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KING: If You Want To Get Climate Serious, Get Nuclear Serious

If you have gasped in Dallas, sweltered in London or baked in Tokyo this summer, you will likely believe that global warming is real.

You are also likely to believe that governments — at least the caring ones — are desperate to cut the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from power plants and vehicles.

More electricity is needed to cut the greenhouse-gas emissions from cars, trucks, buses, trains and, eventually, aircraft. The government figures that U.S. electricity demand will double by 2050, even as the fuels producing it change.

There are three technologies for producing new large quantities of electricity without producing greenhouse gases: wind, solar and nuclear.

Leading global energy institutions, including the International Energy Agency, are adamant that nuclear must be part of the future energy mix. Nuclear is desirable in many ways:

—It isn’t dependent on foreign supply except for some heavy components, like the castings for large pressure vessels. If needed in newer reactors, these can be acquired from reliable allies, including South Korea and Japan. Alternatively, we could reinvigorate our large component industry.

—When it comes to the supply chain, nuclear component manufacture can be brought on shore. It doesn’t have a Chinese component. Wind is dependent on rare earths — they are a multiplier in wind turbines, increasing output up to five times. More than 90 percent of rare earths are processed in China, even if they are mined elsewhere. It will take precious decades to replicate the Chinese rare earths infrastructure. Also, China dominates the manufacture of cheap solar cells.

—Nuclear offers long-term planning: The design life of a plant can be as long as 100 years. These plants are clean, safe — and getting safer. They have a high energy density and low land use, which contrast with solar and wind.

Incredibly, the world, outside of China and Russia, seems to have lost the ability to build nuclear plants. It is as though talent and institutional knowledge have disappeared. Those under construction are running many times over their projected costs and a decade or more behind schedule. They represent a systemic industrial failure, whether it is Plant Vogtle in Georgia, Flamanville-3 in France (which gets 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear; we get 19 percent), or Olkiluoto 3 in Finland.

At the heart of these failures — complex and far-reaching — is a failure of welds and a shortage of welders.

As a first step, the United States, in conjunction with the nuclear manufacturing industry, needs to find out what it is that we have lost in expertise and how to recapture it. We built more than 100 reactors in the 1960s and 1970s. There were some delays back then, but they were nothing like the catastrophic ones of today. Particularly, examining what has gone wrong with nuclear building needs to concentrate on welding. Is this an old trade that needs updating? Can we fix some of the human error that has plagued big industrial welding, from nuclear plants to new ships, through automation and AI?

Not since the 1960s, I am told by nuclear lobbyists, has the public policy apparatus been so aligned to favor nuclear. One of these lobbyists said, “Both houses of Congress are on board, the administration is on board, the regulatory agencies are on board, and public acceptance is greater than it has been in years. But the industry is on its back.”

The issue, to my mind, is not whether we can relearn how to do what we used to do but that there is no mechanism for the utilities to buy and build nuclear plants, whether they are the new generation of small modular reactors now under development or updated, large (about 1,000 megawatts), more traditional light water reactors. No utility can take the risk in the deregulated world. It is too much to ask.

The nation needs a coherent plan whereby a new generation of nuclear power can be built quickly. It has been done in the past, and it can be done again.

I would suggest — as I have suggested over many years — that nuclear needs government safety oversight, proliferation safeguards and approval that a tranche of reactors be built on government sites, financed by the government and sold to commercial consortia to operate. These needn’t necessarily be utility companies. Wind and solar are being developed by merchant companies in many cases.

There is a national climate crisis, and a national electricity crisis is building. Utilities are having to produce more electricity while giving up coal and gas to do it. Nuclear is the strong third leg of the future electricity stool.

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YAW: RGGI Fails Pennsylvania on its Most Basic Promise

I’ve sounded the alarm over the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in many public settings over the past several months. This undertaking, an executive fiat ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf, will impact the life and wallet of virtually every Pennsylvanian and deliver almost nothing in terms of improved air quality.

At the outset, the stated purpose of RGGI is to reduce greenhouse gases. In theory, this works through an auction that is open to power producers and industrial plants in 12 states that buy “credits” to offset the excess emissions their facilities generate. The proceeds from the auction sales are then distributed to various government programs, the majority of which have nothing to do with the environment.

The current RGGI states include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. They will control the amount of credits Pennsylvania can sell at auction and, as an inevitable consequence, will dictate many decisions affecting our environment and economy.

In reality, RGGI forces Pennsylvania to undermine its own position as a top energy producer and hand over economic control to a collection of states that bear little resemblance to us. This is troubling when we consider that New England would prefer to buy natural gas from Russia rather than permit the construction of a pipeline that would connect their region to Pennsylvania’s plentiful supply.

Eight RGGI states report some of the highest electricity rates in the nation. In some RGGI states, residents pay double the rates paid by Pennsylvanians. According to a study done by PJM, the operator of the 13-state power grid which controls the flow of our electricity, RGGI will cause an 18 percent increase in rates – nine times larger than the spike the Department of Environment Protection (DEP) claims will occur through 2030.

DEP hails the projected 2 percent reduction in rates seen in other states as proof that RGGI works. This is misleading, at best, when we consider that those residents pay 50 percent to 75 percent more for electricity compared to Pennsylvanians. A 2 percent decrease when rates are nearly twice as high translates into a negligible savings – if at all – in Pennsylvania.

In 2019, the state predicted that clearing prices for the credits bought at auction would not rise above $3 per ton. RGGI’s most recent auction, completed on Dec. 1, set a clearing price of $13 per ton – more than four times the rate DEP forecasted and a 40 percent increase over the Sept. 8 auction clearing price alone. At current prices, the Wolf RGGI scheme translates to an approximately $750 million annual tax on Pennsylvania consumers.

It gets worse. According to DEP’s own modeling, 90.1 percent of the emissions reduced in Pennsylvania will be offset by increased pollution from non-RGGI states in our electric grid. A similar report by Penn State University shows that 86 percent of the electric capacity lost in Pennsylvania under RGGI will be replaced by increased coal-fired generation in neighboring non-participating states.

Make no mistake, RGGI depends on continued pollution. Without it, there would be no need for credits. With no need for credits, there is no market and thus no one would need to participate in RGGI’s auctions. So, rather than curbing environmental air pollution, RGGI depends on continuing it.

Some estimates forecast that in the first decade of RGGI, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions will be less than 1 percent. This is despite the fact that, due to state-of-the art technology, CO2 emissions in Pennsylvania from fossil fuel generation have already been reduced by 38 percent since 2002 – more than all RGGI states combined.

A DEP presentation on July 22, 2020 indicated that great improvements had been achieved in ambient air quality in Pennsylvania. How did this great news in July become such a problem that only RGGI could fix just a few months later? The answer is politics.

RGGI targets coal-fired electric generation plants and the thousands of skilled trade jobs these facilities support. States, and even countries, with far fewer environmental controls in place than those in Pennsylvania, will absorb those jobs. Why would we close highly regulated Pennsylvania electric plants and send that generation capacity and those opportunities elsewhere?

No matter how its viewed, RGGI is not good for the environment or the economy of Pennsylvania.

RGGI supporters conveniently ignore that RGGI will leave thousands unemployed, skyrocket electricity bills for everyone – including our most vulnerable populations – and serve as an unauthorized carbon tax implemented without legislative approval. It’s just another way that the current Administration wants to bypass our government’s fundamental checks and balances to further policy goals that harm the very residents they mean to help.

In its simplest terms, RGGI fails miserably in accomplishing its only stated purpose.

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