ORIGINAL REPORTING: Nuclear Power Could Be Crucial To Climate Crisis Fight
State, federal actions show growing push for a nuclear role in reaching net zero emissions; Support is rising for proposals to keep nuclear plants in business and cut emissions.
Herman K. Trabish, September 28, 2021 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: As the war in Ukraine drives natural gas access down and natural gas prices up, support grows for protecting existing nuclear.
Nuclear power advocates are increasingly emphasizing the value of existing but financially struggling U.S. nuclear plants in curbing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.
Questions about nuclear power's costs and safety that kept it at 18% to 20.6% of U.S. electricity generation from 1990 to 2020 left little support for new plants. But extreme weather-driven disasters and predictions of much worse in the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are driving new thinking about existing plants.
"The economic feasibility of existing nuclear is a very different question depending on whether the power market values clean energy," said Exelon Senior Vice President of Regulatory Policy and Analysis Mason Emnett. In a power market that compensates all clean resources, "our nuclear units could compete, operate safely and reliably, and be relicensed."
"Financial incentives for zero-carbon generation are a no-brainer," said Analysis Group Senior Advisor Susan Tierney, a former nuclear skeptic, Department of Energy (DOE) official, and Massachusetts utilities regulator. Unsafe nuclear plants should not be preserved, but incentives for existing and safe nuclear are better than rising emissions from increased use of natural gas generation, she added.
Growing support for new federal and state initiatives to support nuclear power shows clean energy advocates and power system analysts are confronting the possibility that the transition to net zero emissions may require investment in existing nuclear. That is reflected in laws enacted from 2017 to 2019 to fund zero emissions credits (ZECs) in Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. While ZEC programs differ, existing nuclear plants generally receive above the electricity market price for the power they produce based on "an established social cost of carbon" that reflects the environmental cost of emissions, a 2019 Department of Energy report said.
Exelon's successful recent fight for new ZECs for plants not included in Illinois's 2016 allocation began with a state Environmental Protection Agency-commissioned report by Synapse Energy Economics on nuclear economics. But it was the link between nuclear power and the climate crisis fight that led to the Illinois House and Senate passing comprehensive clean energy legislation this month with bipartisan support in both chambers… click here for more