Although the Senate bill being drafted by Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman has not emerged yet, we reported last week on the (leaked, not verified, don’t completely trust it) titles that will be in the bill. Nuclear energy is the subject of one of the titles.
However, we reckon some Senators have gotten a look at it and want to mark out their territory for what they’d like the bill to be. Of course, that’s part of the legislative process, but if some influence can be brought to bear as early as possible, at least favored provisions might find their way into the initial draft. Easier to keep them in if they’re part of the initial bill, perhaps, than to try to get them in later, which requires whipping committee votes
So it is that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) sent a letter to Kerry expressing concern with the legislation:
I have serious concerns about provisions that could harm our environment and provide new federal government support for polluters.
Uh-oh. Well, let’s see what Sen. Sanders would like to see included in the bill first:
- Retain Investments in Sustainable Energy and Energy Efficiency
- Add New Sustainable Energy Investments
- Set A Strong Sustainable Energy Standard
- Ramp Up Energy Efficiency
- Provide Green Jobs Training
By sustainable, which usually includes nuclear energy, Sanders means renewable, which does not. But all right, none of this is terrible and surely Sanders just wants to make sure his priorities are not overlooked. But there’s more:
- Offshore Drilling
- Coal Plant Emissions
Sanders doesn’t like these.
We should not, in the name of addressing global warming, provide even more government loan guarantees and subsidies for new nuclear power, which is actually the most costly form of new energy. Independent estimates are that new nuclear plants will produce energy at 25-30 cents per kilowatt hour, even with Price·Anderson and all of the other government subsidies taken into account.
We suspect Sanders got his 25-30 cent figure from a study done by Joseph Romm at the Center for American Progress, but we can’t say we’d put much value on Dr. Romm’s overall formulations. See here for more on that
We’d probably take a look instead at the Energy Information Administration, since it’s part of the Department of Energy.
The EIA’s estimate took into account construction costs and time, operating and fuel expenses, and the costs of financing. The total system levelized cost for nuclear power was $119 per megawatt-hour (in 2008 dollars). That was lower than the estimate for wind ($149.3), offshore wind ($191.1), solar thermal ($256.6) and solar photovoltaic ($396.1).
“Levelized costs” takes account of construction as well as running costs, hence the higher base figures. Also, megawatts here and kilowatts there.
Bottom line: nuclear isn’t all that vulnerable in cost terms – even less so when one considers that nuclear plants can operate longer than the 30 years used for EIA calculations (But we won’t go there, really – this is very complex stuff). The direct link to the EIA figures is here.
For a Vermonter, Sanders has a very New York way about him – logically, since he was born in Brooklyn and moved to Vermont in 1964 (at age 23). He was mayor of Burlington during the 80s, was in the House during the nineties and most of the 00s and won his Senate seat in 2006. He can be very thundery and, when we’ve seen him in committees, very blunt and very effective at making his points.