Mr. Stone takes an active part in various energy discussions. I obtained his permission to use some of his recent remarks as a guest post on this blog.
I think that going negative on this type of energy or that type of energy is not helpful. The truth is more like the following:
"I am for cheap electricity that does not harm our health or environment. I think nuclear is the best way of achieving that goal but in those instances where wind and solar are competitive, I'm for them. However, according to the DOE Wind Integration Report, wind can compose at most about 20% of our electricity market, or, by the governments own admission, a very optimistic 30%. (The government only does these projections through 2020.) Solar is even less than that in New England: just look at our weather.
These percentages can't really go up unless there is some radical technological breakthrough in energy storage technology. Right now, we still have to get around 80% from of our electricity from somewhere. According to the report, most of that will still be from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels benefit by avoiding payment for huge externalities that cause damage to our health and environment. I think it's clear that we need additional options to replace fossil fuels and the evidence supports nuclear as the best option for that 80%."
I know that this position does not play well to the cable news / extremist audience, but it plays extremely well to the internet and the John Stewart Daily Show Audience. And when it comes to extremists, either you have someone who'll refuse to listen or someone to whom you'll be preaching to the choir.
Solar in New England is a little like solar in Germany. It isn't going to contribute that much (capacity factor around 10%) even with a big installed capacity.
To read about externalities for fossil, it is worth looking at the summary of the latest National Academy of Science report on Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use. Nuclear comes out very well.The difference between the best and the worst coal plants is huge.
People often look surprised when I say: "Well, there are really only three energy choices: nuclear, fossil and renewables. Renewables are great, but they can't do it alone. So we have to choose between nuclear and fossil for the rest." Somehow, in all the debates about Vermont's Energy Future and Shut Yankee Down and all that...people get the impression there are as many choices for electricity as there are for toothpaste.
Many thanks to Cavan Stone for this post!
Beautiful image, from Wikimedia, of bunsen burner flames with different air feeds.