Congress unfairly picks winners (nuclear reactors) and losers (renewable energy)

Guest Blog | June 13, 2012 | Energy Policy, Nuclear, Wind
US Congress picks winners and losers

When talking about energy policy in our nation’s Capitol, you can hardly visit a U.S. Senator or Representative’s office without hearing that they supposedly support an “all of the above” energy strategy. President Obama jumped on the bandwagon early on, as well. In theory, an “all of the above” energy strategy would benefit all sources of energy production (wind, oil, solar, nuclear, hydropower, coal, and so on), not just the most politically popular.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Stuck within the bill was a provision to add $10 million to a permitting authority (in this case, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) for a proposed nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada. Also under the bill was a provision to eliminate the Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America Program. How does this constitute an “all of the above” strategy?

Our nation has already thrown billions of dollars toward developing the proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive nuclear waste storage facility over the course of several decades. The flawed geologic repository isn’t anywhere close to being completed, has rightfully been abandoned by the Obama Administration, has estimated costs of nearly $100 billion and its capacity would be woefully small compared to the massive amount of radioactive waste lying around at the more than 100 nuclear reactors currently operating in the U.S. Yet, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to dump another $10 million of your taxpayer dollars into an essentially “dead” project. To get this $10 million without raising taxes, Congress has come up with a new term – “pay fors.”

Simply put, “pay fors” are budget cuts from other federal programs to come up with the money to expand existing programs or pay for new programs (but let’s be honest, most of the money is already borrowed anyway). If the Senate doesn’t act, one of those sacrificial lambs for the never-going-to-happen Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository could be the successful Wind Powering America Program.

Unlike the Yucca Mountain boondoggle, where billions of dollars have been spent but to no avail, Wind Powering America has seen huge successes since its inception. Wind Powering America has had a positive influence throughout the country – especially here in the Southeast. Anemometer loan programs, Wind for Schools, state wind working groups, maps and data – all invaluable tools introducing and promoting wind energy to our region. Since the 1999 inception of Wind Powering America, wind power deployment around the country has increased from 2,400 megawatts to over 47,000 megawatts today—a twenty fold increase. Even though the program has been wildly successful, more work still needs to be done.

Here in the Southeast, we are just beginning to see major interest in onshore wind development. Each onshore wind farm can represent investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in local communities, yet misconceptions about wind energy can stall projects indefinitely. Because of the strong Wind Powering America network, we in the Southeast can learn from our peers’ successes and avoid making the same mistakes they did when getting wind projects off the ground.

Since the challenges to offshore wind farms and the stakeholders involved in the process are radically different than those of onshore wind projects, in some sense,  stakeholder involvement and engagement has to be restarted.  Many of the lessons learned from onshore wind are not applicable to the offshore context and thus some of the processes are starting anew. With dozens of near-term gigawatts of offshore wind power and the billions of dollars of investment they will bring in to our region, it is more critical than ever to have programs such as Wind Powering America in place to facilitate and speed the deployment process along.

Apparently in Washington, the “all of the above” talking point has been flipped on its head; if a program is wildly successful (such as Wind Powering America), the House of Representatives will vote to eliminate its funding. But if a program is woefully over budget, behind schedule and unlikely to ever succeed (such as the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump), what’s another $10 million down the drain?

Do you think it’s fair to steal money from successful renewable energy programs and give it to nuclear boondoggles? If you think it is unfair, contact your member of Congress.

SACE has worked with Wind Powering America and has previously received funding to work on wind energy issues throughout the Southeast.

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