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Why the CERES Study on Clean Energy is Fatally Flawed

Vogtle: the nuclear plant that wasn't there.
Yesterday Ceres, a non-profit organization that advocates for "sustainability leadership," issued a study called, "Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment: 2014 - Ranking 32 of the Largest U.S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities on Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency."

While we're happy to see some of our member companies get credit for their efforts in these areas, we were puzzled when four utilities with significant nuclear generating assets - Entergy, Dominion Resources, SCANA and Southern Company - were listed near the bottom of the rankings. After all, these are companies with balanced portfolios that use zero-emission nuclear energy to help bolster both grid reliability as well as hedge against price volatility and potential supply disruptions.

Yesterday afternoon we put the question directly to Ceres on Twitter:
This was their response:
So I grabbed the report and turned to page 14. Here's what I found (emphasis mine):
Utility-scale hydroelectric and nuclear power are important energy resources that contribute about a quarter of U.S. electricity generation; however, we do not include them in this report because nearly all of the country’s large hydro and nuclear generation was built prior to 1980, and neither resource is widely expected to constitute a large portion of the nation’s newly built carbon-free energy portfolio going forward.
Let's consider these assertions one at a time. While I can't speak to the first assertion when it comes to large scale hydropower, when it comes to nuclear it's manifestly false. Currently, there are 99 nuclear reactors operating in the U.S. Forty-nine came into service in 1980 or later.

According to my calculations, that's more than 55,000 MWe of emission-free generation that Ceres refused to consider in its study. And that also fails to take into account the four AP-1000 reactors that SCE&G and Southern Company are currently building at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina and Plant Vogtle in Georgia, as well as the 1,180 MWe reactor under construction at Watts Bar in Tennessee. And I guess I shouldn't forget that after a speech here in Washington earlier this week, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning told reporters that he'd like to announce plans to build two more AP-1000 reactors somewhere in the Southeast before the end of the year.

As for the second, every credible analysis (EPA, EIA, OECD) concludes that carbon reductions are impossible without major nuclear expansion. So what we have here isn't just a difference over methodology, we have a study that makes a pair of assertions that are false on their face. 

To finish up, I'll write it again: failing to credit utilities with nuclear assets for keeping air clean is deliberately misleading and a disservice to honest public debate. Please keep this in mind the next time CERES, or their partner in this study, CleanEdge. has anything to say about clean energy.

Comments

One of the reasons that the nuclear industry is dismissed in the US is due to the fact that the nuclear industry is just too terrified to criticize the fossil fuel and renewable industries.

The commercial nuclear industry is easily the safest and most environmentally benign producer of electricity in the US. Yet the nuclear industry is still too afraid to compare itself favorably against the fossil fuel and renewable industry.

They simply go around begging to included in the mix like an ugly duckling-- when they're actually a beautiful swan!

Marcel

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