Friday, February 14, 2014

Back to the Old Nuclear Arguments–in a Good Way

The argument advanced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – that taking down baseload energy plants has the capacity to destabilize the grid – a couple posts down should not lead anyone to imagine that the tired old arguments are anywhere near dead – or old or tired, for that matter.

Lyons says a major problem is that the market presently has no mechanism to sensibly recognize the value of carbon-free power generation, particularly nuclear power. “When well-run, clean [nuclear] energy sources are forced out of the marketplace due to a combination of reduced demand, low natural gas prices and market structure,” Lyons was quoted as saying by the Greenwire energy-news service, “our markets are providing the wrong signals.”

Lyons here is Peter Lyons, the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy. He was also an NRC commissioner in his time. So he may be an interested party but also an extremely knowledgeable one.

Lyons said that the DOE studied a scenario where 30 percent of the county’s 100 reactors would be shut down. He said the DOE regards many of the nuclear plant closures currently on the calendar as premature. If those closures were to go ahead as per that scenario, there would be no way to meet our goal of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Lyons also says that there is “no mechanism to sensibly recognize the value of carbon-free power generation…” which may sound like a return to trying for cap-and-trade or a carbon tax.

Forbes writer Michael Krancer gives Lyons a lot of space – he spoke at a Platts conference not long ago – and as always, Lyons is on point. The whole piece is well worth a read. Whereas Murkowski broadens the conversation by warning that overregulating baseload energy – she’s including coal and natural gas in her figuring – Lyons brings back the issue of climate change and carbon emissions. Which is still valid and worth having in the mix. When you take in all the plausible policy goals one might develop with energy these day, nuclear energy, at least as a key element in a diverse portfolio, comes out ahead- way ahead.

1 comment:

Marcel F. Williams said...

Its up to the Federal government to help utilities gradually transition from a carbon polluting energy economy to a carbon neutral energy economy.

And this can be done by simply Federally mandating that at least 50% of the electricity being produced by a utility in the US or imported into the US come from carbon neutral resources by 2020 and 90% by 2030.

A 15% sin tax would be placed on all of the electricity (carbon and carbon neutral) produced by utilities that fail to reach these Federally mandated levels.

Such legislation would allow utilities to gradually invest in building more carbon neutral electric power plants over the next 16 years or to purchase carbon neutral power plants from other utilities in order to meet Federal standards and in order to avoid Federal sin taxes.

There are already a few utilities in the US that meet the 50% carbon neutral level thanks to their production of nuclear and hydroelectric power.

The TVA should set an example for other utilities by selling off all of its carbon polluting electric power plants and using that revenue to build more nuclear power plants.