Executive Intelligence Review


Building More Nuclear Plants Lowers Electricity Prices; Closing Them Will Raise Prices

Aug. 13, 2018 (EIRNS)—A week ago, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund sued the Department of Energy for failure to turn over documents they requested under the Freedom of Information Act. These concern the “reported” Trump Administration plan, they say, “to force taxpayers and electricity customers to pay billions of dollars to bail out uneconomic coal and nuclear plants.” This “secretive plan” would “upend America’s electricity markets, and spike electricity prices,” they claim, all to “prop up failing coal and nuclear plants that are ready to be replaced with newer, cheaper competitors like solar, wind, and energy efficiency resources.” Common sense, right?

Forbes printed an article on July 31 by Michael Shellenberger, head of Environmental Progress, and climate-change promoter James Hansen, reporting on a letter they sent to President Trump and Iowa politicians, who are considering what to do about the threatened closure of the Duane Arnold nuclear plant. The authors analyzed the issue and found: The amount of “clean” non-carbon-producing electricity that would be lost by closing the 10 most vulnerable nuclear plants in the country would be 23% more than all the electricity generated by solar in 2017—a big net loss for the Sierra Club’s campaign for cutting carbon emissions.

On the accusation that nuclear energy has garnered unconscionable federal subsidies, the authors write that the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office found that so-called renewables received 94 times more in federal subsidies in 2016 than nuclear, per unit of electricity generated.

Since producing reliable baseload power to replace the lost nuclear generation will require mostly natural gas with perhaps some clean coal, closing the Duane Arnold plant would actually raise electricity prices, depending upon what replaces it. And if consumers would like to see what the future could look like, they just need to go to Germany, which is shutting down its nuclear plants. As Reuters described it last fall:

“The runaway expansion of wind turbines and solar panels has made German prices the highest in Europe since 2013, not just because of [government] surcharges but because more volatile green power capacity also necessitates new transmission grids and higher costs to manage them.”

They also require reliable duplicated backup generating stations for times when nature doesn’t cooperate.

Historically, Hansen and Shellenberger report, adding a new nuclear reactor to a site with an existing reactor is “often the lowest cost way of replacing fossil fuels.” Seven of the ten plants potentially slated for shutdown, are single-unit plants, which power can cost one-third more than those at multi-unit sites, which can share infrastructure. With few exceptions, utilities had planned to build clusters of plants at sites, until the sabotage of nuclear power starting in the mid-1970s.

In the early 2000s, when a “nuclear renaissance” was on the table, EIR printed a map of 17 sites in the U.S. with single nuclear plants, that were originally designed for multiple units (see EIR, June 17, 2005 “Start Now Building 28 U.S. Nuclear Plants!”). In addition to “saving” the operating plants under threat of “free market” closure, these “brownfield” sites should see the immediate construction of the “missing” 28 nuclear reactors.