With the failure of last decade’s nuclear “renaissance” leading to dismal prospects for expansion, and rising operating costs–including modest and insufficient post-Fukushima improvements–making a large number of existing reactors uneconomic in the deregulated marketplace, the nuclear power industry over the past couple of years has focused on its sheer survival. This means bailouts in one form or another.
This isn’t a surprise to regular readers of GreenWorld, as we’ve chronicled the increasingly desperate efforts by utilities like Exelon and FirstEnergy to obtain taxpayer and/or ratepayer bailouts of aging, dangerous and uneconomic reactors like Quad Cities and Davis-Besse.
Typically, the utilities threaten to close reactors if they don’t get what they want, which could lead to job losses and drops in tax revenues. In reality, state legislators and regulators should look at these threats as opportunities. Rather than something to be feared, reactor shutdowns can and should lead to cleaner, cheaper renewable energy; less exposure to risks like nuclear meltdown and radioactive waste issues; and–with good planning–job training and assistance programs in the clean energy field that could lead to more, not less, employment and higher tax revenues in the long run.
But a lot of state legislators, probably the vast majority, are not well-versed in energy issues, and are susceptible to such threats–although that may be beginning to change. Exelon, for example, is back at it this week, looking for new bailouts from an increasingly skeptical Illinois legislature.
Exelon appears to be using the same approach that didn’t work for it last year, but you can be assured that if it doesn’t work this time, the company will be back with a different approach. And then another. And then another. Until it either gets what it wants or is forced to actually carry out its threats.
Because it turns out that there are a surprisingly large number of ways to bail out existing reactors (and to encourage construction of new reactors), and the people at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) have been working overtime to develop strategies and tactics and new ways to enable the industry to survive despite the overwhelming trends that say it’s time for it to go, one dangerous, uneconomic reactor after another.
Fortunately, we don’t have to guess at what the large number of these new strategies and tactics are, because the ANS has helpfully laid it out for all to see in Nuclear in the States Toolkit Version 1.0, which consists of 40 pages of ways for nuclear utilities to take your money and keep nuclear reactors operating at any cost.
From using the Clean Power Plan to support existing reactors, to setting up “low-carbon” energy portfolios to override increasingly effective Renewable Energy Standards to encouraging utility mergers (Exelon/Pepco anyone?) to keep reactors operating, it’s all here. And the publication doesn’t just provide policy options, it includes brief case studies of how some are working now, or could be working, along with tactical advice to utilities about how to frame their messages to support the policies. Some of these are obvious and come as no big shock; others may well be surprising and indicate the depths of the industry’s desperation. Nuclear power is not only dirty energy, but the nuclear industry plays dirty too.
Here is just one sample of the Toolbox text, which remarkably suggests using the TARP bank bailout program as a precedent for a federal bailout of failing nuclear reactors:
*State entities could be formed (or used if already formed) to purchase or acquire an economically-threatened nuclear power plant. The New York Power Authority is an example.
*Federal entities could also be used for this. TVA and Bonneville Power Authority are existing entities.
*A buyer that is not a nuclear operator could retain an experienced operator (perhaps the current operator) under contract.
*A new federal entity could be formed specifically to own economically threatened merchant nuclear power plants that might retire early. TARP is an example.
In short, this is must reading for any activist working to close nuclear reactors, prevent rate and/or tax increases to prop up the nuclear industry, and encourage more renewable energy and energy efficiency. In other words, all of us working to build a clean energy future.
In the end, it’s all about money. The nuclear utilities increasingly can’t generate enough money from their electricity generation, so they want to find new ways to take your money. This is their handy guide for how to put their hands further into your pockets–and if that leads to less clean energy in the process, all the better for them.
Know your enemy. Be prepared. Read the ANS Toolkit.
March 17, 2016
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