Skip to main content

On Bernie Sanders, Nuclear Energy & Carbon-Free Electricity

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t like nuclear power anywhere, now also doesn’t like it at Indian Point Energy Center. This shouldn’t surprise anybody, but Mr. Sanders is also against climate change, and against fossil fuels. The positions are impossible to reconcile.

We’re not the only ones who have noticed.
A persistent idea is that energy from wind and sun will replace fossil and everything else. And for years, New York has had an aggressive plan to use more renewable energy.

But it is just a plan. According to a national survey by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, released earlier this month, New York aimed to have about 9.5 million megawatt-hours of renewable electricity by the end of 2014. But actual production was only around half that. (That’s the “main tier,” produced at utility scale. There’s a “customer-sited tier,” basically rooftop solar, and that was at 96 percent compliance, but the target for that was far smaller, less than 1 million megawatt-hours. )

When it comes to NY & renewables, the numbers don't add up.
More renewables would be good for New York. But there are good reasons why it’s hard to build them there. The wind is strong in the western part of the state, but the load is in the southeast, and the transmission grid that links them isn’t up to big electricity transfers.

So sometimes western New York is flooded with more electricity than it can use, and prices fall to zero or below, limiting the enthusiasm of builders to pick that area. Meanwhile, prices are much higher in the New York City region, where Indian Point is located, but it’s not a good place for huge wind farms.

And even if New York were on target to achieve its renewable goal, the goal is about 33% less carbon-free electricity than Indian Point produces. And besides being better located, Indian Point’s 24/7 production includes peak hours, including summer afternoons and evenings when there is not much wind, and the sun is low in the sky, or down.

When the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, in Senator Sanders’ home state, closed at the end of 2014, New England replaced it with natural gas. That is the likely replacement if any of New York’s reactors close. More broadly, the question isn’t whether New York can meet its goals for renewables, or the longer-term goal of an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by mid-century.

Recent history makes clear this will be very tough. For the near term, at least, the question is whether New York wants to miss its goals by a little or a lot. A state that closes a reactor now is like a ship captain who, at the first sign of rough weather, decides to jettison the lifeboats.

And if the threat of climate change seems distant or abstract (which is not the case in New York, at least not since Sandy) losing Indian Point would have a more immediate impact on electricity bills. Electricity sales in New York are competitive, and when you remove a competitor, prices will rise. That’s bad for households, businesses, and government agencies.

Comments

Anonymous said…
New York Banned Fracking. If they replace the power with natural gas, they should be forced to buy only from the non-fracked gas supplies.
37ndone said…
Bernie has no technical insight to climate change whatsoever. I came to that conclusion while watching him on Jan 17, 2016 interview on CBS Face the Nation where Bernie was being interviewed in a room with a smoking fireplace in the background and wood piled from floor to ceiling.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…