Friday, November 06, 2009

We Have The Power

Tim from Colorado e-mails to explain that if the Obama Administration's energy policies continue, we may all be left dancing in the dark:

There are two types of power demand: base-load and peak-load. Base load is the minimum amount of energy you need to operate essential services like hospitals, water purification facilities, schools, police and fire departments, commercial food refrigeration, etc.; stuff you don't ever want to do without. Peak load is stuff you need to run at the peak times of the day, like air-conditioning, lights for offices and businesses, etc., that would cause minor discomfort if we were forced to do without.

Today, I read an article that the Obama Administration has slashed the operating budget at Yucca Mountain to zilch. Yucca Mountain is a $13 billion facility in Nevada contracted and constructed by the US government as a repository for nuclear waste generated by nuclear energy generating facilities. Yucca Mountain was to begin receiving spent nuclear fuel in the late '90s, but Yucca Mountain has become a political football.

When the government proposed the Yucca site there was some protests as expected, but ultimately Yucca was chosen, mostly because it is contained within Nellis Air Force Base. One of the driving criteria of a centralized storage facility was that it would provide greater security from terrorism threats; it's hard to beat the security on a military base.

Whether or not Yucca Mountain was the best choice is an entirely different argument. The fact is, the good people of Nevada were eventually happy to receive the money spent and re-spent by the federal government and the various engineering and construction firms that built Yucca Mountain, but now that it's time to start removing the spent fuel from over 100 nuclear generating facilities in the US and send it to Yucca Mountain for storage, Senator Reid and Mr. Obama say no. This facility has long been paid for by a 1/10th of 1-cent tax per kilo-watt-hour of electricity consumed by every American.

This has major implications. First, over 20% of our energy is provided by nuclear power. Nuclear plants in the US are running out of storage room. Some industry experts predict that by 2015, some US nuclear power plants will have to come off line because they have no additional room to store spent fuel. Without a place to store their waste, the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) can refuse to renew their operating licenses. New plants currently in the planning stages will have short operation windows if they do not have long-term waste storage options.

Obama and Al Gore love to talk about the promise wind and solar power hold for our future. The fact is that wind and solar power are inefficient and unreliable sources of power for even peak loads. Nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants are great at providing our base-load energy needs because you can generate a lot of energy on a relatively small plot of land. Gas-fired plants are great for peak-loads because they can be started on short notice and take up about half as much room as a conventional power plant.

When fuel prices spiked during the summer of 2008, Bush's critics wailed that Bush had a failed energy policy. The condensed version of my email is that the closing of Yucca Mountain proves that not only does Obama have no energy policy, but he also has no clue what the long-term effects are with the closing of Yucca Mountain.

This decision is yet another example of Obama kicking a can down the road for someone else to deal with.

If this administration serves two terms, you can expect to be sitting in the dark and cold at the end of the second term.

Great e-mail. We need to get beyond this fascination with wind, solar, and other "alternative sources" like ethanol that are costly and inefficient. The truth is we could meet all our energy needs for the foreseeable future in an efficient, cost-effective, and yes, even "green" manner by moving toward what I'm calling the Two N plan: nuclear and natural gas. Recent technological advances in natural gas exploration and recovery have lead to the discovery of large fields (HUGE tracts of gas!) in the United States that can now be tapped. We can move a lot of our current energy use to natural gas over time and expand nuclear as well to keep up with the demands. Oil and coal are not going away anytime soon and we should continue our efforts to increase our domestic production, but as we transition to natural gas and nuclear they would play a smaller and smaller role in meeting our overall needs.

Why should we continue to invest in energy sources like wind and solar that are unproven, costly, and ineffective when we have two proven and plentiful sources in nuclear and natural gas? Let's direct our resources towards a plan that we know will work.

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