Today’s American nuclear power industry is in a state of upheaval. Four new, large-scale nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States, helped by large federal subsidies. All are being built by Westinghouse, and all have faced massive cost overruns and delays. Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba, recently posted a $6 billion loss due to Westinghouse’s nuclear woes. (For context, that loss is half a billion more than Toshiba spent to buy Westinghouse a decade ago.) Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection on March 29.
Westinghouse’s bankruptcy shines a spotlight on nuclear power’s role as an electricity source – currently providing about 17 percent of our electricity in the U.S. – and raises issues concerning whether we can count on low-carbon electricity from nuclear power. The Energy Information Administration projects nuclear power’s share of electricity generation will decline slightly through 2040, but these projections don’t reflect current trends.
Existing plants face challenging economics
Nuclear plants have long been very expensive to build, and the continued low price of natural gas has only increased cost pressure. Many nuclear plants are losing money, leading utilities to consider retiring them. Total nuclear capacity is declining, and will continue to decline in the near future as plant retirements exceed the capacity of Westinghouse’s Vogtle and Summer plants, expected to come online in 2019-2020. Read More
“What happened to oil in the late 1970s?” was a question assigned to me in elementary school to discuss with family over the Christmas holiday break. At the time, this question seemed innocent enough, and I didn’t know how my family would react about what I soon learned to be two oil embargos. Turns out when I brought it up one night, extended family members held a broad spectrum of views on the issue, and the question led to one of the most heated dinner arguments I can recall – until this year, at least. This holiday, family discussions focused on the presidential election. Fierce conversation ensued on standout topics. But, to my dismay, energy and the environment were just an afterthought.
While it is clear that these topics did not play a decisive role in the election, 2017 will nevertheless bring a new set of challenges for energy and environmental policy and elevate the conversation to a higher level. Progress we’ve made in the past few years, including environmental protections and the continuity of agencies that support them, are at risk of being undercut by the new administration, and policies that will protect future generations are at peril. At the federal level, the fight to stop climate change looks bleak.
As Environmental Defense Fund recently noted in California, Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio, clear and deliberate leadership at the state and local levels will become even more important to advance clean energy goals. Fortunately, New York’s history of advancing favorable environmental policies have resulted in valuable lessons that can be adapted and implemented in other states to increase economic development, create jobs, decrease pollution, and improve the quality of life of people throughout the country. Read More
The New York City Council has an excellent environmental track record, and I’m pleased to say that most recently it has passed a group of bills tackling energy efficiency in buildings, adding to its stellar standing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio this week signed a package of laws developed by the City Council that address energy efficiency in thousands of buildings citywide. Buildings account for nearly three-quarters of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, which makes buildings crucial to New York City’s goal of reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050. In fact, the mayor’s office estimates that these bills will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 250,000 metric tons throughout the city, and create an estimated 100 jobs by spurring retrofits in 16,000 buildings. I attended the bill signing on October 31st, and am proud to say that Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working closely with both the mayor’s office and the City Council to get to this point, along with our partners, the New York League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Urban Green Council.
These new laws – which affect 57 percent of New York City’s buildings (a higher percentage than any other U.S. city) – are important because they mandate that buildings track their energy use. Tracking use will inform necessary energy-efficiency upgrades that will have lasting impacts and ultimately improve the city’s environment and New Yorkers’ public health. Read More
For New Yorkers wanting more clean, distributed energy, the recent Con Edison rate case offers some good news.
Presented to New York’s Public Service Commission (NYPSC), which regulates utilities in the state, a rate case is a process utilities use to adjust policies and set rates charged to customers. A rate case occurs once every few years and provides an opportunity for state and local governments, along with consumer and environmental advocacy groups, to seek cleaner, cheaper, and more customer-friendly electricity.
The Con Edison rate case is considered a bellwether for similar proceedings involving electric utilities throughout New York State – which is part of why a recent filing with the NYPSC is so important. Along with more than 20 other parties (including Con Edison, the Real Estate Board of New York, the New York Energy Consumers Council, and several environmental advocacy groups), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on September 20th filed a joint proposal with NYPSC that (among other recommendations) calls for changes to the current standby tariff that are likely to be approved by the Commission. Read More
Each year since 1981, the United Nations (UN) recognizes an International Day of Peace on September 21. The day is intended to strengthen peace both within and among nations.
As an environmental advocate, I can’t help but think about the effects of climate change on the current state of global peace. And while there are a few climate deniers out there, those who have looked at the science are saying climate change poses a serious threat to global security and peace.
Fortunately, the UN agrees – which is why they chose to focus this year’s International Peace Day on Sustainable Development Goals. Unanimously adopted by all 193 UN member states, the Sustainable Development Goals are broken down into 17 focus areas and are part of a broader agenda to fight inequality, injustice, and climate change by 2030.
Goal 7 – “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” – is a hugely important part of fostering global peace. The world needs affordable, reliable electricity to heat, cool, and power our homes, and to encourage economic growth. But we also need this electricity to be clean, modern, and efficient, so it doesn’t pollute our communities and exacerbate climate change.
Here are four ways the U.S. is doing our part to achieve an affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy system for all: