by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Senior Fellow at the John Locke Foundation and former secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, Don van der Vaart, published a piece in The Federalist on the potentially negative impact North Carolina’s focus on solar energy is having on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state. Dr. van der Vaart explains the mandate that energy utilities in North Carolina accept solar electricity whenever it is available could be counterproductive:
North State Journal… reported on Duke’s concerns about the potential reversal of reductions in another pollutant, carbon dioxide, if North Carolina continues to impose its renewables mandate on utilities. Such a reversal is possible if regulations force Duke to reduce nuclear plant output because it must accept solar electricity instead. It turns out that when zero-emission nuclear plants are dialed back to make room for solar, greenhouse gas-emitting plants must be employed to give nuclear plants time to ramp back up when the sun goes down. That’s not exactly the results environmentalists were expecting from the push to adopt solar power.
Dr. van der Vaart explains that when utility companies are forced to put out solar, they are not using their nuclear plants, which creates a disincentive to relicense zero-emissions nuclear plants. Dr. van der Vaart thinks this is not good for the environment or your wallet:
We must incentivize utilities to relicense their plants rather than retire them. Publicly owned, regulated utilities typically don’t receive a rate of return on assets that have fully depreciated. This is not to say utilities are retiring coal and nuclear plants after paying off mortgages simply because the plants no longer earn a return. Still, the lack of additional incentive is a reality.
Relicensing would also protect customers’ wallets. A recent study from the Institute for Energy Research revealed that the cost of power produced by an old nuclear plant is more than 30 percent cheaper than new natural gas, the next cheapest option.
If we allow nuclear plants to be retired under current economics, some combination of natural gas combustion turbines and renewable sources such as solar or wind will replace them. This means a zero greenhouse gas-emitting source that doesn’t spew nitrogen oxides or other pollutants will be replaced with a source that does, and at a higher cost as well.