Saving New Jersey's nuclear plants will save lives and jobs. President Michael Shellenberger's testimony

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Testimony by Michael Shellenberger, Founder and President, Environmental Progress.

December 4, 2017

Mr. Chairperson and members of the committee: thank you for accepting my testimony.

As background, I am a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” Green Book Award-winner, and president of Environmental Progress, an independent nonprofit organization funded entirely by individuals and philanthropic foundations.

I am here today because I am very concerned by the threat that nuclear plant closures pose to the environment, public health, and jobs. 

I was against nuclear energy for most of my life and only changed my mind after confronting key facts about the limitations of renewables. 

New Jersey gets electricity from three nuclear plants. If they close, emissions in New Jersey will rise the equivalent of adding 2.7 million cars to the road. Children, the sick, and the elderly suffering from asthma or respiratory diseases will pay the highest price.

The New York-Newark region is already among the 25th most polluted cities in America in ozone and particulate matter. The American Lung Association this year gave 11 New Jersey counties an “F” grade for ozone pollution.

If you allow your nuclear plants to close, electricity prices will rise and high-skill, high-paying jobs will be lost.

My home state of California stands as a stark warning. Our electricity prices have risen from 13 cents to 18 cents per kilowatt hour since 2011. By contrast, electricity rates nationally rose from just 10 to 11 cents during the same period. 

High electricity prices have driven manufacturers out of California and we today have the highest poverty rate in the country, according to the US Census Bureau.

What happened to California? It’s simple: we closed one of our two nuclear plants, which generate power at a cost of about 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, and increased the amount of electricity we receive from natural gas, solar, and wind.

The best available peer-reviewed economic research finds that the value of wind drops 40 percent once it becomes 30 percent of electricity and the value of solar drops by half when it gets to just 15 percent.

What about the battery revolution we’ve heard so much about? There isn’t one. As a result, Californians have to pay Arizona to take our unneeded solar electricity so it doesn’t blow-out our grid.

What about carbon emissions? They rose in California by 11 million metric tonnes while they declined 174 million metric tonnes in the U.S. as a whole.

The share of New Jersey’s electricity from natural gas already doubled since 2010, and last year provided 56 percent of your electricity last year. Nuclear provided 39 percent of your electricity last year and is the critical bulwark against over-dependence on natural gas. 

Natural gas is cheap now, but if it becomes 90 percent of your electricity you can expect prices to spike. Once a nuclear plant is closed it’s closed forever. You can’t just go start it up again once natural gas prices rise.

I encourage you to join New York and Illinois in taking sensible measures to safeguard public health, jobs, and consumers by ensuring the continued operation of your nuclear plants.  Thank you.

Why I changed my mind about nuclear power: Transcript of Michael Shellenberger's TEDx Berlin 2017

Why I changed my mind about nuclear power: Transcript of Michael Shellenberger's TEDx Berlin 2017

Like a lot of kids born in the early 1970s, I had the good fortune to be raised by hippies. One of my childhood heroes was Stewart Brand. Stewart is not only one of the original hippies, he’s also one of the first modern environmentalists of the 1960s and 70s. As a young boy, one of my favorite memories is playing cooperative games that Stewart Brand invented as an antidote to the Vietnam War.

I started my environmental career as an anti-nuclear activist and I quickly got involved in advocating for renewable energy. In the early part of this century I helped to start a labor union and environmentalist alliance called the Apollo Alliance and we pushed for a big investment in clean energy: solar, wind, electric cars.

Then, Stewart Brand came out in 2005 and said we should rethink nuclear power. 

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Why is California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Seeking to Kill Our Largest Source of Clean Energy?

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When the utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced last summer that it would close California’s last nuclear power plant, the mainstream news media mostly applauded.

The New York Times gave a loud endorsement of the decision. “Good news from Diablo Canyon,” wrote the paper’s Editorial Board. Diablo’s closure would, “serve as a positive example for other states and nations that may in time need to replace aging nuclear plants without increasing carbon emissions.”
 

But it's now clear that PG&E will take no action to ensure California’s carbon emissions don’t spike when Diablo closes, and they’re telling us loud and clear. The utility’s position is simple: all of Diablo’s emissions-free energy will be replaced by fossil.

It will be all of us who lose if PG&E closes Diablo. But the truth will find a way, and so will Environmental Progress, Mothers for Nuclear, and Californians for Green Nuclear Power as we fight this injustice and drag the government and PG&E’s dirty hands into the light.

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This report was born from an ongoing effort by the staff and research fellows of Environmental Progress and other researchers to understand the fastest way to decarbonize national economies (i.e., reduce emissions per unit of gross domestic product) in order to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

We publish it to fill a gap in the scientific literature and the regularly issued reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which are overwhelmingly focused on modeling future scenarios with little regard for real-world historical trends.

We are more than ever of the view that a future-facing climate policy must be informed by backward-facing energy analysis. The attention given by energy analysts, policymakers, and the IPCC to scenarios ungrounded from history is wildly disproportionate to the attention given to the real world experience of deploying clean energy technologies and their impact, or lack thereof, on carbon intensity and emissions.

Given what’s at stake, this constitutes a grave error. Those who insist on ignoring the past, to modify Santayana, should not be allowed to force the rest of us to repeat it.

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