Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nuclear By Name, Nuclear in Fact

We haven’t been the happiest persons on our increasingly watery planet with the Waxman-Markey energy bill, but neither have we been the unhappiest. After all, the bill set ambitious targets on greenhouse gas emission reduction and nuclear energy is a sure, even the surest, way to meet those targets. But nuclear energy was a – little – perhaps a bit – unacknowledged in this obvious role. Steve Kirsh in the Huffing Post put it this way:

Both Secretary Chu and the President of MIT point out that nuclear has to be a key part of the energy mix going forward. We can't supply all our clean energy needs relying on just renewables.

Yet this bill has over 932 pages, and the word "nuclear" only appears twice.

That seems pretty odd considering that 70% of our CO2-free power is from nuclear. Even more odd considering we haven't built a new nuclear plant in 30 years and it's still 70% of our clean power!

So true. (Kirsh has a lot more to say on this, all on point. (Do read the rest of his story.)

We were intrigued to see a response to Kirsh’s story from an unnamed “House staff member” (in other words, grain of salt) who aims to address the seeming nuclear shortfall:

● Because nuclear power generates far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, utilities will need to hold far fewer emission allowances for the nuclear plants to comply with the carbon limitations in ACES. According to EPA modeling, twice as many new nuclear plants would be built by 2025 under ACES than without the legislation.

● Under the federal Renewable Electricity Standard, electricity generated from new nuclear units is not added to a utility's baseline electricity level. As a result, the addition of a nuclear plant would not require a utility to obtain additional renewable electricity. This ensures that the RES provides no disincentive to the construction of new nuclear units.

● ACES establishes a self-sustaining Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) within the Department of Energy to promote the domestic development and deployment of clean energy technologies. CEDA would be empowered to provide direct loans, loan guarantees, and letters of credit to support clean energy technologies that might otherwise be unable to secure financing, including nuclear power.

● ACES includes reforms to the existing Department of Energy loan guarantee program. The Department has received applications for federal loan guarantees from 21 proposed nuclear power plants, totaling $122 billion in requested assistance.

Some of this strikes us as counterintuitive as logical policymaking. It’s one thing for us to assert that certain things will likely happen because they must happen to achieve a goal, as we did above; it’s quite another to have it part of actual policy. Seems sneaky – even unnecessary – that’s where that grain of salt comes in handy.

On the other hand, the points about RES and CEDA in particular make sense because nuclear is already plays a role – it doesn’t need to be specifically mentioned. So the staffer has a point – a lack of nuclear by name does not mean there is no nuclear in fact.

Fascinating.

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