Saturday, April 21, 2018

Nuke Jersey! (In the Best Way)

I am a big booster of nuclear power. It's probably the single issue I've moved furthest on over the past five years (from "not caring about it one way or the other" to "big booster"). The reason is simple: nuclear power (which is carbon emission-free) is an essential part of moving to deep decarbonization in the electricity sector, and deep decarbonization in the electricity sector is essential to stopping global warming.

On this score, recent (good) news out of New Jersey provides a compelling illustration. A new energy package offers subsidies that will keep nuclear power plants operational for the foreseeable future, while also supporting new renewable power resources. Why does that matter? Well, consider the alternative we're witnessing in Ohio and Pennsylvania:
[T]here are four nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania that are slated to close prematurely. Last week, the research consultancy Brattle Group released a report analyzing the impact of those retirements, which are all taking place in the PJM regional energy market. 
The results are startling. Closing those four nuclear plants would wipe out the carbon emissions benefits of all the renewable energy installed in the PJM energy market in the past 25 years
Simply replacing the lost nuclear power with renewable energy would cost $2 billion a year, and that enormous investment would not replace or prevent any fossil fuel generation.
The emphasis is mine, but read it again. In terms of carbon emission cuts, losing nuclear power is equivalent to losing 25 years worth of renewable energy installation. Without these nuclear plants, just getting back to even (not replacing any new fossil fuel plants) would cost $2 billion/year.

If the nuclear plants in New Jersey closed, the same thing would happen. New renewable installations would simply be replacing lost nuclear energy -- which means no net reduction in carbon emissions. With the nuclear plants still operating, by contrast, new renewable resources will knock out natural gas plants -- providing a genuine reduction in carbon emissions.

As the linked article concedes, the New Jersey package isn't policy optimal (a carbon pricing scheme would be best). But given politically feasible options, it isn't bad. Importantly, when states treat nuclear power as a linchpin of deep decarbonization, that's a major net win for climate policy hawks.

So kudos, New Jersey. Nuke away.

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