the Beacon Journal editorial board
As goes New York, so goes Ohio and the nation? Those concerned about the harm from climate change should hope the answer is yes. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York recently unveiled a new and substantial subsidy for nuclear power plants. He did so as part of keeping financially strapped nuclear plants in operation, helping his state meet its goal of non-carbon sources of energy generating 50 percent of the state’s electricity by 2030.
Ohio set similar if less ambitious objectives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. That effort has been on hold. The Clean Power Plan of the Obama White House is tied up in litigation. What hasn’t slowed is climate change. Eventually, this country and the rest of the international community must respond in a concerted way. Already many businesses and other organizations have been pushing cleaner sources of energy.
That translates into wind and solar, especially, as the two have become more price competitive. Yet in weighing the structural complications of the transition to such clean sources, plus forecasts of increasing demand, carbon-free nuclear power with its capacity for steady, reliable baseload power becomes essential to an adequate power supply.
Those who contend differently are not facing squarely the challenge of climate change.
The problem is, nuclear power has fared poorly in the marketplace, the victim, in particular, of cheap and abundant natural gas. If natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, it is a fossil fuel and thus contributes to greenhouse gases. Its part in curbing climate change shouldn’t come at the expense of much cleaner nuclear power.
Unfortunately, that has been the trend, nuclear power plants unable to compete, utilities moving to shut them down. After Cuomo announced his subsidy plan, Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear power producer, announced plans to keep one plant operating in New York slated to close early next year. The governor’s office projects losing the plant would have added 3 million tons of greenhouse emissions, or what 600,000 cars emit annually.
Nuclear plants are expensive to build. They come with safety risks, though the record indicates the concerns are exaggerated. Cuomo has in mind a subsidy of roughly $500 million a year, or an additional $2 per month for the typical customer. The subsidy actually is less generous than the one for renewable sources. More, assessments show that the benefits easily would exceed the costs.
Ohio has its own challenge along these lines. FirstEnergy has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to subsidize, in effect, the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Toledo. The Akron-based power company cites the same difficulties in the marketplace, that glut of natural gas.
Critics argue there is little value in protecting a “dying” part of the power portfolio. They are misguided. Put aside the financial difficulties facing FirstEnergy. Keeping Davis-Besse in operation makes sense here just as it does in New York. Nuclear power is a proven source of clean energy. If anything, its presence should be expanded, improved versions of the technology in the works. Deny financial help as climate change deepens its grip? That is a strange argument for environmentalists to make.