Thursday, May 29, 2014

The White House’s All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy

White_HouseThe White House has released an energy plan, which it calls The All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy as a Path to Sustainable Economic Growth. In it, nuclear energy is always grouped with renewable energy sources, clean coal and energy efficiency as a means of affecting climate change. And in no uncertain terms:

Nuclear energy provides zero-carbon baseload electricity, and through the Energy Department the Administration is supporting nuclear research and deployment. A high priority of the Department has been to help accelerate the timelines for the commercialization and deployment of small modular reactor (SMR) technologies through the SMR Licensing Technical Support program. Small modular reactors offer the advantage of lower initial capital investment, scalability, and siting flexibility at locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors. They also have the potential for enhanced safety and security, for example through built-in passive safety systems. In December 2013, the Energy Department announced an award to support a new project to design, certify and help commercialize SMRs.

And not just small reactors:

The Energy Department is also supporting deployment of advanced large-scale reactors. In February 2014, the Department of Energy issued $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to support the construction of the nation’s next generation of advanced nuclear reactors. The two new 1,100-megawatt reactors, which will be located in Georgia, feature advanced safety components and could provide a standardized design for the U.S. utilities market.

This is true of the two reactors in South Carolina, too, but SCANA did not apply for a loan guarantee to build them. It’s interesting to see that small reactors are established enough that the White House now refers to large-scale reactors. The need to differentiate them has developed.

The plan recognizes nuclear energy’s role in mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

The United States is further reducing its GHG emissions through improved energy efficiency, taking advantage of nonconventional natural gas as a transitional fuel, supporting renewable, nuclear, and clean coal energy sources, and regulation under the Clean Air Act.

The plan notes that combatting carbon emissions is an international issue, but might have gone a little further than that: that exporting U.S. nuclear energy technology has the potential to limit carbon emissions even in developing countries while further bolstering the economy.

Obviously, a plan with this name is not making the case for any particular energy source, but one could certainly quibble with how any single energy source is handled.

Looking further ahead, developing natural gas generation infrastructure now prepares for future widespread deployment of wind and solar generation.

Hey, where’s nuclear energy here? I’m not even sure how such an infrastructure sets the table for renewable energy – it seems like two vagrant thoughts mashed together. But the idea of natural gas as a transitional fuel for renewable energy already seems a bit careworn, something the natural gas people would like to hear for a long, long time. Anyway, where nuclear energy provides the lion’s share of electricity, there is no need for transition. It does exactly what renewable energy might do one day – and has done it for 50 years.

In a plan such as this one, the occasional odd thought or peculiar omission can easily be over parsed, as just demonstrated. What’s really important is the bottom line:

The All-of-the-Above energy strategy has three key elements: to support economic growth and job creation, to enhance energy security, and to deploy low-carbon energy technologies and lay the foundation for a clean energy future.

And nuclear energy has a high significance in all three goals.


Be sure to check out NEO President and CEO' Marv Fertel’s comments on this plan. He zeroes in on the economic benefits of nuclear facilities, which are significant and answers powerfully to the first of the plan’s three elements:

The typical nuclear plant generates approximately $470 million in sales of goods and services locally and nearly $40 million in total labor income. Each nuclear plant generates almost $16 million in state and local tax revenue annually, and the average plant generates federal tax payments of approximately $67 million annually.


And take a look at the whole report to see how everything fits together. We kept the focus pretty tightly on nuclear energy, but anyone interested in energy policy will want to read the whole thing.

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