States Are Breathing New Air Into Nuclear Energy To Preserve Jobs And Environment
The New Jersey state legislature’s vote to pass legislation to preserve its nuclear fleet is pivotal — a move that doesn’t allow short term prices to dictate the long-term fate of a generation source that is both clean and has years to live.
The reality is that cheap natural gas has not just put nuclear energy at a disadvantage but also all other fuels, including wind and solar. And equally real is the fact that prices can gyrate, which then forces policymakers to consider forsaking fuels that have kept the lights on through thick-and-thin.
Free marketers would say to let the “best man” win while traditional environmentalists would say “good riddance” to fewer nuclear reactors, which they say are not just expensive but also problematic — that they create spent nuclear fuel that has must be buried on site.
“Nuclear is a workhorse,” Maria Korsnick, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told Wall Street financial analysts yesterday. “Getting that volume without any impact to the environment needs to be recognized and acknowledged.”
And that is now the dilemma before several state legislatures. As for New Jersey’s legislators, they voted yesterday to keep PSEG’s Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants operating — facilities that support 5,800 jobs, supply power to 3 million homes and produce 90% of the state’s carbon-free power. The governor is expected to sign the measure, which will receive an $11 per megawatt-hour subsidy.
New Jersey follows Connecticut, which is trying to preserve Dominion Energy’s facility and which voted to allow nuclear energy to participate in its clean energy procurement process. Ohio, meantime, is considering a zero-emission nuclear credit bill to save First Energy’s facilities there. And the Minnesota legislature has advanced pro-nuclear bills to keep alive two Xcel Energy nuclear plants in the state.
Those states follow Illinois and New York, which enacted laws to credit their nuclear units for the clean energy they generate by providing ratepayer subsidies. Exelon Corp., the nation’s biggest nuclear producer, is the chief beneficiary.
“If the goal is to reduce emissions, then all zero-emission technologies must be part of the solution,” Korsnick says.
Right now, 99 nuclear reactors provide about 20% of the nation’s electricity and 56% of its carbon-free power. But those 99 plants generate as much as 140 units did in the 1980s, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. That’s because they are operating at a 92% capacity factor — more than any other type of electric generation and exactly what is required to keep the lights on during cold winters when bottlenecks may prevent natural gas from flowing to where it needs to go.