AllowingAmerica's nuclear power plants to shut down would be a "tremendoussetback" for the Clean Power Plan's mandate to cut carbon dioxideemissions in the electricity sector, according to a new report funded byNuclear Matters.
The HorinkoGroup, an environmental consulting firm, released on Sept. 23 findings thatexisting U.S. nuclear plants avoid 531 million tons of carbon dioxide emissionsa year and $85 billion in "social cost" by 2020. The U.S. EPA's CleanPower Plan, which is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals forthe District of Columbia Circuit, calls for emissions to be reduced 32% by 2030from 2005 levels, or 413 million tons a year. The report's estimates are basedon the federal government's guidelines quantifying the financial impact ofcarbon dioxide emissions on society.
"Idon't know how we would meet the Clean Power Plan goals without nuclearpower," said Emily Hammond, the report's author and law professor atGeorge Washington University, at the report's launch hosted by nuclear advocacygroup Nuclear Matters, and Bloomberg BNA in Washington, D.C. "If we didn'thave it, we would be more than twice behind meeting those carbon reductiongoals that the Clean Power Plan sets."
Nuclearpower generates about 20% of electricity in the U.S. and accounts for about 63%of the country's carbon-free electricity. The largely aging U.S. nuclear fleethas in recent months seen a number of early retirement announcements brought onby high operating costs and wholesale electricity markets that favor cheapnatural gas and subsidized renewables.
Hammondsaid the EPA mandate fails to fully consider the danger of retiring nucleargeneration being replaced by new natural gas combined-cycle plants that are notsubject to the emission reductions. As only fossil fuel-fired generation canstep in to do the same job as nuclear by supplying constant and largequantities of baseload power, she said it should be expected that emissionswill increase following nuclear retirements. Significant emission increases inCalifornia, Vermont and Germany following recent nuclear retirements show this,Hammond noted.
Thereport advocates U.S. states with nuclear plants should avoid this"leakage" trap under the Clean Power Plan by opting for a "thirdoption" for compliance rather than the rate-based approach, as measured byCO2 tons per MWh, or the stand-alone, massed-based compliance, as measured tonsof CO2 per year, which only covers existing fossil fuel-fired generators.
"Statesassessing their options should choose a compliance pathway that accounts forthe mass of carbon that is emitted on an annual basis and also accounts on whatmight happen with new sources," explained Hammond. "That is the wayto best capture the value of existing nuclear power that we have today."This mass-based plus new source complement approach, as it is known, also bestacknowledges existing nuclear power by implicitly valuing existing"zero-carbon energy resources" and safeguarding against leakage, thereport said. The approach also gives states room to allow for the growth ofoverall electricity demand over time and is less burdensome with its regulatoryoversight.
TheEPA does provide an additional option to avoid leakage: a prescribed allowancedistribution approach that subsidizes existing natural gas and new renewables,at the detriment of nuclear. Under both leakage avoidance options, the reportsaid states must show how they will avoid leakage, but it is unclear what wouldsatisfy the EPA.