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Nuclear Editorial Choices in Ohio and Virginia

ABJ2_20100305181736_320_240The title of the Akron Beacon-Journal’s editorial is “A Compromising Position for FirstEnergy and Ohio.” Uh-oh – what could this be about? As it turns out, nothing bad at all:

Too many environmentalists have a blind-spot for nuclear power. Yet, if the problem of climate change is dire — and it is — how reckless to cast aside a clean power source capable of generating an ample and steady supply. Those who applaud the Obama White House for preparing to issue limits on carbon emissions also should cheer plans to keep Davis-Besse in operation.

FirstEnergy wants to charge ratepayers a bit extra to keep Davis-Besse and a coal plant afloat while natural gas remains inexpensive. You might expect the local newspaper to find fault with that – it could be made to sound like a greedy utility with its hand out - but it doesn’t.

This is an exceptionally mature viewpoint, a recognition that what’s true now – low natural gas prices – won’t be true forever. What the newspaper does not point out is that, while it’s possible to reopen a shuttered coal plant, once a nuclear plant closes, that’s the end of it. That’s down to the cost of sustaining it in cold storage, not for technical reasons, but gone is gone. And when you’ve got an existential issue breathing down your neck, that’s a rough prospect – for FirstEnergy and Ohio.

An analysis by The Brattle Group, prepared for the organization Nuclear Matters, reported last week that average annual carbon-dioxide emissions would be about 11 million tons greater without the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants.

Now, what about the compromise in the title?

What a sound energy strategy requires is a worthy concession from FirstEnergy in return, and that involves restoring the energy efficiency and renewable energy standards that the utility worked so hard to put on hold for two years, their fate still to be decided.

This actually sounds like stuff Ohio needs to do legislatively – and if it could include nuclear energy into a clean energy standard while it’s at it, great. Frankly, FirstEnergy needs to do what works best for its customers and shareholders, not environmentalists (or pro-nuclear folks, for that matter.) This editorial shows a lot of counterintuitive intelligence, and its priorities are exactly right.

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lynchburgA second editorial, from the Lynchburg News & Advance, takes nuclear energy as it comes – it’s called “Nuclear Must Be Part of Virginia's Energy Mix.”

Like Ohio, Virginia has two facilities and like the Akron paper, the News-Advance is focused on nuclear energy’s capacity as a climate change mitigator.

What’s interesting is that the paper reviews the renewable energy scene with discouragement and says almost nothing about nuclear energy directly. This is about it:

In the final analysis, the cleanest and safest way to generate power at the levels required in a developed economy is nuclear.

True enough. The arguments about renewable energy sound like our recent post about land use. We commented there that this is a rising issue among policy makers, and the News & Advance editorial only emphasizes its continuing relevance.

In the Virginia Highlands, for example, proposed construction of a wind farm several years ago generated heated opposition because foes said it would spoil the natural landscape of the Appalachian Mountains. In Massachusetts, a wind project off the coast of Cape Cod met vociferous opposition for the same reason.

Solar farms, in order to provide a reliable power stream, have one major need that has also proved controversial: scale, acres upon acres of panels to capture the power from the sun’s rays. In the American Southwest, for example, environmentalists have raised alarm about solar farms’ impact on desert flora and fauna.

I’m not sure where the Virginia Highlands are – the Appalachians run down the western side of the state, so they could be anywhere from north to south. But you get the idea – land use and some unfortunate NIMBY. The latter could be true of new nuclear reactors as well, but new reactors tend to be welcomed, especially as additions to existing facilities. The concerns about land use are on-target, but I expect Dominion will find ways to make renewable energy work in Virginia. The idea is not to pin all one’s hopes on a single energy source – nuclear, wind or whatever- but Virginia could do worse than encourage Surry 3 or North Anna 3.

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