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Amory Lovins: Nukes Not the Answer
New analysis from Amory B. Lovins debunks the notion that highly unprofitable, economically distressed nuclear plants should be further subsidized to meet financial, security, reliability and climate goals. The analysis, which will appear shortly in The Electricity Journal, shows that closing costly-to-run nuclear plants and reinvesting their saved operating costs in energy efficiency provides cheaper electricity, increases grid reliability and security, reduces more carbon, and preserves (not distorts) market integrity—all without subsidies.
Lovins's analysis contrasts sharply with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry's assertions that national security requires favoring coal and nuclear plants. Lovins shows that all 14 "magical properties" claimed to merit paying more for such plants (or even mandating them) are imaginary, including "large-scale" generation, dispatchability, loadshape value, having "fuel on hand," price deflation, volatile fuel prices, jobs and supporting America's nuclear weapons capability. Lovins especially debunks national-security and grid-reliability claims by showing that coal and nuclear plants actually have unique and serious vulnerabilities (as his authoritative Pentagon analysis Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security first explained in 1981).
But the most striking finding of his article, Do coal and nuclear generation deserve above-market prices?, is that prolonging the operation of uneconomic nuclear plants does not help protect the climate. This has been the main rationale, most recently in Illinois, for new multi-billion-dollar long-term nuclear subsidies to continue operating nuclear plants that failed in free-market auctions.
"I believe the claimed climate benefits of subsidizing nuclear plants are illusory, because of climate opportunity costs: avoiding and properly reinvesting nuclear operating costs could save even more carbon," said Lovins. He goes on to explain: "Buying a carbon abatement that does not save the most carbon per dollar results in emitting more carbon than necessary."
The costliest 25 percent of the U.S. nuclear fleet averages 6.2 cents per kWh just to run and keep in repair, making it uncompetitive with efficiency, most renewables and gas power. Yet utilities pay an average of just 2–3 cents per kWh to buy more-efficient use for their customers. Thus closing such uneconomic nuclear plants and buying the equivalent efficiency instead (as state regulators could require) would deliver 2–3 kWh of efficiency for each nuclear kWh no longer generated. One of those saved kWh would replace the energy generated by the nuclear plant, while the other 1–2 saved kWh could displace power generated by burning coal or natural gas.
Reinvesting those nuclear plants' avoided operating costs into efficiency can significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, closing distressed nuclear plants can indirectly save more CO2 than closing an average-cost coal plant, as long as the nuclear plants' larger operating costs are reinvested in efficiency that displaces more fossil-fueled electricity. Keeping old reactors running because they emit no carbon overlooks how best to deploy their money.
Proponents of nuclear subsidies argue they are justified because the market fails to value their low-carbon energy. In fact, these subsidies are creating grave market failures.
"Around-market subsidies ... distort pool-wide prices, crowd out competitors, discourage new entrants, destroy competitive price discovery, reduce transparency, reward undue influence, introduce bias, pick winners, and invite corruption," said Lovins.
A price on carbon, on the other hand, is an effective way to reward low-carbon energy and retain market competition, especially between nuclear and renewables—the real target of nuclear subsidies, as renewables often beat both nuclear and gas generation.
Moreover, large power stations like nuclear and coal, often called "baseload" plants, are not necessary for a reliable and resilient grid, as Sec. Perry has claimed. On the contrary, they're actually becoming a liability to operating an efficient, affordable, resilient and flexible grid, because they're so big and inflexible. This has been clearly stated by former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, National Grid CEO Steve Holliday and General Electric, confirmed by detailed analyses by the Department of Energy and U.S. grid operators nationwide, and demonstrated by European utilities. PG&E's multi-stakeholder plan to phase out its well-running Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and replace it with cheaper efficiency, renewables and other carbon-free resources confirms this modern way to improve the grid while saving both carbon and money.
"Modern renewables and demand-side resources are rapidly diversifying U.S. electricity from vulnerability towards resilience. Retaining obsolete and less resilient technologies for the sake of diversification would advance this goal in name but contradict it in practical effect," Lovins stated.
Distributed generators largely or wholly bypass grid failure—the source of nearly all U.S. power outages. Interconnected microgrids that exchange power with the larger grid but can isolate themselves and keep running throughout a grid malfunction are especially resilient. That's the Pentagon's strategy for resiliently powering America's military bases.
Despite the overwhelming evidence and several studies from his own Department and its Laboratories, Sec. Perry has ordered a staff study, expected shortly, to confirm his desire to keep costly coal and nuclear plants running, "but finding credible support won't be easy," commented Lovins, because virtually all authoritative reviews found the opposite. Lovins does agree with Sec. Perry that energy subsidies should be phased out—but all, not just some.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.