Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nuclear is Green Energy: Guest Post by Guy Page

Last Friday morning, on my way to work in Montpelier, as I zipped on my bike down Berlin Street past a house with a prominent solar array, I began thinking about some comments the homeowner made to the media about the future of renewables. In particular, he cited some new solar and wind power construction statistics and concluded, “so much for the belief that green energy cannot replace nuclear.”

In one important sense — low-carbon content — nuclear power is already “green.” The “lifecycle” (including mining, processing, everything) of its carbon footprint is virtually identical to that of wind, solar and hydro power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It makes little sense to replace a large, existing, reliable source of very low-carbon power, in the name of climate change activism.

Furthermore, wind and solar energy cannot “replace” nuclear, any more than heating oil can “replace” gasoline. Fill a gas tank with heating oil, and the car stops. Replace a 24/7 baseload generator like Vermont Yankee with intermittent, weather-dependent wind and solar, and the carefully balanced transmission grid will crash in a flurry of brownouts, electrical fires, and blackouts. The modern transmission grid can accept about 20% intermittent power. More than that, and service and equipment will degrade.

Renewables proponent David Blittersdorf estimates that by 2050, Vermont will need 18,000 million megawatt-hours, or three times the electricity we use now (from his column in the April, 2013 Green Energy Times). Last year, all of the industrial solar generators in the Vermont SPEED program produced just slightly more than a millionth of that amount - 19,000 MWh. Or to bring the matter closer to home: according to the Vermont Dept. of Public Service,  moving just five percent closer to the state’s goal of 90% total renewable energy would require solar panels on every square inch of an area 1.3 times the size of the City of Barre.  

Guy Page with Great Grandfather
Urban Woodbury
Vermont Governor and
Civil War "empty sleeve"
As technology improves, Vermont and the rest of New England may very well have a sparkling (and not merely sparking) renewable power future. But at present, intermittent renewable power alone cannot be its backbone. Perhaps we can avoid the fate of Germany, which opted to close nuclear plants and then was forced by demand for baseload power to order the construction of many new coal-burning plants. At least until a clean, safe, economic, reliable, baseload alternative is up and running in Vermont, we should not throw out the Vermont Yankee baby with the bathwater.


This guest post is written by Guy Page, Communications director of VTEP. Page has been a frequent guest blogger on this blog, with most recent posts being As Germany Goes, So Goes Vermont? and Specific Power Sources in Vermont, VTEP Report.  Today's guest post is also appearing as a letter to the editor in various newspapers and web sites in Vermont, for example, at Vermont Digger.

About the picture: My granddaughter is visiting me, and Guy Page was kind enough to give us a tour of the State House.  In the past, Page had told me that his great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran and Governor of Vermont. Portraits of all (or most) of the governors are in the State House, but I had never located the picture of his ancestor.

Yesterday, Page gave me and my granddaughter a State House tour.  He showed me the portrait of Urban Woodbury, and I took this picture of Page and Woodbury together, so to speak. (In the portrait, note the empty sleeve, which is slightly hidden by the artist.)


Speedy said...

Just a minor correction:
It should be MWh, not mw/h.

It's megawatt times hour, not megawatt per hour, M is mega, m is milli, and W is watt, w doesn't mean anything.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you Speedy. I should have noticed that! I have corrected it.