By Jesse Jenkins, from Jan. 13, 2017 on Facebook:
This past week, I spoke with several national reporters about why closing existing nuclear power plants, like the Indian Point power plant near New York City, is a big setback for #climate change efforts.
Sometimes, friends and others ask me why I care so much about this. Why do I feel compelled to speak so vocally about such an ambiguously beneficial energy source with clear risks and a complicated history?
Well, here’s one way to explain why I am so deeply concerned every time a large nuclear power plant is retired prematurely…
The biggest single concrete accomplishment of my 11-year career in clean energy was helping negotiate, pass, and implement the Oregon Renewable Energy Act of 2007 (while at Renewable Northwest). The law funded clean energy and efficiency programs at the Energy Trust of Oregon and established a requirement for the state’s largest utilities to procure 25% of their electricity from new renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy by 2025.
In total, the Oregon Renewable Energy Act will eventually bring online about 14 million megawatt-hours of clean energy. (An average US household uses about 10 megawatt-hours each year, so that’s enough renewable energy to power about 1.4 million homes).
The Indian Point nuclear power plant, which New York’s governor and attorney general just announced a deal to retire by 2021, produces 16.8 million megawatt-hours of emissions-free energy.
The Diablo Canyon power plant in California, which environmental groups struck a deal with PG&E to close by 2025, produces 18.5 million megawatt-hours.
And the Pilgrim nuclear station in Massachusetts, set to retire by 2019, produces 5 to 6 million megawatt-hours per year.
In other words, closing down Indian Point or Diablo Canyon alone MORE than wipes out 18 years of renewable energy growth in Oregon. Losing Pilgrim wipes out nearly half of that growth.
Nuclear power plants collectively are the nation’s largest source of emissions-free energy, providing one fifth of our electricity and over three times as much as all the wind and solar in the country today.
Each individual nuclear power station is enough to provide energy for half a million to 1.5 million homes without contributing to climate change. Every single one we lose is an enormous step backwards, equivalent in one fell stroke to eliminating all the progress gained by some of our most significant clean energy victories of the past decade.
That’s why each of these nuclear retirements hits me like a punch in the gut. Overnight, we lose as much emissions-free energy as my single largest tangible victory in the last decade of work.
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I know personally how hard it is to win tangible clean energy victories like the Oregon Renewable Energy Act. Many of you do as well, and have been fighting for those victories hard for just as long (or longer) than I.
If you care at all about climate change, you know that the clock is ticking. Now more than ever, we are running behind schedule, approaching tipping points, and seeing the impacts of climate change mount every day all around us. Now, with Trump in office and Republicans in control of Congress, hopes for faster progress are diminished. We simply cannot afford massive setbacks like this.
To be clear, this isn’t really about Indian Point or Diablo Canyon or any other specific plant. Those decisions are now made (although there is still time to reverse them). But all of us who care about climate change and clean energy all across the country will soon have to grapple with similar decisions. As much as half of the U.S. nuclear power fleet may be at risk of closure in the next decade.
So there will be many more decisions like this on the horizon very soon. Each one matters for CO2 and climate change. Enormously.
That’s why I care. That’s why I speak up. I hope you will to. Silence on this, as on so many issues, can be very costly.
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