Friday, May 15, 2009

21st Century Energy Policymaking

Ken Salazar We’ve been focusing so much on the politics of cap-and-trade and the miseries of Nevada mountains that we’ve forgotten to bring you some nuclear good-time news. It’s not like there isn’t any, though you might not know it from hanging around here. Last week, Thaddeus Swanek of NEI’s member-only newsletter Nuclear Energy Overview visited a conference that brought together folks from  Congress, the administration and other interested parties to talk about the prospects going forward – a little luminance to go with the radiance.

Enjoy: 

Nuclear energy is a key piece of a strategic energy plan for the nation, congressional leaders said this week at a conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the United States needs to move forward with a comprehensive energy plan that includes nuclear energy. 

Salazar noted that President Obama often speaks about the necessity of a diverse mix of energy sources.  Nuclear is on that table, Salazar said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the best energy strategy will be one that “embraces balance— from renewables to coal with carbon capture and sequestration; from nuclear power to domestic drilling to investments in energy efficiency.”

“We’ve seen the dangers of global warming and the dangers of dependence on foreign sources of energy,” Hoyer said. “This is a transformative time for America’s energy policy.”

“I don’t think we can get there from here, to where we want to get, without nuclear,” he added.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that what makes the most sense to fill the  “potentially dangerous energy gap between the renewable energy we would all like to have and the reliable, low-cost energy that we have to have,” is conservation and nuclear power.

Alexander proposed building 100 new nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. “We can do that.” 

Renewable energy sources alone will be unable to provide the large baseload electricity that the American economy needs, said Robert Blue, senior vice president of public policy and corporate communications at Dominion.

A wind farm co-owned by Dominion in West Virginia has about a 30 percent capacity factor; in contrast, its nuclear plants have capacity factors above 90 percent, Blue said. Nuclear energy is “a proven technology that is carbon-free that we can count on.”

Hoyer said that to assist with new reactor construction, loan guarantees are important in providing financing.

The current $18.5 billion in loan volume offered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s  loan guarantee program for new nuclear plants is “not going to be enough,” Hoyer said. “Nuclear energy is very cost-effective energy, but initial capital investment is very large, and we have to recognize that.” 

Hoyer also discussed the Clean Energy Technology Deployment Administration concept currently being considered in Congress, which would offer financing to different forms of clean energy at no cost to taxpayers, much like the Export-Import Bank now does for U.S. exports (see Nuclear Energy Overview, May 7).  He cited the program as an idea “worthy of discussion and, indeed, adoption.”

The Obama administration also should address used nuclear fuel reprocessing and storage, speakers said. Alexander called for an “aggressive mini-Manhattan project on recycling nuclear fuel.”

Phil Sewell, senior vice president of USEC, said, “We can eliminate 95 percent of the volume of nuclear waste just by reprocessing.” To help the nuclear industry to grow, reprocessing and storage of used fuel “need to be addressed by this administration,” he added.

When you live outside Washington, you tend to take a sour view of the Federal government. While we would be fantastically naive not to have a little lemon in our tea, what you may not know is just how many outlets – like the Chamber of Commerce – do get-togethers to share ideas, educate, mold policy, hammer out problems, etc.

We admit to having fun with some of the sillier views of politicians, but in addition to the things you see them do, they attend summits and conferences all the time to get a handle on complex subjects they may not have cared much about before being put on a committee.

You might not respect politicians much, but you would respect at least some of them – like Hoyer and Alexander – a little more more after you see the effort they put into doing their jobs well.

Ken Salazar. We found a lot of pictures of him in a cowboy hat, so clearly he likes the look and hasn’t been forced into something.

1 comment:

Ioannes said...

This news about Hoyer and Alexander's support for nuclear energy is gratifying. I note that Hoyner is Democrat and Alexander Republican, and that doesn't seem to make a difference regarding this issue. I am glad. However, Mark, in many previous posts you have gone out of your way to ridicule Republicans (e.g., for opposing CO2 gas emission regs) while excusing Democrats (for their generally less than enthusiastic support of new nuclear). I glad this isn't the case here. I just hope that Obama's pick of Harry REid's and Ed Markey's Jackzo as NRC Chairman doesn't throw a monkey wrench into the works, or that Steven Chu's first love for solar and opposition to Yucca won't prove to be new nuclear's downfall.

It'd be nice if new nuclear weren't a partisan issue, and it's great more and more democrats are coming around on the idea, BUT Jackzo's appointment by Obama is a big negative one for the industry no matter what congress critters say in favor of new nuclear.