Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wind and Nuclear Power:

What's Good for the Goose...

There is an old saying that goes, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." (I may appear to be dating myself, but in my defense, my mother used to use it.) I thought of that expression the other day when two pieces of news crossed my desk at the same time.

First, someone circulated a link to a report produced by Mark Cooper from the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School detailing why, according to their analysis, we can't have safe nuclear power at an affordable cost. While there is lots to challenge in that report, I know others can do a better job of that than I can. What I would like to focus on is the part of his argument that says, in essence, that nuclear power cannot stand on its own two feet, has always needed all kinds of government subsidies to exist, and always will.

The reason I want to focus on that point is that, the very same day that I read his report, I saw in my newspaper that a committee in the Maryland House of Delegates has approved a proposal to add a surcharge to the utility bills of Maryland ratepayers in order to finance a planned offshore wind farm.

Since I'm a Maryland resident, this was of more than academic interest to me. Granted, the fee is only supposed to be $1.50 a month, and granted, that won't break the bank for most people. But I don't like to throw money away, so it galls me to think that I may be billed against my will for these windmills--even if it is $18 a year.

Furthermore, there are already hints that the $1.50/month is just the opening bid, and that the ultimate burden to the ratepayer will be much higher.

The Washington Post published an excellent editorial on why this Maryland windmill tax is a bad idea. The most persuasive argument in the editorial, in my mind, was that Maryland actually has a law that mandates a 20% share for renewable energy in Maryland by 2022, but leaves it to the marketplace to decide which renewable energy sources help supply that mix. They point to disagreements on what should be considered renewable, but argue that, if that is a problem, that point should be addressed. The competition that the renewable energy mandate sought to encourage should not be undercut by having the government selectively pick "winners."

What caught my attention, obviously, was hearing on the one hand that nuclear power is doomed because it needs government support, and yet being told on the other hand that I should personally fork up some of my own hard-owned money for a government-led scheme to support wind power in my state.

Maybe the truth is that virtually all new, clean energy sources need some type of support. But in that case, I would extend the argument made in the editorial and say that the forms and degree of support needed should be considered in the selection of energy sources. We should not, however, reject one source of energy for requiring government support when we offer government-mandated support to another source of energy.


1 comment:

  1. There is a reasonable expectation that new nuclear power plants will run for 60 years and have an O&M cost of less than $20/MWh. This is based on experience.

    Based on experience, as long as there is a $20/MWh production tax credit we will keep building and maintaining wind as a source of power. So far experience has shown that there are not 20 year old wind turbines that are economical. That could change.

    I think it is good policy to provide incentives to high capital cost projects that reduce the demand for fossil fuel. It is much better than the current policy of making fossil fuels expensive through back door environmental regulation thats do not fix an environmental problem.