Alternative energy sources like wind and solar are no substitute for low-cost, zero emissions nuclear power

Perry_300x225-e1413903780828Mark J. Perry
June 10, 2014  | AEIdeas

Wind and solar production won’t make much of a difference in reducing CO2 emissions, and meaningful levels of production have, at best, a negligible positive impact. By contrast, nuclear power — which is not eligible for mandatory use under the renewable power standards — supplies nearly 20% of the nation’s electricity.

The clean little secret of recent years is that nuclear power has performed very well. Nuclear power is our zero-emission energy workhorse, providing 64% of the nation’s zero-carbon energy. Over the last decade, the U.S. fleet of around 100 nuclear plants has generated electricity about 90% of the time. Thus, a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant produces three times more electricity than 1,000 megawatts of wind turbines and four times more electricity than solar panels.

Policymakers and politicians have routinely ignored the impact that the mandate for renewable power has had in more than half the country where electricity markets have been deregulated. And the result has been a catastrophe for nuclear power, with safe and efficient reactors either being shut down prematurely or at risk of being shuttered for no good reason.

The Energy Information Administration forecasts a 28% increase in U.S. power demand through 2040. Those who claim that solar and wind can meet all of our electricity needs by then are engaged in fantasy. Renewables cannot get us even halfway there. In fact, the renewable sources added in recent years have made the electric system more fragile, because of their intermittency problems.

Germany's escalating energy costs

We would be remiss if we did not consider the impact that the post-Fukushima shutdown of nuclear plants in Germany is having on electricity prices, which have jumped 50%. Today electricity prices in Germany are nearly three times the U.S. average (see chart above). The risk is the U.S. could go down the same road.

What could turn this situation around? The answers are clear. First, states have to recognize that wind and solar power are mature industries that can now compete on their own without the mandates. Second, we have to give nuclear power an opportunity to demonstrate its economic and environmental value. If nuclear power fails, the loss of fuel diversity will increase the price of power production.

In the increasingly competitive global economy, the availability of reliable and low-cost power is becoming more important. The fact is, during the nation’s recent economic recovery, the gain in manufacturing jobs was greatest in the 15 states with the lowest electricity prices, while the 15 states with the highest electricity prices lost manufacturing jobs.

The evidence is clear — low-cost power translates into jobs. And fuel diversity matters. Overlooking nuclear power as part of our country’s energy diversity would be a big mistake.

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