Stop prioritizing solar and wind energy over nuclear power
If there is one thing that seems certain about meeting the nation’s clean air goals, it is that shutting down nuclear power plants is nonsensical. Nuclear power doesn’t pollute the air, and it is our largest source of carbon-free energy. The climate benefits of nuclear power are unmistakable. Yet since 2013, 10 nuclear plants have either been shut down or are in the process of being retired prematurely — and the Department of Energy says that as many as 20 other nuclear plants are at high risk of being closed.
As a result of plant closings, greenhouse gas emissions have gone up, since nuclear power is most often replaced by natural gas, which is a major source of emissions. But another factor is now fueling the problem. It’s our habit of mandating the use of subsidized wind and solar power.
Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards which call for energy sources like wind and solar to generate a certain percentage of a state’s electricity. But nuclear power, though it accounts for nearly 60 percent of the nation’s carbon-free energy, is excluded from the portfolio standards in every state except Ohio, which credits “advanced nuclear power.” Consequently, at wholesale electricity auctions, electric grid operators must purchase a certain amount of solar and wind energy, even though, due to its intermittency, it is usually three or four times more expensive than nuclear-generated electricity.
Anyone who thinks that renewable portfolio standards aren’t one of the factors that have warped the economics of nuclear power ought to think again. Today nuclear power is being relegated to the same twilight zone as coal. Five new nuclear plants are being built, but other well-performing plants are being shuttered, the latest being the Quad Cities and Clinton plants in Illinois. If wind and solar were subject to the same political disadvantages under which nuclear power labors, they would no longer be guiding the world.
The problem is we’re replacing one source of emissions-free power that produces electricity around the clock – nuclear power – with solar and wind that generate electricity about a quarter of the time. If this folly is allowed to continue, there will be no progress in the efforts to reduce carbon emissions.