Focus Your Message, Moniz Tells Industry
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018
ATLANTA — The nuclear industry needs work on its sales pitch if it wants to capture public support for policy and resources, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said yesterday.
The industry has sound arguments to make, such as that nuclear is a low-carbon resource necessary for national security, he said.
"We need to be very forward in advancing those public arguments," Moniz said, using this message to start and end his 45-minute address before the Nuclear Energy Institute's annual industry conference here, known as the Nuclear Energy Assembly.
"In the nuclear arena, there are probably those public goods; they probably aren't emphasized enough, probably not consistently enough."
Flat power demand, low natural gas prices and industry shifts have left the nuclear industry in flux.
In some organized markets, nuclear reactors are being shuttered prematurely. But in the regulated Southeast, utilities in Georgia and South Carolina started building the nation's first nuclear reactors from scratch in 30 years. They have been hammered by a combination of vendor problems and regulatory delays that also led the main contractor to go bankrupt.
Both examples highlight nuclear's main problem. Reactors are highly complicated and expensive to build. For the ones already operating, natural gas and in some cases renewable energy have been undercutting the reactors' economics.
States such as Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey have floated ideas to boost nuclear power in efforts to save their fleets. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been considering policies that would benefit coal and nuclear plants, but how that plays out is still unclear.
"Various attempts at the federal level to use reliability arguments, to use Federal Power Act arguments, these are bluntly and extremely unconvincing," said Moniz, president and CEO of the think tank Energy Futures Initiative.
Even with the Trump administration's actions to roll back environmental regulations and leave the Paris Agreement, Moniz said the U.S. is on a path toward a low-carbon energy future. Nuclear has an important role in that, he added.
He cited a range of examples, including that mayors, governors and business leaders said they were committed to carbon reductions. There is also momentum building to advance carbon capture technologies.
And then there's energy giant Southern Co., of which Moniz is now a board member. Atlanta-based Southern will transition to a low-to-no-carbon system by 2050, its CEO said recently.
"That's all in a business model context and in a portfolio risk management approach," Moniz said.
The company is expected to discuss more details of that plan at its annual meeting today.
Southern's Georgia Power Co. and a group of public power utilities are still building two units at Plant Vogtle in southeast Georgia. They are the only reactors under construction in the United States.