Pilgrim Nuclear and the paradox of green energy

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/09/25/pilgrim-nuclear-and-the-paradox-of-green-energy/

Green energy enthusiasts are fond of lecturing Americans about the need to turn to cleaner sources of power.  But recent calls to close the aging Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station expose the incongruous and irrational energy policy advocated by those who condemn oil and coal, and yet loathe the largest, most affordable alternative sources of power in Massachusetts.

On September 2, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited Pilgrim, commissioned in 1972, for poor operating performance and ordered increased oversight in addition to multi-million dollar safety improvements. Pilgrim could potentially be forced to shut down.

But according to The Boston Globe, “regulators do not believe there is a pressing safety risk associated with operating the plant.” Because of this assessment it should continue producing power until its license expires in 2032.

Pilgrim, which employs 600 and creates over $10 million in revenue for the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is one of 61 commercially operational plants (with a total of 99 reactors) in the United States (spread among 30 states). Pilgrim generates over 17 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity (second to natural gas at 70.5 percent). Hydroelectric generates just over 4 percent.  And less than 7 percent of electricity is generated by other renewable sources (solar, wind, geo-thermal, biomass) combined.

According to the Gallup organization, a majority of Americans still favor nuclear power. And they are not afraid to live near power plants. Indeed, Americans increasingly choose to live near nuclear reactors (read NBC’s 2011 “Nuclear Neighbors”). According to data from the 2010 U.S. census, 75,835 people live within ten miles of Pilgrim (an increase of 40 percent since 2000).

For clean energy deniers, however, the inconvenient truth is that nuclear power is green power. It eliminates emissions of sulfur dioxide (contributor to acid rain), nitrogen oxide (precursor to ozone and smog), and carbon dioxide (the molecular Hephaestus of global warming). Nuclear power today produces 63 percent of America’s carbon free electricity.

On the other hand, wind energy, the favorite renewable energy source of modern progressives, poses significant problems. A power paradox.

Cape Wind, the proposed wind farm off Nantucket Sound – the largest renewable energy project in Commonwealth history – is now reduced to a whisper, not whirling turbines.  After ten years of constant legal challenges and fierce local opposition, the wind farm will likely never be built.  Despite support from the state house, the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and the president, it was doomed by critiques that it would be aesthetically unpleasing and economically unpalatable. But it would have been environmentally unpretentious.

Generating 468 megawatts (MW) of power, it would have produced 75 percent of the electricity used on the Cape and Islands. As mass.gov reports, each MW of wind energy offsets approximately 2,600 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Fragmented myopic interest groups, such as those protesting Pilgrim and Cape Wind, have fostered a preposterous energy policy in Massachusetts, fraught with a cross current of government bureaucracy.

In 2008, a year of inexhaustible supplies of low voltage political and economic commonsense, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Green Communities Act (aiming to “find clean energy solutions”), the Green Jobs Act, and the Global Warming Solutions Act (a “framework” for reducing harmful emissions, showcasing “indicators of our progress”). These ventures spurred development of more standards, regulation, statutes and political correctness. Nuclear need not have applied.

The result?

Many of the stated goals and desired outcomes failed (A123, Evergreen Solar, Beacon Power). Even with Pilgrim in production, residents of the Commonwealth still pay the second highest electricity prices – behind Connecticut — in the contiguous U.S. (19.52 cents per kilowatt hour; the national average is 12.93 cents).

In a state that collectively uses more power than it generates, the closure of Pilgrim would raise rates and lower tolerance for these misguided policies. And an over-reliance of these efforts has diverted attention away from more immediate problems. So today, amid limited choices, unpopular decisions are looming.

State officials are silent as to how Massachusetts would make up for the lost power generation should Pilgrim be decommissioned. Natural gas pipelines are at capacity; the electrical grid needs massive investment; and all three of the state’s coal plants are scheduled to close.

So now we see that “green energy” – like its linguistic siblings, “diversity” (which includes all manners of difference other than conservative thought) and “income inequality” (which suggest that disparities in wealth are unacceptable, unless, of course, they are the product of Clinton speaking fees) – is just another disingenuous buzzword in the progressive lexicon. A growing tableau of inconsistencies and contradictions.

What to do? Squeeze the handle and follow a candle.

Contributing columnist James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.

Also by James P. Freeman:

Heroin and heroism

Blue state gone purple: Is Massachusetts liberalism in decline?

Cape Cod needs third bridge, but who will pay?

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