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

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…