By Guy Page
The Green New Deal’s dismissal of nuclear power dooms it to failure as a realistic plan to reduce carbon emissions. Doubters need only look at Vermont, a climate change expert wrote in Forbes Magazine recently.
“The Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., today excludes nuclear energy from the proposed mix. If it were ever actually attempted nationally, it would increase greenhouse gas emissions — just as a similar effort did in Vermont,” Michael Shellenberger wrote Feb. 7 for Forbes. Shellenberger is president of Environmental Progress, climate-change activists who support low-carbon nuclear power.
Shellenberger notes that Vermont emissions have risen 16.3 percent since 2005, twice the national average, despite strenuous efforts at energy efficiency and solar subsidies. While emissions have decreased nationally, they’re up in Vermont. Why? Shellenberger says Vermont emissions increased in part because utilities couldn’t find enough zero-carbon replacement electricity to replace losses from Vermont Yankee. The Vernon nuclear power plant was denied a power contract by the Vermont Senate in 2011. It closed in 2014 due to expected regulatory upgrades and an inability to compete with the historically cost of natural gas.
Ignoring the cautionary tale in his own state, Sen. Bernie Sanders would deny new licenses to nuclear power plants, Shellenberger said. Likewise, Ocasio-Cortez says “the plan is to transition off nuclear.”
Despite opposition by Green New Dealers, efforts to keep the Seabrook, N.H., and Millstone, Conn., nuclear power plants open are underway. And that should be good news to fuel-agnostic Vermonters who care about carbon reduction, power reliability, and cost. Even without Vermont Yankee, nuclear power still makes 13 percent of Vermont’s electricity and helps Vermont reach its non-carbon energy goals, according to the 2019 Vermont Department of Public Service (PSD) annual report released Jan. 15.
The PSD report notes that during 2017, “13% of the megawatt-hours sold were supplied by nuclear units; which are not renewable but are considered to be non-carbon emitting resources that help meet Vermont’s GHG reduction goals.” The two main sources of this power are Seabrook and Millstone.
Vermonters bought 5.4 million megawatt-hours (MWH) of electricity in 2017, the most recent year on record. Nuclear power, at 13 percent of Vermont’s total load, delivered 702,000 MWH of low-carbon, reliable power.
Vermonters use less solar power than nuclear power, although exactly how much less is hard to determine from the 2019 report. The DPS report says subsidized (18.9 cents/kwh) “Tier II” solar generators of five MW or less produced about 117,000 MWH in 2017, about one-sixth of nuclear power’s contribution. However, Green Mountain Power – serving more than 80 percent of Vermonters – in a July, 2018 graph shows nuclear power provides 27 percent of all 2018 estimated power. Hydro power generates 61 percent. Solar provides 1.7 percent.
In all fairness, the actual amount of solar power sold to GMP customers is closer to 5.5 percent. To keep customer costs down, some solar power companies sell ‘renewable energy credits’ to out-of-state fossil fuel power companies eager to meet their state’s carbon-reduction standards. But that power can no longer be called “renewable.” It stopped being renewable when the RECs were sold.
But whatever the single-digit share of solar power, it still provides far less power than nuclear power, and at a higher cost to the customer. The exact kilowatt-hour price of Seabrook and Millstone power is shielded by regulators, but it is believed to be closely aligned to ‘market prices,’ which run about 3-5 cents per kilowatt-hour, or a quarter of Vermont’s Tier II solar subsidized price of 18.9 cents.
Vermonters want affordable low-carbon power. Based on the post-Vermont Yankee experience, the anti-nuclear Green New Deal appears to promise neither.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.