Governor goes pro-nuclear and so do the people who want his job
What is it about California that always twists what the rest of the country takes for reality into a pretzel? For more than three decades the state has banned the construction of new nuclear power plants. At the same time it is one of the nation’s top 10 in terms of energy intensive per capita and for use of nuclear energy generated electricity.
So it comes as another shock to the political system when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said last week he is considering making nuclear power “renewable.” The Wall Street Journal Environmental Capital Blog reported 9/14 that the governor sees nukes as “punching above their weight since they represent only 10% of the nation’s electricity generating capacity but 20% of its electricity supply.”
It took just two days for the top contenders for Schwarzenegger’s job in the 2010 election to jump on the “me too” bandwagon. The San Francisco Chronicle reported 9/16 that Republican Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner promised to make nuclear energy a key plank in his campaign platform. Two other contenders agreed, but Republican and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman said with elegant vagueness that she wanted to see a “a thoughtful discussion” about nuclear energy. Her statement suggests Silicon Valley is not onboard the nuclear ship of state.
The combined impacts of the tectonic shift in California politics may be tough to deal with for green groups which have made the anti-nuclear mantra an article of new age religious faith.
California’s colonial energy policy could benefit Utah
For all the years California has banned nuclear power plants, it has been quite happy to import nuclear generated electricity from Arizona. Even as the governor is talking about changing that paradigm, developers in Utah are planning a 3,000 MW nuclear power station in Green River Utah to wheel electricity westward to California’s booming energy markets.
If Governor Schwarzenegger is successful in tagging nuclear as renewable, it could put a new spin on the state’s colonial energy empire. He’s planning to take the initiative with an executive order that over rides a complex legislative proposal that mandates utilities must get a fixed percentage of their energy imports from renewable power.
At the same time, it could put winds in the sails of nuclear energy developers in Utah who can now brand their electricity as a “renewable source.” Once state renewable energy imports can include nuclear as a designated source, it opens California’s massive energy market to anyone with a 235 KV transmission line and a nuclear reactor or two to play in the mix.
Gov Schwarzenegger's planned executive order doesn't over turn the state's three-decade ban on building new nuclear power plants inside its borders. What it does, with its focus on "renewable energy imports, is open the door for others to build new ones in neighboring states.
Nuclear politics at home
While the “Terminator” governor was stomping on Democratic legislators proposals for solar and wind energy imports, candidates for the top state office were vying for media attention on the unlikely election topic of nuclear energy. Skeptical Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists got an earful from Steve Poizner (right). He said,
“Modern 4th generation plants should be part of the mix in California. The state needs a power source to meet a 50% increase in demand for electricity in the next decade.”
It’s not clear Poizner has his technology ducks lined up since most “4th generation” nuclear reactor designs are a lot more than a decade away. More likely, if he wants nukes now rather than later, he’s referring to 3rd generation light water reactors such as the Areva EPR, GE-Hitachi BWR designs, and the Westinghouse AP1000.
Also in the ‘me too’ chorus is former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, reportedly a long-time nuclear advocate, who said “nothing should be excluded from consideration in light of the threat of global warming.”
Not all the candidates are on the pro-nuclear bandwagon. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is an advocate for solar and wind power. He told the high-tech forum, meeting in Santa Clara, that renewables “don’t require us to explore controversial and costly nuclear power.”
A spokesperson for one of California’s leading environmental groups told the Chronicle they are not impressed with the rush to tag nuclear energy as a renewable energy source. Serena Ingre, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said nuclear plants are not feasible until spent fuel issues are resolved and costs of building new reactors have more certainty.
Not coming to its senses just yet
While national environmental groups were bashing the daylights out of nuclear energy as a part of California’s energy future, they also were limiting their options with renewables. Just when you thought the state was coming to its senses in terms of a sensible energy policy, green groups brushed aside a proposal to build a 5,130 acre solar energy facility in the Mojave Desert. There’s lots of sunshine there all year, but it turns out protecting big horn sheep is more important than keeping the lights on in Los Angeles.
The city, which gets a share of its power from coal fired power plants in Utah, could have cut greenhouse gases by switching to solar. Brightsource Energy of Oakland, Calif, told the New York Times Sept 19 it would look elsewhere for a site.
If you can’t get past “not in my backyard” in the Mojave Desert, and with a solar energy plant no less, just exactly where is California going to get its electricity from in the coming decade? Even so green groups remain staunch advocates of solar and wind energy as a solution to the state’s energy needs.
Energy is wealth. See South Africa's example of what not to do with energy policy and the consequences for economic growth. Until California voters stop dreaming about solar and wind as the sole answer to their energy problems, the most significant impact of that energy policy will be a wake up call in their pocketbooks.
# # #
# # #