There’s an enduring myth related to wind energy and nuclear energy that needs to be put to bed. That myth is that only nuclear can be scaled to sufficient capacity to reduce the impacts of global warming, and that wind energy is much less scalable so it should be ignored.
Most recently, this appeared as a broad generalization without any supporting evidence in a pro-carbon capture series by a CCS researcher on the Siemens-sponsored Energy Collective, which features this particular myth regularly, being a bit of an echo chamber for it. Of course the nuclear industry’s PR professionals love this line as well.
And there’s another myth related to carbon capture and sequestration being more significant than renewables that has to be assessed as well.
China is the true test bed for maximum scalability of nuclear vs wind. It has a tremendous gap between demand and generation. It can mostly ignore lack of social license for nuclear. It is building both wind and nuclear as rapidly as possible. It has been on a crash course for both for about the same period of time. It has bypassed most of the regulatory red tape for nuclear which sensibly exists elsewhere given concerns about economic fallout of Fukushima-scale disasters, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. And in four years it has built significantly less nuclear generation capacity than it built of wind generation capacity in 2013 alone.
What is the reality of nuclear vs wind built out?
- China turned on justover 16 GW of nameplate capacity of wind generation in 2013 according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
- Over the four years of 2010 to 2014 China managed to put 4.7 GW of nuclear into operation. This is not their stated plan for nuclear which is much higher, but the actual generation capacity put into production.
- Modern wind turbines have a median 40.35% capacity factor and exceed 50% in the best wind resources according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who track the actuals on this sort of thing.
- Taking similarly sourced numbers for nuclear capacity factor from the Nuclear Energy Institute, we see 90.9% capacity factors for nuclear reactors. These are apples-to-apples statistics from the same country.
Running the math, that’s about 6.5 GW of real capacity of wind energy in one year vs 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear over four years. That’s roughly six times more real wind energy capacity than nuclear per year. 2014 might be better than average as perhaps 2 GW have been made operational this year. We’ll see what reality brings as wind energy is being expanded rapidly as well.
On July 28, Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) filed a proposal to state regulators seeking approval to install 20 megawatts (MW) of distributed solar generation on approximately 3,000 homes. APS filed the proposal in order to meet the 2015 renewable energy target established in 2006 by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The announcement to begin installing distributed solar has been called a “Trojan Horse.” Why? Over the past few years, APS has been leading the effort to weaken the distributed solar market in Arizona. Examples include:
- Lying about paying the 60 Plus Association, a national conservative organization funded by organizations connected to the Koch brothers, to run ads against the state’s solar net-metering policy.
- Proposing to charge customers who install solar panels $50-$100 a month on their electric bill.
- Lobbying for a property tax on solar panels that could add an estimated $152 a year in fees for solar customers.
E&E’s Energywire interviewed our Senior Fellow Nancy LaPlaca. LaPlaca said that she and others had been anticipating this move since rooftop solar is gaining popularity in the state.
"It boggles the mind; they want to go from charging someone $50 to $100 to put solar on their house to all of a sudden wanting to pay someone $30," she said. "It shows you how threatened they are."
(Follow Nancy LaPlaca on twitter)
If APS truly wants to develop the state’s solar industry, here are the next steps the company can make:
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) new energy agenda continues to support the interests of the fossil fuel and utility members by attacking clean energy policies at the state level. ALEC is funded by some of the nation’s largest energy corporations including Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy.
ALEC’s 2014 Annual Meeting Energy Agenda
ALEC’s Energy Task Force Meeting in July 2014 includes discussions on limiting the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and other ways to weaken and slow the growth of the cleantech industry for the remainder of the year and into 2015. The task force is also featuring a presentation on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, and a presentation from Nuclear Matters, which is a utility industry-backed advocacy organization.
PACE programs are an innovative way to finance clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades. PACE helps property owners overcome the barrier of up-front costs by spreading the cost of the system over a long time period, repaid through a property tax assessment of up to 20 years. Legislatures in 31 states and DC have authorized cities or counties to establish PACE financing programs and they are helping consumers save on utility bills and install renewable energy, which is exactly why utility and fossil fuel interests want to stop the programs from spreading, and are hosting a presentation at ALEC’s energy task force meeting.
Nuclear Matters, a major lobbying effort funded by Exelon Corporation (at an expense of $12-15 million per year), is working to boost utilities’ struggling nuclear power plants. Nuclear Matters is supported by ALEC member Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and in turn supported by EEI members: Duke Energy, Dominion, Southern Company, Arizona Public Service, and FirstEnergy. In Dallas, this utility front group will be presenting to state legislators, likely advocating for policies to prop up expensive nuclear power over affordable clean energy alternatives.
On Thursday, July 24, Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing entitled “Laboratories of Democracy: The Economic Impacts of State Energy Policies.” The hearing featured testimony from representatives of Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), Manhattan Institute, and Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, all of which have received funding from fossil fuel interests and primarily advocate for the continued use of fossil fuels over renewable energy.
Tom Tanton is the director of science and technology assessment at E&E Legal and the president of T2 & Associates, an energy and technology consulting firm whose clients have included the American Petroleum Institute (API).
Between 2003 and 2007, Tanton was the vice president and senior fellow of the Institute for Energy Research, a Texas-based think tank that has received $307,000 from Exxon Mobil and $175,000 from Koch Industries.
E&E Legal is a non-profit think tank (formerly the American Tradition Institute or ATI) that received $140,000 from Doug Lair of Lair Petroleum in 2010. E&E Legal has taken issue with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, especially on the topic of anthropogenic climate change. E&E Legal’s predecessor, the American Tradition Institute, broke campaign finance laws in 2010 when it mailed fliers attacking legislative candidates. In 2012, The Guardian published a memo prepared by an E&E Legal fellow about a secret anti-wind meeting between local anti-clean energy groups and national fossil fuel-funded organizations seeking to organize widespread opposition against wind energy through a deceptive public relations campaign. Other members of E&E Legal’s Senior Leadership have ties to fossil fuel interests as well: David Schnare, a fossil fuel-funded pundit with connections to Heartland Institute, State Policy Network, and other front groups; and Chris Horner, a fossil fuel-funded climate denier who works at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an advocacy group with ties to tobacco disinformation campaigns.
Assemblymember Henry Perea’s (D-Fresno) Energy Bill Pushed by Fossil Fuel Interests Tied to American Legislative Exchange Council
In California, fossil fuel interest groups are sponsoring legislation that appears to mimic the approach of model legislation released by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2013.
California Assembly Bill 1763 (AB 1763) would require the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop a state energy plan for 2030 and 2050 that “promotes economic growth, [and] ensures reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy…” That language is similar to ALEC’s model legislation, “The Energy Affordability and Reliability Act”, which calls on states to “evaluate the economic impact, reliability, and other objectives in decisions affecting electricity supplies” and “encourage affordable energy supplies…” While AB 1763 does not copy ALEC’s model policy verbatim, it is important to note that even ALEC recognizes that the model policies [.pdf] “will need to be slightly modified to specifically address [a] state’s needs.”
AB 1763 was initially sponsored by Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy (CARE), a coalition that includes multiple fossil fuel interests. CARE members include the Western States Petroleum Association (who counts Chevron as a member), California Independent Oil Marketers Association, DeWitt Petroleum, GT Petroleum, the California Trucking Association, the California Business Roundtable, and others. But recently, Assemblymember Henry T. Perea’s (D-Fresno) staff reported that the California Business Roundtable (CBRT) is the sponsor of AB 1763. Both CARE and CBRT share several members, have strong connections to each other, and have some of the same member companies as ALEC. CBRT members include Chevron, Southern California Edison, PG&E, and Sempra Energy, which are members of ALEC, have access to ALEC’s model legislation, and can draw on the model legislation to develop language for bills they sponsor.