The NCSL Blog


By Mark Wolf

When a light switch is flicked, the electricity that allows the room to be bathed in light doesn't come with a destination code identifying it as gas, coal, nuclear or renewable.

Nuclear towerNuclear power advocates told a session at the NCSL Capitol Forum on Tuesday that acknowledging those differences is crucial if their industry's strengths, e.g. being the largest and most reliable source of carbon-free energy, are to be sustained.

"We make a terrible mistake when we think about electricity," said Richard Myers, vice president of policy development for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told NCSL's Task Force on Energy Supply. "We tend to think of this as a bulk undifferentiated commodity and it’s all the same. It’s not all the same. Electricity from different sources have different sets of attributes."

Proponents of nuclear power argue that government policies favoring fuel sources such as renewables and natural gas at the expense of nuclear has damaged the industry and that falling natural gas prices are pricing nuclear out of the market and contributing to scheduled plant closures.

"In a competitive market, unless you identify these differences and price them, they're going to go away," said Myers.

Four plants that have either shut down or announced plans to close—Kewaunee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Pilgrim in Massachusetts and FitzPatrick in New York—have done so because market conditions don’t support their operation, said Myers.

"There's nothing wrong with these plants. There's something wrong with the market," he said.

Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, said his company "can't continue to make an economic investment and continue to lose money" in its FitzPatrick plant, which is scheduled to close next year.

Mohl also predicted that the U.S. would have difficulty achieving the carbon emissions standards outlined in the Clean Power Plan if nuclear plants continued to close.

"Folks are very averse to seeing (energy) prices increase. What they are not thinking about is if they don't make changes and continue to shut down plants, you are replacing that with more expensive resources," he said.

"We need policy changes. We must stop picking winners and losers."

Visit the NCSL Capitol Forum resource page.

Mark Wolf is editor of the NCSL Blog. Program principal Kristy Hartman and research analyst Dan Shea of NCSL's Energy program contributed to this blog.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.