Shameless in Seattle

If the committee entertains such a resolution, Energy Northwest will be invited to participate in the discussion, (committee staffer Ted) Virdone said. At that point, “it will be essential for both sides to get a fair hearing.”  –Clearing Up, 2014

The Seattle City Council is set to vote today on a resolution that challenges the city’s reputation to be both progressive and environmentally friendly.

The resolution restricts the use of new nuclear energy by the city’s utility, should new nuclear become available (see below for more on that). The city currently receives more than 4 percent of its power (carbon-free) from Columbia Generating Station (which is more than it gets directly from wind power). Two years ago, a version of the resolution that called for shutting down Columbia would not fly so the council’s Energy and Environment Committee encouraged anti-nuclear groups to go back to the drawing board and focus on the future.

What was staged last week was another lesson in a strangely anti-democratic (and anti-science) process that grips this committee every time nuclear energy is the topic. The committee invited representatives from anti-nuclear energy groups to the table – but did not want to hear from any opposing views. Yet, like daisies growing through cracks in a cement sidewalk, several pro-nuclear voices were heard during the legally required public comment period (thank goodness for the law).

What the supporters said was informative and truthful – and the snickering heard in the background during one such statement spoke volumes.

So, sitting around a table with no opposing voices, committee members laughed and joked while discussing the prospect of nearly 1,000 Washington residents losing their jobs (including hundreds of union members and veterans).

Those jobs aren’t in Seattle, after all. Even State Rep. Gerry Pollett joined in, though making clear he was wearing his “other” hat, as head of anti-nuke Heart of America Northwest, and seemed to have no issues participating in such a one-sided hearing.

Where the power comes from

The resolution doesn’t mention Columbia by name, but Columbia was the focus of the entire meeting regardless. No one from Energy Northwest received an invitation to present any facts, unfortunately, because facts were sorely needed especially surrounding the clean air benefits of nuclear power.

Would it have mattered?

One councilwoman summed it up thusly when talking about moving the climate change discussion in a more “progressive” manner:

“…which is a hard thing to do given who we’re dealing with in terms of folks out in Central Washington…”

Well.

Had the Seattle form of “progressive” not been so exclusionary, she might have heard about the growing number of world organizations, governments and environmentalists embracing nuclear energy. Even from some of us here in the hinterlands. Yes, we consider ourselves environmentalists and walk the walk to boot.

All reputable organizations involved in the global climate discussion have come to the same conclusion. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency and Energy Information Administration, as well as many individual scientists and environmental advocates, have said that the U.S. and world cannot achieve meaningful reduction in carbon emissions without nuclear energy.

In President Barack Obama’s 2011 Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future he writes, “…beyond our efforts to reduce our dependence on oil, we must focus on expanding cleaner sources of electricity, including renewables like wind and solar, as well as clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power – keeping America on the cutting edge of clean energy technology so that we can build a 21st century clean energy economy and win the future.”

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation during Nuclear Science Week in Washington. The proclamation reads in part, “…nuclear energy in our state and nation is helping to reduce carbon emissions and plays a vital part in the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible energy generating resources…”

Last month Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., weighed in during a Department of Energy summit in Washington, D.C. on the need to keep our existing nuclear fleet going. “Nuclear energy provides critical baseload power [and] more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electric generation. Most Americans don’t realize that and I was one of them. When it comes to carbon-free, baseload power, nuclear is it,” Booker said.

Our own Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., understands the issue as well. “It is vital that the United States continue to lead the world in clean energy, and nuclear may prove to be a key a component in this effort,” Cantwell said during a hearing of the Senate’s Energy committee on advanced nuclear technology in Washington, D.C.

Eco-warrior Stewart Brand, author of 2009’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, in 2010 said, “I surprised myself. I used to be, you know, pretty much a knee-jerk environmentalist on this particular subject. And then because of climate change I re-investigated the matter and discovered that I’d been misled in many of the details on how nuclear works.”

How about Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and Time Magazine’s 2008 “Hero of the Environment.” He is one of the contributors to The Ecomodernist Manifesto, which was written last year in collaboration with Brand and 17 other notable scholars, scientists and environmentalists. (One of those was Robert Stone, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director of the “fiercely independent” documentary, Pandora’s Promise, which tells the anti- to pro-nuclear conversion stories of leading environmentalists.) While acknowledging the cultural barriers to nuclear power, the authors assert that nuclear “represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy.”


Think about this. World-renown climate scientist James Hansen would not be able to get a seat at the table of the Seattle City Council Energy and Environment committee because of his pro-nuclear energy position. And he’s not even from Central Washington!


At a time when the world’s leading scientific institutions and many here at home are telling us climate change is a real and immediate threat – and that humans are a significant cause of that threat – Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club et al. are asking the Seattle City Council to denounce the technology that currently provides more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity (20 percent of total U.S. generation). Is that the national leadership role Seattle – the city that championed the Kyoto Protocols – is seeking to establish?

Leading from behind?

Seattle wants to dramatically reduce city sources of greenhouse gases to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The city hired experts from the Stockholm Environmental Institute to see if it could be done. They said it could, so the city is aggressively going after that goal. One of those experts at SEI is Karl Hallding, a co-author of Beyond Paris: Using Climate Change Scenarios to Manage Risk. In 2014 Hallding, an expert on China’s oppressive energy pollution problem, said “an interesting sign in the sky is that … the share of thermal power, most of which comes from coal … that came on line in China in 2013 fell to around half for the first time thanks to the growth in alternative energy sources – hydro, wind, solar and nuclear.” Perhaps an SEI business card is still lying on someone’s desk at Seattle City Hall. Now would be a good time, prior to today’s full council vote, to give SEI a call for a brief education on nuclear energy’s important role in achieving a clean energy future.

It’s always refreshing to see city governments do right by their citizens. In this case, Seattle, make some phone calls to people who have higher-education degrees and have published on this topic – a proper balance of pro and con – and ask them to come speak to you. Include them in the public dialogue. Then decide.

Energy Northwest has a vision for nuclear power in our region, but this vision does not include new nuclear generation in Washington during the foreseeable future. Our state simply doesn’t need the power, let alone the massive amounts of power that would come from a new single nuclear reactor (the Columbia Generating Station reactor is the third largest producer of electricity in Washington, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams).

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, however, is looking for clean, baseload (think “always on”) power to replace coal plants in their service territory, and that power may come from a small modular nuclear facility in Idaho. Their only other option for baseload power is natural gas, but “clean” natural gas emits 60 percent as much carbon as coal, so not nearly as attractive as carbon-free nuclear. We’d like to see the manufacturing portion of this project (a first-of-its-kind facility with global orders to follow) – and the thousands of associated jobs – end up here in Washington.

Fairness is fine

We are very happy to be contributing to Seattle’s boast as “The Nation’s Greenest Utility” and truly do not want any special favors from the committee or anyone else. The power from Columbia Generating Station goes to 92 utilities in six states. Seattle is one of them.

We are proud to be part of a Northwest energy mix that is among the cleanest in the world. Nuclear energy, as a safe, reliable and cost-effective generation resource, fits nicely with this mix. But that’s a common sense view, not an ideological one.

(Posted by Mike Paoli and John Dobken)

It’s about value (and the future)

Matt Wald at the Nuclear Energy Institute wrote an important piece this week about energy policy and the current state of electricity markets. (He gets added points for working in a Joni Mitchell reference). The post is anchored around a Department of Energy summit on nuclear energy economics taking place today.

His gist:

Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no special credit for being carbon-free. In fact, they have not even been included when states establish minimum quotas for clean electricity (although New York and Illinois are considering changing this). As a result, they provide a benefit of global importance, carbon emissions reduction, as well as a reduction in the pollutants that cause smog and other problems. But while the climate benefit is shared globally, other well-intended programs to conserve electricity or to promote renewable energy have skewed local electricity prices. The programs were supposed to cut carbon emissions but they have created the unintended consequence of threatening existing reactors, which produce 62 percent of all U.S. carbon-free electricity.

Two news items this week made Wald’s point and then some. They have to do with how this nation views subsidies for energy generation – and also how we value our energy generation resources.

(Note: this is not about wind versus nuclear as generation resources. We need both and companies that invest in such resources should be applauded for helping us all breathe easier).

First, details came out on a proposed 600-megawatt wind farm in Colorado at a cost of $1 billion. Platts reported the project will be eligible for the federal Production Tax Credit ($23/megawatt-hour) which pencils out to $55-65 million a year for 10 years. That’s as much as $650 million in taxpayer subsidies for the project.

According to the Denver Post, the project will create “…350 construction jobs, and then six to 10 permanent jobs.”

Now let’s go to Illinois where many people are working hard to save existing nuclear energy facilities.

The Environmental Progress organization (via Crane’s) says a plan to subsidize two nuclear plants (Clinton and Quad-Cities, owned by Exelon) would cost $250 million a year. Sounds like a lot of money and it is.

But…

The plan to save the nuclear plants pencils out to $10/megawatt-hour, or less than half the federal wind subsidy. The reason is the plants produce so much clean energy. And in terms of employment, 1,455 high-paying jobs would be saved.

Ill Subsidies

From a carbon standpoint, the Colorado wind farm is firmed by natural gas, a carbon-emitter. Nuclear is carbon-free. An earlier Platts article said, “Clinton’s shutdown also would … raise carbon emissions in Illinois by almost 8 million mt/year, the company said.”

Hearings and summits

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had a hearing on advanced nuclear energy technology where the subject of wind energy subsidies came up.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (an opponent of the subsidy and a proponent of nuclear) used the occasion to continue his call for an end to the subsidy. From E&E:

The senator, citing Congressional Budget Office reports, complained that the government spent $9 billion in 2015 and 2016 to subsidize wind energy, and only $5 billion on energy research.

Alexander called for scrapping the tax incentives and doubling expenditures on energy research to $10 billion to spur the development of new reactor designs, as well as carbon capture and sequestration from coal-fired power plants.

At the DOE summit today the subject of challenges to the economic sustainability of nuclear plants brought about the question: “Is that a flaw in the market or a flaw in subsidies?”

The answer from a panelist: “yes.”

Which means there is a lot of work to be done on both fronts to maintain (and expand) the energy resource that now provides more than 60 percent of our clean energy.

As Matt Wald concluded:

Nuclear reactors provide carbon abatement, a hedge against future changes in the price of natural gas or other fuels, “always on” reliability, electric grid stability and other benefits.

In a word, nuclear energy provides value. The time has come to recognize that value.

(Posted by John Dobken)

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