To satisfy House Democrats’ low-cost solution to global warming, Americans would have to double their reliance on nuclear energy by 2030 - a target the nuclear industry says is unlikely and that many environmentalists and Democrats dislike.
That is the conclusion of a new Energy Information Administration report that looked at the House Democrats’ global warming bill. To produce enough clean energy at a reasonable cost would require construction of dozens of new nuclear power plants, even though no new plant has been built in decades.
The EIA, in its report last week, projected that to keep the costs of implementing the bill low for consumers - about $339 extra per household in 2030 according to their basic scenario - nuclear energy use would rise from 8 quadrillion BTUs a year to 16 quadrillion, or from 11.3 percent of total U.S. energy to 18.1 percent.
That’s the largest projected increase of any source of energy, even topping renewable sources such as wind and solar power, which are supposed to be the hallmark of the bill, and would mean reliance on a controversial technology.
“What this shows is that when you fail to make necessary investments in clean and renewable technologies and in efficiency measures, you are left with using fossil fuels and other anachronistic and outdated technologies, and I include nuclear in that,” said Damon Moglen, the climate campaign director at Greenpeace, which opposed the House bill as not laying out a clear enough road map to a clean-energy future.
Other environmentalists blasted the EIA report as “a fantasy.”
“This thing is completely so buried in the 20th century it isn’t even funny,” said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, which opposes expanded nuclear power. “To assume that nuclear and carbon sequestration are going to be the low-cost sources of electricity in the future are wrong.”
He said EIA underestimated the ability of wind and solar power to expand quickly and cheaply.
But nuclear-energy proponents back the House bill and were pleased with the EIA analysis, saying it shows how critical nuclear energy will be if goals on climate change are to be met without creating massive new costs for consumers.
“You clearly cannot have a credible program to control carbon emissions without expanded nuclear power,” said Richard J. Myers, vice president of policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry’s advocacy arm.
Mr. Myers said the EIA model’s projection’s are not likely. It would mean 96 gigawatts of new capacity by 2030, while “what’s doable” is more in the range of 65 gigawatts, or about 45 new plants, he said.
Still, he said, the model shows that taking options like nuclear off the table means other sources get overwhelmed, and costs rise.
“To the extent you cannot build nuclear at the rate the model suggests is needed … you are dealing with a world in which electricity costs and natural gas costs are higher than they would otherwise be,” he said.
EIA is an independent analysis branch of the Energy Department, and it ran a series of models to test how the global warming bill would play out. The models that relied more on nuclear energy generally had lower impacts on the economy.
Another key variable in figuring the cost to consumers was how much of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions could be “offset” by companies paying for reductions in emissions from other countries.