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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Energy: Nuclear, Transmission, Efficiency

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New nuclear electricity can cost as much as 3X as much as current electricity sources, according to a recent study.  Can nuclear power advocates provide an up-to-date, public cost study of their own?

To harness renewable energy, the American transmission grid needs to be updated and expanded.  Wind and solar farms will be placed further from urban centers than their coal, natural gas and nuclear counterparts.  A company have put together an idea for a national “transmission superhighway”.

One potential transmission build-out scenario that would allow the U.S. to obtain 20% of its electricity from the wind would include 19,000 miles of new 765-kilovolt (kV) transmission lines, for an estimated price tag of US $60 billion. (A 765-kV line is a high-voltage power line that can carry larger amounts of electricity — and with significantly higher efficiency — than most older transmission lines in use today.) These high-voltage lines would serve as the backbone of an interstate transmission superhighway.

While the size and cost of the transmission superhighway may sound large at first glance, it is important to keep these numbers in perspective. Given that electricity transmission infrastructure typically remains in service for 50 years or more, the cost of the investment for the average household would be equivalent to about US $0.35 per month, less than the cost of a postage stamp.

Those costs would be more than made up by the economic savings from replacing natural gas use with wind power generation, not to mention the benefits of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants. In fact, the DOE report estimated that obtaining 20% of U.S. electricity from wind would reduce electricity sector natural gas use by 50%. In addition, the DOE study found that the 20% wind energy scenario would reduce CO2 by 7.6 billion tons between now and 2030. Electric sector CO2 emissions would be reduced by 825 million tons in the year 2030 alone, an amount equal to 25% of all electric sector carbon dioxide emissions in that year or the equivalent of taking 140 million cars off the road.

I don’t expect the natural gas industry to be thrilled with this plan (or anything that comes close to it).  Remember, they’re interested in their profits, not how habitable the planet will be in 100 years.  Kudos to the people that work on these kinds of studies.  They should have a prominent place in our national discussions of energy policy.

Efficiency Portfolio Standards should be as important as Renewable Energy Standards, as Joe Romm argues.  The latter has been much easier to popularize and enact.  The former are probably just as (if not more) important but haven’t received nearly the widespread acceptance they deserve.  Energy efficiency programs are among the cheapest solutions to our energy problems.  If enacted, they would easily reduce our energy usage significantly and immediately.


One thought on “Energy: Nuclear, Transmission, Efficiency

  1. “Those costs would be more than made up by the economic savings from replacing natural gas use with wind power generation”

    Closing coal plants requires the use of more gas not less.

    Denmark has been using wind longer than anyone. They dependent on fossil fuels for 83% of their electrical generation. Denmark boasts the highest electrical costs.

    Germany boasts the most wind and are in the process of building 26 coal plants without scrubbers and using soft (dirty) coal
    Germany second highest costs.

    These two countries have proved the uselessness of wind energy – why would anyone follow their lead?

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