The Washington Times, which acts in DC as a counterweight to the more liberal (and far more influential) Washington Post, writes today about a report (the full report in PDF) from the Energy Information Administration on the Waxman Markey climate change bill.
For the nuclear industry, its conclusions are pretty spectacular, especially since EIA’s reports are heavily referenced in Congress and help set energy policy. We’ve been reading through it – it’s pretty deep dish – but the bottom line is that nuclear energy – well, let’s let the Times tell you:
To satisfy House Democrats' low-cost solution to global warming, Americans would have to double their reliance on nuclear energy by 2030 - a target the nuclear industry says is unlikely and that many environmentalists and Democrats dislike.
Now, you might say, Hey, that second part isn’t so good. If we leave out environmentalists for the moment – so predictable, so useful to reporters - the point here is really that a branch of the DOE is producing this information, so it has considerable pull, even on Democrats.
The result could be a doubling down on the efficacy of renewables or it could be an acceleration in the acceptance of nuclear energy by more Democrats. We’ve seen surprising movement in this direction – this report puts some traction on the road.
Now, what about the plausibility of following the scenario in the report?
Mr. [Richard] Myers [vice president of policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute] said the EIA model's projections are not likely. It would mean 96 gigawatts of new capacity by 2030, while "what's doable" is more in the range of 65 gigawatts, or about 45 new plants, he said.
Still, he said, the model shows that taking options like nuclear off the table means other sources get overwhelmed, and costs rise.
"To the extent you cannot build nuclear at the rate the model suggests is needed ... you are dealing with a world in which electricity costs and natural gas costs are higher than they would otherwise be," he said.
So – a reasonable note of caution. (Luckily, I could ask Mr. Myers about this. He said that he told the Times that 45 additional plants could be in some stage prior to operation by 2030 - licensing, construction, etc – so understand his comment as being specific to 2030 only. Newpapers – huh!)
And there is this doubt, too:
[G]roups that supported the House bill said more important than a specific road map is to set the right goals and incentives.
"Rather than trying to project precisely the mix of technologies in the future, it's more important to get the policy right and let the market pick the technologies," said Thomas B. Cochran, director of NRDC's nuclear program.
Well, that seems reasonable enough. Industry isn’t all that crazy about mandates to start with and the electricity industry will be lousy with them if Waxman-Markey passes.
The Times’ writer Stephen Dinan sort of ginned up his story a bit to provide more conflict than is actually there – Congress is recessed, so no comment out of the usual suspects – having environmentalists weigh in on nuclear energy. But he’s right in what the report projects and we’ll be very interested in seeing what impact it has on the bill as it moves through the Senate.