Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A Nuclear Plant Like That: Reactions to the EPA Carbon Rules

If the Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon emissions, released yesterday, left anyone surprised, that would be a surprise. These rules have been in the works since 2007, when the Supreme Court said that such emissions must be regulated under the Clean Air Act (the government argued against it), and since 2010, when President Barack Obama told Congress that he would proceed with carbon emission rules if Congress did not (which, indeed, Congress did not.) The White House preceded the new rules with an energy plan that explicitly linked renewable energy with nuclear energy as carbon emission mitigators, another factor that played (or seemed to) into the news coverage that has appeared in the last day.
Granted, some of the coverage is muted or even a bit bizarre. Here’s the New York Times:
The proposed rule also opens the door for nuclear power plant operators to collect extra revenue because their reactors do not generate carbon dioxide. The nuclear industry has long touted its carbon-free nature, but has not been able to collect cash for that attribute.
Well – that’s an interesting take. Sometimes, the Times feels like “all the news that’s fit for oligarchs.”
Nuclear made the Associated Press’ list of winners:
If carbon-free power becomes more valuable to the marketplace, no one will benefit more than nuclear power producers such as Exelon, Entergy, Public Service Enterprise Group and First Energy.
Energy Daily (not online) quickly explains why this might be so:
A rule to limit CO2 emissions from power plants would certainly help nuclear utilities because it would make power from nuclear generation more valuable.
Which seems a bit premature, but it certainly holds the potential, another way around to the Times’ point. Nuclear and hydro are the gold standard for non-emitting baseload energy and hydro (and its dams) would be much more difficult to stand up than new nuclear plants. So – we’ll see.
The Financial Times also deems nuclear a winner:
Q: Who would be the main winners and losers?
A: The winners are the gas, renewable and nuclear power and energy efficiency industries. The EPA has calculated its new standards based on the emissions reductions that would be possible if there were a 50 per cent rise in gas-fired power generation.
And this story from Reuters throws the “sputtering, flailing” nuclear energy industry a lifeline:
U.S. environmental regulators could throw a lifeline to the nation's ailing nuclear power fleet when they unveil landmark carbon pollution curbs next week, heeding calls from operators like Exelon Corp to acknowledge nuclear energy as a valuable way to reduce emissions.
This actually came from a preview of the release. Reuters story of the actual release tamps down the whole “death rattle of nuclear” idea:
The plan gives states multiple options to achieve their emission targets, such as improving power plant heat rates; using more natural gas plants to replace coal plants; ramping up zero-carbon energy, such as solar or nuclear; and increasing energy efficiency.
As you’d expect, newspaper coverage takes a rather measured approach – nuclear energy gets its due, but mostly deep in the story. I expect editorials will catch up with some of the obvious implications in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, The Minneapolis Post lets reader Rolf Westgard get straight to the point:
I would feel better if I heard more about measures like using new, safer nuclear plants, such as the Westinghouse AP 1000. A nuclear plant like that produces 8 billion around-the-clock kilowatt hours per year, without emitting any carbon dioxide.
“A nuclear plant like that.” Just so. So the White House recognizes the value of nuclear energy, journalists and the people they talk to get it, and so does Rolf Westgard. Interesting times.

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