Why we shouldn’t bail out big nuclear
The future isn’t what it used to be. We were promised flying cars and jetpacks and bionic limbs and ridiculously cheap nuclear power. Well, cars are still firmly situated on the ground, and Illinois and New York approved massive bailouts for nuclear power plants.
Dominion Energy, the owner of the Millstone nuclear power plant in Connecticut, tried to get the state legislature to grant it special status to keep the lights on. That the plant could eventually close might be a bummer for Dominion, but it ought to be great news for consumers, especially those living on fixed incomes. The price of power and heating is dropping, so now consumers and taxpayers will pay lower utility bills.
Not surprisingly, Dominion Energy doesn’t want the nuclear plant to close and is still trying to wrangle something with state legislators. The move to keep the plant open is happening despite opposition from groups across the political spectrum, from the AARP to the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. Other states have considered such requests and either doled out taxpayer money or socked ratepayers and taxpayers with higher rates (in Illinois and New York), or in several cases told the nuclear operators to go away (in Florida, Vermont, Wisconsin, and California).
Connecticut ought to reject the special pleading and let the plant “close,” as the newspaper headlines would have it. In reality, there won’t be a full closure any time soon. The company would likely idle the plant (6 years from now) and leave in a skeleton crew. In the event that there was an energy shortfall, they’d bring it back online to take advantage of the higher energy prices. That, in turn, could help push the price back down.
That’s how markets are supposed to work.
When there is a commodity in abundance ? in this case, fuel to fire generators to give us more power ? the price of that commodity falls. If supplies of fuel run low, the price climbs. And one kind of fuel can be subbed in for another as the new upstart fuel gets cheaper.
Sometimes this shift prices whole classes of fuel right out of the marketplace. We no longer hunt whales for their oil. Not many people are upset about that.