Energy Secretary Perry’s Electric Resiliency Rule Could Be a Big Win for Nuclear and the Climate. Here’s Why

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This morning Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issue a rule requiring payments to nuclear and coal power plants to maintain a resilient electrical grid.

The Trump administration can’t say it, but Environmental Progress can: the rule could be a huge win for the climate.

The reason is because while the rule would keep nuclear plants producing power, it wouldn’t necessarily do the same for coal plants. If implemented properly, the rule could result in a system of “cold standby” for coal plants — ready to run in case of an emergency, but otherwise not producing power (or pollution).

Nuclear plants are cheaper to operate than coal plants. As such, under this rule, nuclear plants would likely be favored ahead of both coal and natural gas plants.

Another reason the rule would likely benefit nuclear over coal is because it would require nuclear and coal plants to keep three months or more of fuel on-site.

Nuclear fuel is over one million times more “energy dense” than coal, and so it’s easy for nuclear plants to keep several years worth of fuel on-site. By contrast, most coal plants keep just 74 days worth of coal on site, because of the high cost of storing so much energy-dilute fuel.  

Of course, there are still big questions about how all of this will work in practice. If the rule turns out to benefit coal plants more than nuclear plants, or result in an increase in emissions, Environmental Progress would strongly oppose it.

Since its founding in January 2016, Environmental Progress has led the effort to save nuclear plants around the world. Our biggest victories to date were saving nuclear plants in Illinois and New York, and is now fighting to save nuclear plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, California, South Korea, Germany and other states and nations.

The news comes the same day that Secretary Perry announced conditional commitments for $3.7 billion in federal loan guarantees to continue construction of a new nuclear plant in Georgia.

All of this good news for nuclear is provoking the usual misinformation from anti-nuclear groups including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund.

Those groups have attacked the proposed rule, tried to block new nuclear plants in Georgia and South Carolina, and are all on the record supporting the replacement of zero-emissions nuclear plants with natural gas in Ohio, California and New York.

In the 1970s and 1980s, anti-nuclear groups forced the cancellation of 150 percent more nuclear plants than were ever built, which led to the building, and continued operation, of coal and natural gas plants.

Long-term, policymakers must fix America’s badly broken electricity markets. Electricity is a valuable service, not a commodity.

The vast majority of Americans don’t just want electricity, we also want cleaner air from energy sources that don’t require the removal of whole mountains, the destruction of desert wilderness, and the killing of bald eagles, condors and desert tortoises.

With strong environmental advocacy — not greenwashing for fossil fuels by anti-nuclear ideologues — we can fix America’s electricity system. FERC, along with grid operators, can create a rule that compensates reliable nuclear plants without increasing generation from coal plants.