Opinion

Why Is EPA Penalizing Nuclear, the Nation’s Third Largest Energy Source?

Power providers are being penalized for developing new nuclear generation facilities when they should be encouraged to diversify energy sources. During Nuclear Science Week, a national week-long celebration of local, regional, and national interest in all aspects of nuclear science, public power applauds advanced nuclear technologies in energy, and wants to tell you why fossil fuel-free nuclear energy is an essential component of America’s generation mix.

In 2013, the U.S. generated about 4,058 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. While most of that electricity was from fossil fuels (natural gas, petroleum, and coal), 19 percent came from nuclear, our third largest fuel source—and No. 1 non-greenhouse gas-emitting fuel source.

Nuclear energy’s role in the nation’s fuel mix can be seen in public power communities across the country. Nuclear comprised 7.9 percent of public power utilities’ capacity in 2012. For example, in Seattle, Washington (the host city of the 2014 Nuclear Science Week Symposium that occurred this week) Seattle City Light relied on a mix of power sources to fuel the generation of electricity for its citizens in 2012, including 4.4 percent of nuclear power. A portion of that nuclear power was purchased from the Bonneville Power Administration, which generates an average of 1,030 MW of nuclear energy in a year.

Nuclear will likely have an expanded role as power providers continue to work to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This expanded role is evident in three states — Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina — where new nuclear units are currently under construction and scheduled to start operating after the EPA issues its final 111(d) rule on performance standards for existing power plants.

Unfortunately, under the EPA’s proposed rule, a state without existing nuclear capacity will benefit because its formula will not include nuclear generation, resulting in a less stringent state goal. But states that do have nuclear generating units, and/or that are currently developing nuclear units, are penalized.

Even though under-construction nuclear sites have not yet commenced operations, the EPA has included their anticipated output in the proposed rule’s CO2-emission baseline for those states, making the states’ emission goals significantly harder to achieve.

The country’s first new nuclear generation of the 21st century, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2, which is under construction in East Tennessee near Knoxville, is an impressive accomplishment and a testament of our nation’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions.

But as we consider the potential of Watts Bar 2 to power 650,000 homes, we cannot ignore the unfair treatment of nuclear under construction in EPA’s proposed 111(d) rule. At the American Public Power Association we’ve waded through the EPA’s 645-page rule and haven’t seen a word about credit for early action.

Under the EPA proposal, Tennessee has 17,345 GWh added into its building block computation, assuming Watts Bar 2 operates at a minimum 90 percent capacity factor. Georgia and South Carolina, where public power utilities have partial ownership in under-construction nuclear, will also face more stringent state goals.

APPA is asking the EPA to remove under-construction nuclear units from the baseline and building block computations because nuclear should assist with state goal compliance. According to E&E News, other industry leaders agree:

“We are very concerned about the clean power proposal by the EPA and the fact that, at this moment, it does not appear that the enormous investment that the industry has made with new nuclear [has been given credit]. The fact that there would be no credit for those billions of dollars is something we hope that the EPA will address,” said Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).”

The EPA should be nurturing the nation’s third largest generation source— and No. 1 non-greenhouse gas-emitting source—not penalizing communities that have poured tremendous capital, time, and years of planning into constructing 111(d)-compliant power.

Joe Nipper is the Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Communications at the American Public Power Association.

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