the Beacon Journal editorial board
Five dollars per month. That is the cost customers would pay to keep the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants in operation under a proposal put forward by FirstEnergy. To be sure, the Akron-based power company would benefit from the additional revenue. What Gov. John Kasich and Ohio lawmakers would do well to heed are the benefits to the state as a whole.
They clearly exceed costs.
Unfortunately, too many at the Statehouse appear inclined to see the matter without the required urgency or eye on the long run. It is disappointing to see many environmental groups among those vigorously opposing the proposal, saying no to 90 percent of the stateís clean energy. This isnít just about FirstEnergy or somehow preserving competition in electricity markets in the interest of consumers.
The market is far from perfect. It now is driven by an abundance of cheap natural gas. Many are the instances of the public sector intervening to promote balance or a larger objective. Environmental groups rightly applaud the subsidies directed to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. On a national scale, that assistance amounts to a far greater sum than the support routed to nuclear energy.
As Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress noted in testimony before the House Public Utilities Committee last week, fossil fuels also have been aided at a higher rate than nuclear power. Ohio lawmakers have yet to levy an appropriate severance tax increase, compared to other states.
How do the benefits of preserving Perry and Davis-Besse exceed the costs?
An official from Ottawa County, where Davis-Besse sits, pointed to the jobs at risk, 600 at the plant, the multiplier effect involving 2,100 jobs in the county and another 1,800 in related industries across the state. Add the lost revenue for communities and schools. Closing the plant would carry a high price, and whatever the actual jobs lost, it is fanciful to think they would be replaced soon or easily.
Would the state have a plan to cope with the aftermath?
If there is a local benefit to preserving the plants, the big picture is most persuasive. Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, but it is still a fossil fuel ó emitting greenhouse gases, adding to climate change. Solar and wind have been gaining market share. At the same time, they are intermittent sources (when the wind blows and the sun shines). Nuclear power is the clean, reliable complement, with a safety record much better than its reputation.
Thus, it is alarming to see nuclear plants closing, five in Vermont, Nebraska, California, Florida and Wisconsin, with others nearing that fate. They cannot compete with natural gas. Yet to allow the market alone to dictate, to see Perry and Davis-Besse shut down, would be a strategic blunder. New England saw an increase in greenhouse emissions after the Yankee plant closed.
Nuclear power serves as an indispensable insurance policy, or hedge, against climate change. If the premium is $5 per month, that is a reasonable price in view of the return.