subsidies may actually be counted as an external cost in these analyses.

If coal and oil paid their external costs, nuclear would not need any subsidies. Under any system where CO2 emissions are limited at all, nuclear would not need any subsidies. And no, nuclear would not have trouble competing with renewables under a system with no subsidies (for either).

The primary point being made by nuclear advocates (NEI, etc..) is not that renewables cannot compete economically. It's more that it is not practical for them to supply most or all of our energy, due to the fundamental intermittantcy problem. For this reason, a combination of nuclear and renewable (and some fossil) sources will be required.

Both renewables and nuclear are at least somewhat more expensive than coal, and coal will probably win out unless nuclear and renewables are subsidized, or coal's is required to pay for its external costs.

Once again, all the original post was saying is that it is disingenuous to suggest that people will actually save money by using renewables. No, renewables (and nuclear) cost a bit more, but are worth it. If they were truly cheaper (purely from an economic perspective) as well as being more environmentally desireable, no subsidies, or mandates for their use would be required, as the original post points out. Honesty would be appreciated.
Paul Primavera said…
What Jim Hopf wrote is exactly my point:

"If coal and oil paid their external costs, nuclear would not need any subsidies. Under any system where CO2 emissions are limited at all, nuclear would not need any subsidies. And no, nuclear would not have trouble competing with renewables under a system with no subsidies (for either)."

If the regulatory playing field for public health and safety, and environmental protection were truly leveled, then nuclear would win out.

Now why don't politicians want to level the regulatory playing field? Let's take one example - oil. Just a brief review of the following web page shows how lucrative oil is for politicians:

< http://www.opec.org/library/Special%20publications/pdf/2001.pdf >

So why should they insist that the regulatory playing field be leveled when to do so would clearly make oil uneconomical and deprive them of all that tax money?

I suspect the same may be true of coal (though I have not the figures for it). It would surprise me not at all that politicians like Jay Rockerfeller from West Virginia might oppose nuclear power.

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