Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Money Trap

turkey_point_3 If we didn’t like nuclear power very much and our arguments against it were running a little thin, we might consider using current events as a wedge. For example, you may have heard that the economy has been struggling. Hence:

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is opposing new nuclear plants in several states, will ask the PSC to re-evaluate the urgency for new nuclear energy in Florida given the recession and the slowing growth of the utilities' customer base.

This comes from the Orlando Sentinel and nowhere in the story does the SACE say anything about mutated alligators making a meal out of grandma or radioactive sludge in the everglades. It’s all about the money – admittedly a big subject for all power plants, but most particularly for nuclear energy plants. So what is the response?

Progress officials said Friday they have already taken into account the country's economic downturn and its project's construction delays by reducing how much they want to bill customers next year for new nuclear power.

The utility is asking for permission to charge its customers $6.69 a month for the typical consumption of 1,000 kilowatt-hours, spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said. She noted that the utility could have sought more than $12 a month.

We might have advised Grant not to bring up how much Progress could have charged – after all, that’s not an issue here and it sounds petty – we only gave you six lashes instead of twelve, so quit bellyaching. True enough, but pain is pain.

But beyond advice, $80/year above increases Progress might charge in the years ahead might seem, during a recession, a little heady – and require some good justification.

And they have it: SACE isn’t really on a very firm footing – that there might not be sufficient urgency reminds us of the argument that nuclear energy is an old, dusty technology that should make way for shiny new energy sources. It’s as though our time horizon roosts at the beginning or end of the current week.

Florida Power & Light, also in the nuclear building business, put it simply:

FPL, like Progress, contends that nuclear-power plants, though they take nearly a decade to license and build, are an increasingly needed source of electricity that does not contribute to climate change.

"That means working on power plants years in advance, so that they will be ready to provide dependable electric service to our customers when they need it," FPL spokesman Mayco Villafaña said.

Villafana gets it exactly right. While we wouldn’t wish for it, we may well see a couple more sickening drops on the roller coaster that is the economy before any plant (of any kind) can get itself up and running, so that’s no particular reason to bet the energy future on what the economy does or doesn’t do.

Le’s watch this one, though. Politics tends to be nearby any Public Service Commission action and politicians might well see this as an opportunity to demagogue the recession. We’ll see.

Turkey Point, one of FP&L’s plants.

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