Sen. Alexander tilts at windmills

Wind_power_plants_in_Xinjiang,_ChinaYesterday, the Department of Energy released a major new report on wind power that, in its words, looks “at the future of wind power through 2050 and the economic benefits that come with a robust wind industry.”

That future and those benefits are quite clear. DOE predicts that wind alone can provide 10% of our electricity by 2020 (up from 4.5% today), 20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050. Toss in similar projections for solar power, add some geothermal and other renewables along with a nice serving of continued energy efficiency improvements and a less-wasteful grid, and it’s pretty easy to see how we get to a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system by mid-century and likely sooner. 

And how about jobs? The report says wind currently accounts for 50,000 jobs; by 2050 it projects that number to be 600,000 jobs. That’s a pretty healthy industry. And a lot larger than the nuclear power industry ever has been.

DOE adds that while it will cost a little extra to meet those early targets–and by a little DOE means electricity cost increases of less than 1% through 2030, by 2050 wind will actually reduce electricity costs by 2%.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), he of the “let’s build 100 new reactors now” persuasion, was apoplectic. As we reported here Monday, Alexander is not only one of the Senate’s leading nuclear and fossil fuel backers, he’s particularly hostile to wind power.

Within hours of DOE’s release, Alexander issued his own statement: “Our country uses about 25 percent of the electricity in the world. Relying on windmills to produce that electricity when nuclear power is available is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when nuclear ships are available. After 22 years of billions of dollars in subsidies, wind still produces only 4 percent of our electricity and the windmills work only about 30 percent of the time. Nuclear power produces 20 percent of our electricity and 60 percent of our clean electricity. For more jobs and cheap, reliable power, our country needs more nuclear reactors—not more windmills.”

The reality, as opposed to Alexander’s continued energy fantasies, is that the last time nuclear provided “cheap, reliable power” was, well, never. Because of its enormous construction costs–and as reactors age the costs of trying to maintain them–nuclear power is by far the most expensive source of electricity, and has been (except for new emerging technologies that typically then fall in price) for decades. There’s a reason that major nuclear utilities like Exelon, Entergy, FirstEnergy and more are all seeking ratepayer bailouts this year for their uneconomic reactors. Their electricity is too expensive to compete with other sources–especially wind power.

Reliability is becoming an increasingly tough selling point too, as reactors like Pilgrim and Calvert Cliffs couldn’t even make it through snowstorms this past winter. Not to mention that nuclear has received far more subsidies over the years than wind and solar combined.

As for jobs, nuclear’s high capital costs mean that the technology always has produced far fewer jobs per megawatt of electricity produced than renewables. Indeed, although solar remains behind wind in its percentage of our electricity generation, the solar industry currently employs more than 100,000 people and already provides more jobs than the nuclear industry.

We wouldn’t normally pick on a guy who can so easily be shown wrong like Alexander, except that Alexander is Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He considers himself to be a leading voice on nuclear power. Thus, he’s in a position to unduly affect energy policy and if the nation were ever to embark on his energy, especially nuclear, fantasies, we’d all be in big trouble: faced with skyrocketing electricity bills, piles more lethal radioactive waste, more frequent nuclear meltdowns, a worsening climate and a depressed economy. So we’re going to continue to call him out. Because we need an energy policy based on reality, not on someone whose energy policy is based on tilting at windmills and arguing with no historical or present-day justification or data that nuclear power and coal are an answer to anything.

Michael Mariotte

March 13, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/03/13/sen-alexander-tilts-at-windmills/

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