The International Energy Agency (IEA) is composed of 29 countries, which are required to be members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The agency was founded in response to the oil crisis of 1973-74 “to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets,” but has since expanded its mission “to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries and beyond.”
The IEA publishes the annual World Energy Outlook and purports to be the world’s most expert and influential organization on energy issues, or, as the IEA itself puts it, “It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative statistics, analysis and recommendations.”
In short, you’d think they know what they’re talking about.
Two items this week indicate they don’t.
The first is an article posted yesterday by Doug Koplow, probably the nation’s foremost expert on energy subsidies, on the Earthtrack blog. Koplow attended a two-day IEA meeting in April and has now set his thoughts down, including a memo to IEA, about the nuclear power chapter of the next World Energy Outlook as well as another document the agency is preparing on nuclear power issues.
“When participants discussed subsidies, they were focused solely on subsidies to renewables. Without irony, some of the participants stated in one comment that nuclear itself was not subsidized and in another talked of the importance of government guarantees to nuclear construction on a massive scale. The belief that nuclear was the only viable mechanism to provide large scale, low-carbon power was also widespread.”
While the apparent inability of most nuclear proponents and nuclear utilities to grasp just how heavily subsidized the industry is is common, one would think an independent “expert” agency like IEA would be able to recognize that. In the U.S., those subsidies include taxpayer loans and state-level programs like CWIP; the Price-Anderson Act; the Nuclear Waste Fund–temporarily on hold; billions and billions over the year’s in federal R&D; decommissioning funds collected entirely and separately from ratepayers, and more. Internationally, the nuclear industry is often even more subsidized, with more direct and expansive government support for reactor construction.
The nuclear industry, especially the nation’s largest nuclear utility, Exelon, has no qualms about condemning the federal Production Tax Credit for new wind power as an unwarranted subsidy for renewables. They unfailingly forget that new nuclear power has the exact same tax credit–with one key difference: the wind tax credit is typically renewed for only a year or two at a time, which causes unnecessary instability in that industry; the nuclear tax credit has been on the books since the 2005 energy bill passed, and doesn’t expire until 2029.
Ok, there is one other key difference: the wind tax credit actually does succeed in incentivizing the deployment of low-cost wind power, to the chagrin of utilities like Exelon whose reactors can’t compete with wind; but while the utilities building the Vogtle and Summer reactors certainly plan to take advantage of the nuclear tax credit if they ever succeed in completing construction, the credit hasn’t proved a sufficient incentive for more reactor construction. Even with the credit, nuclear is just too expensive and risky.
And on one level, it’s not surprising that the IEA participants believe only nuclear power can be a large scale, low-carbon power source–the agency has long looked down on renewables as a legitimate source of electricity.
Just take a look at the graph at the top of this page, which compares IEA projections for deployment of renewables compared to Greenpeace’s projections over the decade 2000-2010. Neither got it right–actual renewable deployment exceeded both projections, but Greenpeace obviously was much closer to reality.
The lesson? If you want to hear from energy experts, better listen to Greenpeace before the IEA….
July 17, 2014
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