April 4, 2018
The Honorable Mark Dayton 130 State Capitol 75 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. St. Paul, MN 55155
Dear Governor Dayton,
As scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists, we are grateful for your commitment to protecting the environment by moving Minnesota toward cleaner sources of energy.
However, despite Minnesota’s successes, its nuclear plants are in danger of shutting decades earlier than necessary, and more than a decade before needing new operating licenses. The clean power provided by Monticello and Prairie Island would be replaced, like everywhere else nuclear plants close, almost entirely by fossil fuels. In Minnesota, with its plentiful coal and natural gas plant capacity waiting for more business, any nuclear closures would have particularly high carbon costs.
Minnesota cannot lose its nuclear plants and still meet its climate goals. If Minnesota’s nuclear plants are lost, the share of the state’s electricity coming from coal and natural gas would increase sharply from 51 percent to over 70 percent, increasing emissions by an amount that would be carbon equivalent of adding 2 million cars to the road.
Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear power plants supply 23 percent of Minnesota’s electricity and over 50 percent of the state’s zero-carbon electricity. As Minnesota’s wind energy has increased, coal generation has steadily declined. But losing the constant, round-the-clock power from nuclear plants would sharply reverse this trend, immediately counteracting the effect that billions of dollars worth of investments in wind and solar have had.
The loss of nuclear plants is especially worrying when considering another key climate strategy: replacing today’s petroleum-based vehicles with clean alternatives. While Minnesota’s solar panels provide less than half the energy in December compared to July, the state’s nuclear plants can supply steady power year round. Wind is even more troublesome when trying to plan the transportation fleet of the future: summer wind production can be as low as a third of output compared to winter months.
Minnesota has been a leader in wind energy, and is now boldly increasing its investments in solar energy. But because wind and solar suffer from unpredictable and dramatic energy droughts due to natural weather conditions, adding more wind and solar is a poor match for electric vehicles’ need for clean electricity each day, week, and season. Working together, Minnesota’s three nuclear plants could support an electric vehicle fleet of more than 2 million cars and are therefore indispensable to the decarbonization of transportation.
Nuclear plants in Minnesota and around the country are at risk of being replaced by fossil fuels because they are excluded from state and federal clean energy subsidies and mandates. In 2016, renewables used for electricity production received $6.6 billion, or 33 times more, in federal tax preferences than nuclear. Therefore, considering nuclear’s larger share of clean electricity generation, federal subsidies for renewable electricity averaged 94 times more than subsidies for nuclear.
But exclusion from federal subsidies is not the full extent of discrimination against nuclear energy. Minnesota state laws further subsidize most low-carbon energy while excluding nuclear. Depending on home size and utility provider, homeowners taking advantage of current state policy to build solar on their roofs receive subsidies totaling $180 per MWh. And Minnesota’s renewable portfolio standard excludes nuclear from consideration while requiring utilities to purchase other alternatives.
In 2016, New York and Illinois acted decisively to save their distressed nuclear plants. Last year, Connecticut voted to allow nuclear plants to participate in clean energy procurement. In each case, direct costs of around $10 per MWh will be offset by reduced fossil fuel imports and retained jobs and tax revenue. Just as in Connecticut, consumer protection can, and should, be included in any plan to protect Minnesota’s nuclear plants so they can be handed down to future generations.
As governor, you have demonstrated your willingness to shape the future of Minnesota’s energy policy. To do the right thing for your state’s environment and people, you need to keep nuclear power in Minnesota. We urge you to support the public interest by keeping Monticello and Prairie Island online. In doing so, you will help protect the state’s environment, health, and taxpayers.
Michael Shellenberger, President of Environmental Progress, Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment”
James Hansen, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Steven Pinker, Harvard University, Better Angels of Our Nature
Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001
Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World
John Lavine, Professor and Medill Dean Emeritus, Northwestern University
Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School
Mark Lynas, author, The God Species, Six Degrees
Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland
Steve Kirsch, CEO, Token
Martin Lewis, Department of History, Stanford University
Michelle Marvier, Santa Clara University
Norris McDonald, President, Environmental Hope and Justice
Kirsty Gogan, Executive Director, Energy for Humanity
Alan Medsker, Coordinator, Environmental Progress - Illinois
Richard Muller, Professor of Physics, UC Berkeley, Co-Founder, Berkeley Earth
Tom Wigley, Climate and Energy Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
David W. Lea, Professor of Earth Science, University of California Santa Barbara