New Coal, Nuclear Plants May Be Unnecessary - Energy Regulatory Chief
Source: The New York Times, Noelle Straub and Peter Behr (4/22/09)
"The president needs to show his cards on nuclear energy. . ."
"We may not need any, ever," Jon Wellinghoff told reporters at a U.S. Energy Association forum.
The FERC chairman's comments go beyond those of other Obama administration officials and beyond the consensus outlook in the electric power industry about future sources of electricity. The industry has assumed that more baseload generation would provide part of an increasing demand for power, along with a rapid deployment of renewable generation, smart grid technologies and demand reduction strategies.
Jay Apt, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Electricity Industry Center, expressed skepticism about the feasibility of relying so heavily on renewable energy. "You need firm power to fill in when the wind doesn't blow. There is just no getting around that."
The North American Electric Reliability Corp. reported last week on challenges in integrating a twentyfold expansion of renewable power into the nation's electricity networks.
Wellinghoff's statement - if it reflects Obama administration policy - would be a huge blow to the U.S. nuclear power industry, which has been hoping for a nuclear "renaissance" based on the capacity of nuclear reactors to generate power without greenhouse gas emissions.
Congress created significant financial incentives to encourage the construction of perhaps a half-dozen nuclear plants with innovative designs, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu has promised Congress to accelerate awards of federal loan guarantees for some of these proposals.
But a major expansion in U.S. nuclear energy would require a high effective tax on carbon emissions from coal plants, or an extended loan guarantee and tax incentive policy, according to the Congressional Research Service and outside consultants. The leading energy bills before Congress do not provide more loan guarantees.
"If expansion of nuclear plants is the nation's policy, then Congress has to recognize that the U.S. energy companies cannot afford to do this alone," said Paul Genoa, policy director for the Nuclear Energy Institute, in a recent interview.
"The president needs to show his cards on nuclear energy," said energy consultant Joseph Stanislaw, a Duke University professor. "He cannot keep this industry, which must make investments with a 50-year or longer horizon, in limbo for much longer."