Is It the Best of Times or the Worst of Times for Renewable Energy?

It seems an odd point at which to make this argument: David Roberts posits in a new commentary that renewable energy mandates aren’t getting the support they merit; truth be told, they should get more.

“Though they aren’t as sexy as perpetually-discussed-but-rarely-passed carbon taxes, and they are flawed and insufficient in a number of ways, RPSs have been the quiet workhorses of renewable energy deployment in the US,” Roberts states. “RPSs might not be the most cost-effective way to improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, or stimulate the growth of clean-energy industries and jobs … but they are real, working, doing all three of those things, right now, cost-effectively.”

You can read his full arguments and the research on which he bases them for yourself. What catches my eye is the absence of any reference to nuclear energy. The headline to David’s piece characterizes renewable mandates as “the most effective clean energy policy,” despite the fact that nuclear energy for decades has been the nation’s largest source of carbon-free power. It remains so (at 60 percent of carbon-free power generation) even though its dominance has eased a bit over the past several years due to some reactor closings and the increased penetration of renewable technologies.

For those whose goal is clean energy, the question becomes, “What benefit is served by having renewable mandates that crowd out nuclear energy?” I delve into this in greater detail in an analysis I penned for RealClearEnergy a few months ago. For brevity here, I’ll note simply that the impending retirement of California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in the mid-2020s was triggered largely by the upward ratcheting of the state’s RPS. (Roberts happens to describe the California standard as “wildly ambitious.”) If continued ratcheting of existing RPSs occurs in other states, and additional states enact strict “renewable” mandates vs broader “clean energy” mandates that don’t make room for nuclear energy, how will we move forward rather than backward in clean energy space? Truth be told, we won’t.

October 23, 2017

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