National and local energy policy must meet our growing energy needs, protect the environment and build a strong economy. There will be no easy answers, no quick fixes.
Many suggest conservation and the greater use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to meet our future energy demand.
Conservation truly is the cleanest, quickest, cheapest and best method to help offset new power demand. Unfortunately, conservation by itself will not meet Washington’s projected energy requirements. Conservation is a diminishing resource, and we can’t conserve our way out of the need for more power.
Nor can renewable power sources alone meet our state’s energy needs. Wind and solar power are intermittent; there is no power when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. These on-again, off-again power sources challenge our regional power grid. Wind and solar power are clean and carbon-free; they also are expensive compared to other energy sources.
This is not to say we should not conserve energy or continue to develop renewable resources. These are all essential and important parts of the diverse energy mix we should deploy to meet our power needs — but they are not stand-alone solutions. They will not satisfy baseload — or full time — power demand.
We must have baseload generation as the foundation for intermittent, renewable power sources, and nuclear power must be part of that discussion. As a viable, economical and environmentally responsible resource, nuclear energy produces large amounts of clean and affordable electricity.
A major, yet uninformed, argument against nuclear power has been the cost. Capital costs alone are not the best method to analyze the economics of new generating costs. The cost per megawatt-hour of electricity is a better way to compare the financial competitiveness of generating sources.
In our region, the Northwest Planning and Conservation Council recently released levelized cost comparison data for new power plants, including: hydro, $87/MWh; natural gas, $90-$120/MWh; coal, $103/MWh; nuclear, $109/MWh; wind, $102–108/MWh and solar – $183-$222/MWh.
So what about the nuclear waste issue?
The ultimate answer is recycling (reuse). Fuel pellets from commercial nuclear energy facilities are only enriched between 3 percent and 5 percent. Once in the reactor for six years, commercial used fuel can also be recycled for re-use, as Japan, France and Russia are doing. Canada will soon join their ranks.
In addition to being carbon-free and cost competitive, the efficiency and safety of commercial nuclear power plants in this country have been well demonstrated over the past several decades, and continue to advance.
Pursuing new nuclear power facilities does not diminish national or regional commitment to conservation and renewables. We should not choose one over another.
All of these resources are needed, including new nuclear power generation — power that will help ensure Washington sustains a strong economy with an abundant supply of clean, reliable and affordable energy for decades to come.
Jack Janda is a commissioner for Mason County Public Utility District 1 in Hoodsport. He also is a member of the Energy Northwest executive board and board of directors.