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Another View -- Bob Coward: Sununu right to recognize the value of nuclear power

May 21. 2018 9:34PM

Gov. Chris Sununu recently released a 10-year energy strategy for the state. At a time when “free” markets for electricity are increasingly warped by government mandates and subsidies, his plan is a breath of fresh air.

The New England region has some of the highest electricity prices in the nation. That high cost of energy can chase away energy-intensive industries and impoverish families, some of whom pay as much as one-third of their income to keep the lights on and their homes warm. Indeed, energy is the basic foundation upon which our modern economy and high standards of living are built.

The New Hampshire 10-Year State Energy Strategy lays out a path to ensure the state’s energy supply remains secure, reliable and affordable, and nuclear energy is a major part of the solution. As the Office of Strategic Initiatives states in its report, Seabrook Station’s nuclear reactor generated approximately 56 percent of New Hampshire’s energy in 2016. Seabrook operates with a capacity factor close to 90 percent, meaning that like most nuclear plants, it runs almost continuously. This is vital for both holding down electricity prices and for maintaining New Hampshire’s energy resiliency in the face of extreme weather and natural events.

You don’t need to look much further than the polar vortex of 2014 to see the importance of energy resiliency. Coal piles froze and natural gas pipelines were choked. Seabrook and the Northeast’s other nuclear power plants remained online, generating power reliably throughout the duration of the vortex, and research indicates that if not for our nuclear plants, widespread blackouts likely would have occurred.

This isn’t a one-time menace. Last winter, Boston needed a tanker-full of Russian natural gas to keep warm, while New Hampshire relied on electricity from nuclear power.

Seabrook is New Hampshire’s largest contributor of carbon-free electricity, providing 87 percent while emitting essentially no greenhouse gases or pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, or particulates.

If Seabrook shut down, New England’s carbon emissions as a whole would rise, as it would be neither cost-effective nor practical to replace all of its carbon-free electricity generation with renewable sources.

Seabrook does more than just generate clean, reliable electricity year-round. It provides good-paying jobs to about 1,000 New Hampshire residents, with a $79 million annual payroll. Seabrook also pays more than $23 million per year in state and local taxes.

Not only does it have economic benefits through its payroll, but it also supports the local economy. More than 300 businesses across the state benefit from Seabrook’s operations. Businesses benefit when Seabrook provides electricity, but its employees also visit local restaurants, shop in nearby stores, and enroll their children in local schools. Seabrook represents an important part of New Hampshire’s economy.

The clean, stable nature of nuclear power is significant, yet current electricity markets do not value those benefits. Because of this market distortion, nuclear power plants across the country are shutting down because they cannot compete in a market that only values the spot price of a kilowatt-hour next week or next month.

With its new 10-Year State Energy Strategy, New Hampshire is taking an important step toward fixing the problem of undervalued nuclear power. The American Nuclear Society applauds Gov. Sununu for proposing the addition of nuclear power to New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

This would allow power generated at Seabrook to be adequately compensated for its low-carbon benefits and to compete fairly in the electricity marketplace with low-carbon production from other generators. Recognizing nuclear’s low-carbon emissions within a Clean Energy Standard ensures that Seabrook Station is able to continue producing its always-on, low-carbon power for years to come.

So congratulations, New Hampshire: your elected leaders are taking a pragmatic approach toward ensuring a strong, resilient, and clean energy future and nuclear will play a big role.

Bob Coward is president of the American Nuclear Society and principal officer of MPR Associates.

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