At a budget hearing yesterday on the president's fiscal year 2016 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that incentivizing wind and solar energy over nuclear power penalizes states and utilities, such as Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which makes it harder to keep electricity rates low. He called it the "energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when the nuclear Navy is available."
"60 percent of our country's carbon-free, emission-free electricity comes from nuclear power," Alexander said at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies of which he is a member. "Yet, when we're developing a clean air plan in Tennessee under the regulations in the Obama administration's proposed Clean Power Plan, we don't get credit for investing in nuclear power. What we have in our state are utilities - such as TVA - that are doing a terrific job of cleaning up coal plants, building nuclear plants, and utilizing hydropower plants, but are being penalized because EPA is preferring wind and solar, which produce very little electricity, over nuclear, which produces over 60 percent of our clean electricity. It's the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when the nuclear Navy's available."
In 2014, EPA announced proposed the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels nationwide by 2030. Nuclear power provides over 60 percent of the country's carbon-free electricity generation, while wind provides 13 percent and solar provides less than one percent. However, under the proposed plan, EPA includes 100 percent of existing renewable generation from wind and solar when calculating how much states have to reduce emissions, but only includes six percent of existing nuclear generation.
The proposal also treats nuclear plants that are under construction as already operating at 90% capacity despite the fact that these plants will not begin producing electricity until 2016, at the earliest. Currently, there are five nuclear reactors under construction: two in Georgia, two in South Carolina, and Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee, which will deliver the first new nuclear generation of the 21st century. This proposed regulation punishes Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, instead of rewarding good behavior and early efforts to reduce emissions.
Alexander is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.