Vogtle: at $65 billion and counting, it’s a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics

Vogtle Units 3 (left) and 4, July 30, 2015. After 41 months of construction, the project is 39 months behind schedule. Photo by High Flyer, special to Savannah River Site Watch.

Vogtle Units 3 (left) and 4, July 30, 2015. After 41 months of construction, the project is 39 months behind schedule. Photo by High Flyer, special to Savannah River Site Watch.

Georgia is one state that you would think would be wary of nuclear power economics. The first two reactors at Georgia Power’s Vogtle site, which came online in the late 1980s, were a record 800% over budget.

That is a number that is almost impossible to grasp. Nothing goes 800% over budget–in the real world, projects get cancelled well before reaching that point.

I’m thinking of making about $100,000 worth of improvements to my aging house desperately in need of them. 800% over budget would take that to $800,000. But I could buy a very nice house for that instead, even in the Washington DC area. Of course, I can’t afford an $800,000 house and can’t afford a project that is 800% over budget, either. Most people can’t. Neither can businesses. So if those improvements start to creep up from the budget–in my case if they go more than about 10% over budget–the whole project gets the kibosh.

Sane people do not let projects get 800% over budget. Unless, perhaps, if someone else is putting up the money. And that’s exactly what happened with the first two Vogtle reactors–the overruns were pushed on to ratepayers; Georgia Power had to eat some small portion of them, but basically ratepayers were forced to pick up the tab.

And in a case of history repeating itself as predicted–as farce–that’s exactly what is happening with the two Vogtle reactors under construction now.

When the project was announced, and when the utilities building the project first applied for taxpayer loans to help finance the project, Southern Company (Georgia Power’s parent) said the two reactors would cost about $14 billion and would be online in 2016 and 2017.

That was back around 2008. Vogtle got its taxpayer loan promise in February 2010 and its construction permit in February 2012. Three and a half years later, Vogtle is more than three years behind schedule–39 months behind, in fact.

And the cost of building Vogtle has, not surprisingly, gone up. Way up. Right now, it’s somewhere around $16 billion and rising fast–the over-budget portion caused by the delays alone is $2 million per day. And as you can see from the photo at the top of the page, taken last Thursday, construction still has quite a long way to go.

Georgia Power already has run through half of its federal loan money, paid for by all U.S. taxpayers, not just Georgia ratepayers. Some of the rest of the taxpayer loan (the loans totaled more than $8 billion) was received later by the other partners, so perhaps they haven’t run through their share yet.

In any case, the supposed point of getting the loan, and of charging ratepayers for construction costs as they are incurred (a concept called Construction Work in Progress, barred in most states), and of building the reactors in the first place, was to save ratepayers money. That’s what Southern Company says anyway.

And they run off numbers and argue that building Vogtle, even with the overruns and delays, will save ratepayers $3 billion compared to building a gas-powered plant, which probably would already be operational, by the way, except that neither it nor Vogtle actually are needed.

But those numbers, despite the utility’s protestations, no longer add up.

In fact, according to former Georgia Public Service Commissioner Bobby Baker, the total current benefit to ratepayers–calculated from utility-supplied figures–is $208 million.

But that’s assuming the reactors are online in time, by December 31, 2020, to receive federal production tax credits of $522 million each. Vogtle-4 probably isn’t going to make it. And Vogtle-3 is rather iffy. Any more delays will probably force the utility to concentrate on Vogtle-3, which will make Vogtle-4 even later and cost even more.

If you take that $208 million and subtract $522 million for Vogtle-4 not meeting the deadline, you get negative benefits. If neither reactor makes the deadline, the negative benefits start to get very large. And with costs rising at the rate of $2 million/day, the negative benefits get larger still.

If one–or both–of the reactors gets cancelled before operation, then the negative benefits grow even more. Unless the cancellation occurs before too much more money is spent–then cancellation would turn into a net benefit for the ratepayers by avoiding the costs that have not yet been incurred. Sure, Georgia Power might take a hit and a lot of money that already has been spent would be wasted. But at least ratepayers could breathe easier.

Vogtle-3 and -4 are not at the 800% overrun level, yet. Georgia ratepayers have to hope they won’t get close to that. But history isn’t reassuring, and the modular construction concept adopted by Southern Company that was supposed to keep costs down and prevent overruns hasn’t exactly panned out, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Other utilities were looking at the Vogtle project–the first that had been approved for a construction license in 30+ years–as the harbinger. If the giant Southern Company couldn’t build Vogtle close to budget and close to schedule, then probably no utility could. With the weight of the nuclear “renaissance” on its shoulders, Vogtle already has failed that test. There is nothing at all in this project–which had every possible benefit from CWIP to federal loans–that would make another utility want to try to build a reactor.

The economics of nuclear construction are just too staggeringly awful. But it gets worse.

Because, as former PSC Commissioner Baker said, the total lifetime cost of Vogtle, including construction, is now estimated at $65 billion–a number too high for “staggering” to apply anymore.

Two commenters to the article came up with two radically different estimates of what that means for the kilowatt/hour price for Vogtle’s electricity. One says 6.1 cents, the other 15 cents. The real cost will depend on how well Vogtle runs once it’s built; if, in fact, both units actually are completed. Assuming they are–at this point not a safe assumption–the real number probably would fall between those two guesses.

Except that the $65 billion number doesn’t include decommissioning and radioactive waste disposal costs, both of which will be added to ratepayers’ bills–and probably the rest of us taxpayers as well when the amount collected proves to be too small, as is the case with every other reactor in the country.

Meanwhile, utilities across the country, including Georgia Power, are buying solar power for 5 cents kilowatt/hour and less. And, unlike Vogtle, where the costs keep rising, solar’s price keeps falling.

Georgia ratepayers can only hope the Georgia PSC wakes up in time to prevent any more cost overruns from being passed on to them. The rest of us can only hope Georgia Power and the other smaller utilities can actually repay their taxpayer loan. Actually, we could also hope that everyone involved will come to their senses and end the project now, before it gets any worse.

After all, if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result then everyone involved in Vogtle-3 and -4 is on the verge of committal.

Correction, as in Doh! Okay, so my math can get a little challenged on deadline….The example of an 800% increase in the cost of renovations to my house is, of course–as several people gracefully pointed out–wrong. An 800% increase to a $100,000 project would have a final cost of $900,000, not $800,000 as I wrote above. I could get an even nicer house for that…and hopefully, if we do decide to do those renovations, our math while we monitor their costs will be a little more accurate.

Michael Mariotte

August 2, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/08/03/vogtle-at-65-billion-and-counting/

Your contributions make publication of GreenWorld possible. If you value GreenWorld, please make a tax-deductible donation here and ensure our continued publication. We gratefully appreciate every donation of any size.

Comments are welcome on all GreenWorld posts! Say your piece. Start a discussion. Don’t be shy; this blog is for you.

If you’d like to receive GreenWorld via e-mail, send your name and e-mail address to nirsnet@nirs.org and we’ll send you an invitation. Note that the invitation will come from a GreenWorld@wordpress.com address and not a nirs.org address, so watch for it. Or just put your e-mail address into the box in the right-hand column.

If you like GreenWorld, help us reach more people. Just use the icons below to “like” our posts and to share them on the various social networking sites you use. And if you don’t like GreenWorld, please let us know that too. Send an e-mail with your comments/complaints/compliments to nirsnet@nirs.org. Thank you!

GreenWorld is crossposted on tumblr at https://www.tumblr.com/blog/nirsnet

17 thoughts on “Vogtle: at $65 billion and counting, it’s a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics

  1. atomdotgirl

    Hello from Down South! NO NUKES Y’ALL! Great blog Michael. You’ve got your finger on the pulse of it in Georgia, for sure. The new Clean Power Plan looks hopeful to open the way for serious discussion of canceling Plant Vogtle and meeting any need with smaller scale renewable expansion. Nuclear Watch South has analyzed 10 years of Georgia Power annual report data which shows that Georgia Power’s sales are flat, belying the company’s 4.1% annual growth forecast used to justify building two reactors, leaving the company quite overbuilt with 45% excess capacity (17% is industry average). See: http://www.nonukesyall.org/Vogtle.html

    For more details of the staggering mismanagement of Vogtle I&II enjoy this article by former NIRS board member Tim Johnson – Chronology of a Boondoggle (scroll down): http://www.nonukesyall.org/Vogtle_profile.html

  2. Peter Sipp

    I was in Ga. when the first two reactors were built. My electric bill went up 33% and I didn’t even put so much as a night lite in my house to warrant that much of an increase !!! Yes stop work on 3&4 now. Atomic energy will be clean, safe and affordable as soon as the Sun starts rising in the West.

    1. Richard Reis

      I agree with you in principle. However, I’d say that atomic energy is clean, safe, and cheap everyday the sun rises in the east, because the sun is an enormous nuclear furnace safely 93 million miles away and it’s now a very affordable source for electrical energy.

  3. damchodronma

    Nuclear is not ‘carbon free’ nor green!
    >>Powering the World With Wind, Water, and Sunlight: Mark Jacobson at TEDxPaloAltoHighSchool less than 17 minutes

    Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford:
    … testified three times for the U.S. Congress. Nearly a thousand researchers have used computer models he has developed. 2005: American Meteorological Society Henry G. Houghton Award for “significant contributions to modeling aerosol chemistry and to understanding the role of soot and other carbon particles on climate.” 2013: received an American Geophysical Union Ascent Award for “his dominating role in the development of models to identify the role of black carbon in climate change” and the Global Green Policy Design Award for the “design of analysis and policy framework to envision a future powered by renewable energy.” He has also served on the Energy Efficiency and Renewables advisory committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.”

    Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs) About 100% Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All-Sector Energy Plans for the 50 United States

    “Q: What is the purpose of these plans?
    A: The purpose of these plans is to provide policy makers and the public with a technically- and economically-feasible pathway toward a sustainable, secure, and reliable energy infrastructure that eliminates health and environmental problems due to air, water, and soil pollution and global warming. The plans, if implemented, will result in long-term energy stability, energy price stability, human and environmental health, job growth, and energy security.

    Q: Why don’t the plans include power generation from nuclear energy plants?
    A: Nuclear energy is not included in the solution because it results in 9-25 times more carbon and air pollution than does wind energy per unit energy produced, partly due to the fossil energy used to mine and refine uranium continuously during the plant’s life, partly due to the construction of the plant, and partly due to the fact that the time between planning and operation of a new nuclear facility is 10-19 years, whereas that of the proposed technologies (wind, water, and sunlight) is much less, generally 2-5 years for wind and solar, resulting in opportunity-cost emissions from the background fossil-fuel energy sector during the period that nuclear is waiting to come online. In addition, nuclear poses catastrophic risks due to the historic worldwide relationship between nuclear energy facilities and nuclear weapons proliferation and due to nuclear reactor accidents. Further, in the U.S., radioactive waste currently accumulates at nuclear energy facilities, and no plan exists to store that waste permanently.”

    Link for WWS energy plans
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/WWS-50-USState-plans.htm l

  4. David Walters

    Irresponsible article. “It’s on the internet so it must be true!”. This essay is basically completely false.

    “The projected revenues from the two new nuclear plants at Vogle, Georgia, USA were calculated to be $65 billion over a 60 year projected plant lifetime1. Each plant is 1117 MWe in capacity (net). Assuming a conservative 90% capacity is reached2. They can be expected to generate 1056.77 TWh of electricity, or 1056.77 billion units (a ‘unit’ is a kWh in Britain)3. The expected revenue works out at US 6.15¢ per kWh. In Britain my current electricity tariff is 14.04p per kWh (equivalent to: 21.9¢/kWh)4. So I’m paying 3.56 times the cost of Vogle electricity. I should be so lucky to have such low cost nuclear power.”
    FULL: http://nukespp.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/green-fud-about-new-vogle-nuclear.html

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Actually, we noted that one analysis projects a cost of 6.1 cents per kilowatt/hour for Vogtle, but added–responsibly we would argue–that the actual number depends on how well Vogtle performs over the years (and what its actual construction costs turn out to be–at the moment they’re still rising, which means projections based on current estimates will be wrong). A 90% capacity rate is not conservative at all, in fact it’s very high for a lifetime capacity projection–especially for a reactor design that has never been used before. Electricity rates in the U.S. are lower than UK, so comparisons of that sort are irrelevant. What is relevant is that 1) even the lowest kw/h projections for Vogtle are higher than current solar costs; 2) Vogtle’s construction costs are rising, quickly, so kw/h rates will be rising as well; 3) if the commenter is correct that revenue is projected to be $65 billion over its lifetime, and the former PSC member cited in the article is correct that lifetime costs for Vogtle will be $65 billion before decommissioning and radioactive waste costs, then costs will surpass revenue–not a good place to be. The result will be even higher electricity prices and more misery for Georgia ratepayers. The more responsible course of action would be to stop construction on Vogtle now (especially since its power is not even needed) and cut the losses before they grow even worse. For whatever power turns out to be needed, solar plus storage can easily provide that at a lower cost–and more cleanly–than Vogtle would be able to provide.

      1. Mark Bahner

        “…if the commenter is correct that revenue is projected to be $65 billion over its lifetime, and the former PSC member cited in the article is correct that lifetime costs for Vogtle will be $65 billion before decommissioning and radioactive waste costs, then costs will surpass revenue–not a good place to be.”

        The PSC member (Bobby Baker) didn’t say that “costs” will be $65 billion. The phrase he used was “revenue requirements.” It’s not really clear what he meant by that. For example, do the “revenue requirements” include some expected rate of return on investment? If so, then “costs” are not the same as “revenue requirements.”

      2. Michael Mariotte Post author

        I don’t know why this issue has been so difficult for some people to understand: the company was asked how much revenue they need to complete building the reactors and then operate and maintain them for a supposed 60-year lifespan. In other words, how much the whole project will cost over its lifetime. Rate of return, or profit, is not part of that formulation; it is not required to build, operate and maintain the reactors (it surely will be required by Southern Co. shareholders, and will be paid for by Georgia ratepayers, but that’s a different issue). It’s pretty much that simple.

      3. David Walters

        Michael why is the is never done with any other project? What is the revenue needed for solar 1 in Nevada? Or the latest windfarm proposal? Yes, you’d generate 65$ billion dollars in revenue which in *return* society would receive 1250MWhrs x 60 year minus whatever down time for fuel changes are. That is CHEAP for the energy over a lifetime for the plant. As no other project is *EVER* calculated as a ‘cost’, this is the worse sophist argument about the plant ‘costing’ this amount of money. It is dishonest and you know it is. In fact, the $65 billion dollars now appear to be a great investment of the $10 billion or whatever it costs to build the two reactor. It’s proves it worth by several hundred %. We are talking about producing a reliable source of energy for 60 years, around the clock. Not to shabby.

      4. Michael Mariotte Post author

        No, the electricity from Vogtle will not be cheap. Like the other nuclear troll commenting on this story (and sorry, these are the last comments I’m publishing), you too are missing the basic point explained in my response above. The lowest estimate for Vogtle electricity is 6+ cents kw/h–at a time when utilities are buying solar for 5 cents and under and wind for 3 cents and under. And given that Vogtle’s costs are only going to rise, while renewables’ costs continue to fall, the gap will only grow wider. As I point out in the article, and in several of my replies to comments, there is no longer a net economic benefit to Georgia ratepayers, period. The only question is how high the net negative will grow. You can try to spin this any way you like; the simple fact is the two Vogtle reactors under construction, like their predecessors, are an economic debacle for the people of Georgia.

  5. David Walters

    Michael, this is sophistry. That is not how “costs” are determined. Should we go over what the ‘costs’ and wind are for solar in Germany if you go by feed-in tariffs and revenue flow??? Seriously? You are confusing prices with costs. ALWAYS and without exceptions costs are what it costs to deploy any given technology. For example: the costs to the rate payers for the extra capital need to pay off the nuclear plants. It doesn’t include revenue flow…because if you did this solar and wind right now everywhere in the world would be the most expensive.

    This is why the “$65 billion” is not a cost but how much gross income can be achieved by the two reactors over 60 years (likely they will last longer). Every renewable energy project measures costs the same way, and excludes the subsidies as part of revenue from the costs. It does the anti-nuclear movement to put out a fake figure as is done here as it is immediately torn apart by anyone with any knowledge of how to calculate costs.

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      I’m sorry David, but either you didn’t read the source material very carefully or you didn’t read the article very carefully. As we stated, the lifetime cost of Vogtle–assuming construction costs don’t go up any further and not counting decommissioning and radioactive waste disposal costs (both of which will be substantial) are estimated by former Georgia PSC Commissioner Bobby Baker at $65 billion. This was put in terms of “revenue” as in revenue Georgia Power will need to pay for these costs over the years. It is not gross income nor “revenue” in the sense of money coming in from the sale of electricity. After the article was published, we received from Mr. Baker his full statement, which I’ve copied below.

      The result is that depending on what Vogtle’s capacity factors turn out to be, and how long the reactors end up operating (assuming both are even completed, we actually believe Unit-4, at the least, will never be finished), the electricity costs to consumers will end up being–as you predicted–around 6 cents kilowatt/hour to 15 cents kilowatt/hour with a lower capacity factor or even more if Unit-4 is indeed not completed. Currently, utility-scale solar in Georgia and many other locations is going for about 5 cents kilowatt/hour. Without the subsidies Vogtle is receiving (taxpayer loan, CWIP), Vogtle’s costs would be higher just as without the relatively minor subsidies solar receives, its costs would be higher. In fact, whether Vogtle ever provides a net benefit to consumers depends quite a bit on another subsidy–the tax credit (the same as solar receives) it will receive if it can get both reactors on-line by December 21, 2020 (as the article notes).

      I will finally point out that we are not putting out any figures, fake or not; we are simply reporting on the figures others have calculated–and we do not believe them to be “fake.”

      Here is former PSC Commissioner Baker’s statement (Baker is currently with the law firm Freeman, Mathis and Gray):

      Wed Jul 1, 2015

      Georgia Utility Update – July 2015
      Hearing in Vogtle Review Provides New Information on Project’s Cost
      By: Bobby Baker
      At the June 23rd hearing on the 12th Vogtle Construction Monitoring Review the Public Service Commission (“PSC”) Staff expert witnesses provided new information regarding the actual financial impact of the current 39 month delay in the construction schedule for Vogtle Units 3 and 4. While it is hardly newsworthy to report that the Project has fallen further behind schedule and the overall costs have increased, the PSC’s witnesses explained how the cost increases impact each residential ratepayer, quantified the total revenue requirement for the Project and refuted the Company’s claims regarding the alleged benefits of the Project.
      Staff Witness Philip Hayet testified that the current 39 month delay would add $319.00 or $6.26 per month to the average residential ratepayer’s bill beginning in April 2016 and continuing to June 2020 in the form of higher fuel costs and Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery (“NCCR”) tariff payments. Of the additional $319.00 in costs, 59% of the increase or $187.00 would be through higher NCCR monthly charges. The cost increase is especially significant to businesses because the $319.00 increase was for the average residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month. Obviously, electric customers with higher monthly electric usage would be paying significantly more in fuel and NCCR costs.
      During cross examination concerning the current cost projection of $7.5 billion for Georgia Power Company’s share of the Project it was disclosed for the first time that the total revenue requirement just for Georgia Power’s share of the Project would be $30 billion. Knowing that the total revenue requirement for the project is four times the construction costs gives consumers an ability to evaluate the total Project costs. The current total revenue requirement for the Project is approximately $65 billion.
      In the past few Vogtle reviews it was revealed that the cost for every day of delay is $2 million. This calculation was further clarified when it was explained that it did not contain payment of any taxes. The gross up on the $2 million daily cost with taxes would be approximately $2.92 million.
      Finally, the PSC Staff witness refuted the Company’s claims regarding the alleged ratepayer benefits of the Project by testifying that the remaining $2.7 billion in alleged benefits claimed by the Company had shrunk down to no more than $208 million. This figure would be further reduced to negative $300 million if 50% of the production tax credits were removed from the calculation. Based on the Project’s current schedule it is highly unlikely that Unit 4 will be on line by December 31, 2020 to be eligible to receive $522 million in production tax credits.
      While the testimony at the June 23 hearing was not reassuring to ratepayers, it did provide a clearer financial picture regarding the true costs of Vogtle Units 3 and 4, and reaffirmed the fact that the Project would see more construction delays.

  6. Mark Bahner

    “I don’t know why this issue has been so difficult for some people to understand:…”

    Oh, good grief. I also don’t know why this issue is so difficult for you to understand. I thought my comments were pretty straightforward.

    Here is the exact quote you referenced: “The current total ***revenue requirement*** for the Project is approximately $65 billion.” (emphasis added)

    It says, “revenue requirement,” *not* “cost.” The two are *not* the same thing, which you would know from a simple Google search for the phrase “revenue requirement in electricity” (or “define revenue requirement”):

    Calculating the Revenue Requirement in Electricity

    From page 2 of that presentation: “Required Revenues = Expenses +
    (Rate Base x Rate of Return)”

    Or do you think Erin Laudenslager (CPA) also doesn’t know what she’s talking about (and you do)? If so, how about Wikipedia?


    “The traditional rate formula is intended to produce a utility’s revenue requirement:

    R = O + (V − D)r
    The elements of the traditional rate formula are defined as:

    R is the utility’s total revenue requirement or rate level. This is the total amount of money a regulator allows a utility to earn.
    O is the utility’s operating expenses.
    V is the gross value of the utility’s tangible and intangible property.
    D is the utility’s accrued depreciation. Combined (V − D) constitute the utility’s rate base, also known as its capital investment.
    r is the rate of return a utility is allowed to earn on its capital investment or on its rate base.”

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      ok, fine, perhaps the $65 billion figure includes some rate of return– I don’t think so but so what if it does? That doesn’t matter at all to the central points: a) the electricity from Vogtle, even if it goes no further over budget, which is completely unlikely, will be more expensive than other utilities are currently paying for power from renewable sources and thus more expensive for ratepayers; b) there is no more benefit to ratepayers by completing Vogtle; as Baker explained, the benefit at one time alleged by Southern Company to be some $2 billion has fallen to $208 million and that will turn into a net negative of $300+ million because Vogtle-4 will not be completed in time to take advantage of the federal tax credit. Moreover, Vogtle-3 may not be ready either, causing the negative to increase by another $500+ million. And continued cost overruns, currently at $2 million/day and which show no signs of slowing down, will cause that net negative to soar even higher.

      Wrangling about whether the $65 billion figure includes a rate of return or not is just a red herring; it has nothing to do with the real story, which is that there are no longer any conceivable circumstances in which Vogtle will be a benefit to Georgia ratepayers and, in fact, the situation grows worse daily.

      If Vogtle were an economic success, you would see other utilities lining up to emulate the project. Instead, Vogtle-3 and -4, like the two units before them, are showing the world, as is the case in Europe as well (and probably China if the same level of transparency existed), that it simply makes no economic sense whatsoever to build new nuclear reactors.

  7. John Hartshorn

    This long and detailed discussion about the cost of electricity from Vogtle simply misses the primary reason to build new nuclear, which is reliability. I challenge anyone to demonstrate a way to get the amount of **reliable** power that the Vogtle plants will supply for 90% of the time over 60 years or more for anywhere close to the costs discussed (6 cents / Kwh). The truth is that wind and solar are only cheap when they are used on an “as available” basis, which works out to be less than half the time for solar (20% capacity factor is considered good) and at only loosely predictable times and amounts for wind (25-40% capacity factor). In order to rely on them you must use some combination of overbuilding them by massive amounts, investing in large and expensive energy storage projects, and maintaining fossil fuels plants on standby for backup when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun’s not around. Once you add in these external costs for intermittent resources above 20-30% of total electricity, the real costs are significantly higher.

    The problem we are all hopefully putting at the top of our list is decarbonizing the grid as rapidly and cheaply as possible. Wind and solar can make important contributions and should be supported and deployed where it makes economic and environmental sense (don’t forget about all the land that’s degraded from wind farms in scenic areas, or solar where other amenities might be more acceptable or the land could be left wild). New, clean, and affordable nuclear power has a big role to play in this effort, and denying this amounts to asserting that the success of wind and solar is more important then the **reason** they are being built in the first place.

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Apparently you’ve missed the fast-moving developments in energy storage that we’ve been reporting on for the past year. Not to mention the entire concept of distributed generation, which means that while the wind may not be blowing everywhere, it is always blowing somewhere; while the sky may be cloudy in one location, there is sun somewhere else (tho solar panels, do, of course, generate electricity on cloudy days too, just not as much). Wind and solar are absolutely reliable, that’s not the issue; what they are is variable and that means grid operators need to use 21st century technology to dispatch electricity from where the wind and sun are working the best. The old static way of dispatch, from large centralized baseload power plants, is becoming an anachronism. This is why, in Europe, renewable energy regularly reaches 50% and more of generation in several countries, and would reach still more if enough renewables were built (which they haven’t been yet). Energy storage makes the variability issue even easier to deal with and its quickly-dropping costs are making it economically competitive.

      As we’ve pointed out here many times before, nuclear power (and other forms of large baseload) do not co-exist well with renewables once renewables reach a penetration level of around 30% or so (maybe a little higher). At that point, baseload power interferes with dispatching ability, as well as using power from storage.

      Moreover, for numerous reasons stated in these pages over the past two years, and on NIRS’ website (www.nirs.org) nuclear power is actually counterproductive to addressing our climate crisis. Meeting the challenge of dealing effectively with the climate means ending the construction of new reactors, not encouraging them.

      As National Geographic pointed out this week, Germany’s Energiewende would not have been successful (and it is increasingly successful as time goes on) if decarbonization had been the only goal. From the article:

      It wasn’t born of a single fight. But opposition to nuclear power, at a time when few people were talking about climate change, was clearly a decisive factor. I had come to Germany thinking the Germans were foolish to abandon a carbon-free energy source that, until Fukushima, produced a quarter of their electricity. I came away thinking there would have been no energiewende at all without antinuclear sentiment—the fear of meltdown is a much more powerful and immediate motive than the fear of slowly rising temperatures and seas.

      All over Germany I heard the same story. From Disch, sitting in his own cylindrical house, which rotates to follow the sun like a sunflower. From Rosenkranz in Berlin, who back in 1980 left physics graduate school for months to occupy the site of a proposed nuclear waste repository. From Luise Neumann-Cosel, who occupied the same site two decades later—and who is now leading a citizens’ initiative to buy the Berlin electric grid. And from Wendelin Einsiedler, a Bavarian dairy farmer who has helped transform his village into a green dynamo.

      All of them said Germany had to get off nuclear power and fossil fuels at the same time. “You can’t drive out the devil with Beelzebub,” explained Hans-Josef Fell, a prominent Green Party politician. “Both have to go.” At the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, energy researcher Volker Quaschning put it this way: “Nuclear power affects me personally. Climate change affects my kids. That’s the difference.”

      Our goal is a nuclear-free, carbon-free future. That is the only system that offers our planet a future.


We welcome your comments here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s