Coal, Gas, Nuclear

Articulating the Vision Behind DOE’s NOPR

Issue 12 and Volume 121.

DON’T PUT all your eggs in one basket.

Ouch! That hurt.

This is a common cliché used to describe many themes and scenarios. It’s been the power sector’s motto for years.

Clichés are the bane of good writing. They are shortcuts for lazy writers and press agents who can’t find the words to convey a fresh and unique perspective to fit their story. This particular cliché has been used repeatedly by power producers to describe the importance of maintaining a power portfolio rich in diversity. It is an overused expression that has lost its spice. Yet, it is still being used to articulate the need for preserving diversity in power generation, and it remains the mantra behind the Department of Energy’s controversial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking directing federal regulators to start subsidizing power produced with coal and nuclear resources.

This cliché sounds right for this situation and we agree with the wisdom behind it, but it gets less and less interesting and cheesier with every mention. As we debate the need for DOE’s proposed rule, how should its advocates polish their prose for a more persuasive argument?

Most importantly, it should make you think.

Nuclear power accounts for 63 percent of the nation’s carbon-free electricity, and yet, about half of the nation’s nuclear plants are no longer profitable. After decades of neglect from policymakers, the nation’s biggest source of clean energy is collapsing. The DOE’s effort to acknowledge nuclear power as the most important source of carbon-free electricity is long overdue. If the battle to cut carbon emissions is important, then nuclear power should be deemed a public necessity.

Coal is the cheapest and most abundant fuel in the world. Yet, U.S. policy prohibits power producers from building the most advanced coal-fired plants. Draconian limits for CO2 emissions, enacted under the previous administration in a misguided campaign against the most important segment of power generation, make it practically impossible for U.S. power producers to build supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal-fired plants, which are low-cost, low-emission, high-output and highly efficient sources of power. In fact, if U.S. power producers were allowed to replace their old, inefficient coal units with supercritical units equipped with the latest emission controls, the nation’s output of greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly lower. However, this scenario is not possible under the limits adopted by the previous administration.

Natural gas is cheap and abundant, but it has a history of sharp price swings and most utilities don’t want to rely solely on gas to serve their customers. The cost of renewable power is falling, but renewable resources are intermittent and require grid-scale energy storage, which is still expensive.

DOE’s proposal to require utilities to pay power plants for the costs associated with storing a 90-day supply of fuel on site may not be the perfect strategy. However, a variation of it could help restore balance between the economic concerns, reliability concerns and environmental concerns of power generation. As we see it, the scale is tilted toward the environmental concerns, thanks to misguided policies, unreasonable mandates and hardline interest groups.

The problem is power producers don’t have enough baskets to put their eggs in. Their choices have been severely restricted by these overreaching rules.

So, how can we change this tired cliché?

Consider these:

  • Don’t fly a plane with one wing.


  • Don’t put one blueberry in a blueberry pie.


  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because it could be dropped off the side of a mountain.


  • There’s only one basket, stupid.


  • Don’t hang a sledgehammer with a string.


  • Don’t protect all your eggs with one password.


  • Don’t drive a car with one wheel.


  • Don’t jump out of a plane without a parachute.


  • Put all your eggs in one basket and you’ll get what’s coming to you.

 

Okay, these versions aren’t much better. They were borne from a sense of sarcasm, mockery and disdain for clichés. The point is advanced coal-fired plants combined with carbon capture technology and more nuclear capacity are critical tools for reducing CO2 emissions, increasing resiliency and improving sustainability. Imposing unrealistic limits on CO2 emissions from new and existing coal-fired plants in the U.S. will do little, if anything, to reduce climate change.

The power sector needs to do a better job of articulating this message.

As always, if you have questions, criticisms, praise, ideas or suggestions, please contact me at [email protected].