Friday, November 21, 2014

Message Sent and Received on Nuclear Value

It’s one thing for nuclear advocates to say that nuclear energy should be correctly valued as a carbon dioxide-free energy source. This means not just any new plants that will happen along, but, as important, those now in service. If the Environmental Protection Agency does not get this right in its upcoming rules covering emissions from electricity generators, it potentially could harm its goal.
If a nuclear facility is lost, then so is all that emission free energy and it puts their host states at a disadvantage at hitting their emission reduction targets. The relatively low cost of natural gas can seem appealing from one angle but not quite so attractive when it is filling in for a nuclear facility and not a coal plant. The emissions profile changes for the worse in the former case. 
Among energy mavens, this has become glaringly apparent. Here’s American Nuclear Society President Michaele Brady Raap:
The EPA proposal is laudable in many respects, but it needs significant adjustment before it is enacted. Simply put, the rule fails to fully take into account the role nuclear energy plays in delivering large amounts of reliable, economically competitive electricity with no carbon emissions during reactor operations. In fact, the rule as it is currently structured almost entirely discounts more than 90 percent of the clean energy contributions from our existing nuclear energy facilities.
She’s right – and it’s an interesting article – and by writing for Roll Call, she’s reaching the right audience. It heartening that outlets like ANS and NEI are getting the message out. But it will only work if the nuclear-faithful can make the case to – hmmm, well, the more-or-less nuclear-neutral will have to do.
But that’s the interesting thing. The message is breaking through:
State lawmakers expressed concern Wednesday that proposed federal regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants will hurt Virginia’s economic competiveness.
The Senate and House held a joint committee meeting Wednesday to hear from state officials, energy companies and environmentalists on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
When I read this, my mind went to coal, since Virginia, while not what you’d call coal country, still has plenty of it. But no, here’s the next paragraph:
Lawmakers said the EPA’s current target levels for emission cuts penalize Virginia for its robust nuclear energy production. The zero-emission nuclear energy production accounts for 40 percent of the electric energy produced in Virginia.
That would be via Surrey and North Anna.
Legislators said the federal agency’s Virginia target rate of carbon emissions per megawatt hour of energy production is unfair in light of the higher target rates the federal agency has set for neighboring states that are more dependent on coal-fired gas plants.
That would be coal country – Kentucky and West Virginia. And Virginia’s lawmakers have a point. What’s the point of limiting emissions if it provides no particular relief or has no real value? Honestly, the goal here is not to let states like Virginia off the hooh, and the article explains that Gov. Terry McAuliffe doesn’t mind if Virginia has to lower emissions more. That seems judicious enough – but McAuliffe does complain that the proposed rule doesn’t give nuclear energy its just due. If more state legislators and executives start raising a fuss, good. It’s a fair point and it’s valuable that the message spread beyond energy wonks.
A brief bit:
A group of seven Harvard student activists filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that the University is violating its original charter through continued investment in fossil fuels and asked a court to force Harvard to “immediately withdraw” its holdings in the industry.
You can read the rest to see what this is all about. It feels more symbolic than substantive to me, but who knows? I do know that efforts to completely banish what we do not like is not the best impulse in most cases. It basically ends debate and declares the losing side as good as dead. Coal is far from dead, no matter what its Harvard critics might prefer. (The divestiture issue when I was in college was South African Krugerrands, so it’s a well-worn approach. I don’t remember lawsuits about it, though.) Even when we agree with a goal, this approach is uncomfortably definitive in a stubbornly undefinitive world.

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