Jun
19
2017

Nuclear Shutdowns Cast Doubt for France

As discussions continue about the recent announcement by President Donald Trump that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, a piece of related news from France is worth considering. In recent years, France has shut down a number of its nuclear reactors, casting doubt on whether the nation will be able to achieve its climate goals.

Currently, nuclear power provides around 75% of France’s electricity, compared to around 20% here in the United States. However, French nuclear power production has fallen in recent years, largely because of laws in place to encourage the use of solar power. These laws could end up causing the country’s state-controlled utility, Electricite de France (EDF), to shutter 18 to 20 of its 58 reactors by 2025.

“From a climate change perspective this almost certainly won’t work out well,” Dr. Jeff Terry, a professor of nuclear physics involved in energy research at the Illinois Institute of Technology, explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation recently. “If you look at the numbers for Europe, France is always below the rest of the continent in emissions and is already a very low carbon emitter.”

In an attempt to replace the lost capacity from nuclear power, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to double down on renewables such as wind and solar.

“This doesn’t hold any water,” Dr. Terry says. “They’re replacing low carbon energy with low carbon energy that requires back-up 65 to 85 percent of the time. Everywhere that nuclear is closed it gets replaced by natural gas. That means France will probably get dirtier.”

“Wind and solar operate less than half the time,” Terry continues. “France is trying to get closer to meet Germany and the European Union with the wind and solar that they have. By shutting down nuclear reactors, France is making a mistake, but you can’t force people not to make mistakes. I hope the U.S. will know better.”

Closing down nuclear plants is also likely to result in major financial issues for France, due to the nation’s role as a major exporter of reactors and fuel products. Low generation costs have made France the world’s largest net exporter of electricity. The nation mostly sells to Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain, which earns France around $3.8 billion each year.

Keeping nuclear plants running is a smart strategy for meeting climate goals, both in France and in the United States. Let’s hope American lawmakers are following this news and understand the importance of preserving our nation’s nuclear power fleet.

Jun
15
2017

A Time for Change

In January of 2009, energy discussions in the U.S. were abuzz with talk of cap and trade, federal and state renewable energy mandates, and questions about the future of oil as prices spiked historically the year before. It was an interesting time to start a new organization focused on energy. It was also the right time to do it.

I founded PACE because the conversation about energy policy needed changing. There was too much talk about energy sources and not enough talk about the people who pay for them. Discussions about possibilities were too rarely accompanied by asking what people could afford. Optimism wasn’t being sufficiently balanced with caution.

In the eight and a half years since PACE started, the energy landscape has changed dramatically. We have changed alongside it, sticking to our core principles of reliability and affordability, but also recognizing that different political, environmental, and technological realities require new thinking and flexibility. The result, in my opinion, has been PACE’s continual presence as an organization that can be trusted for sound, factual analysis in the energy space. Some will agree with our point of view and some won’t, but the conversation we initiate will lead to better outcomes for customers and more informed judgment for the policy makers and regulators who serve them.

Change, however, is often necessary for growth. The same rings true in our professional lives. That is why I have chosen to move on from my position as Executive Director and leave PACE in the very capable hands of another. It is simply time for me to move on to other professional challenges and to allow PACE the chance to mature and expand under new leadership. Leaving the job and the mission that have been the centerpiece of my career to date is certainly bittersweet, but I leave with the strong belief that PACE has occupied – and continues to occupy – a critical and necessary space in an area of public policy with so much importance in the daily lives of Americans.

In the coming days, PACE will make an official announcement about the hiring of Laura Schepis, a seasoned professional in energy advocacy whose impressive experience and deep personal commitment to the cause of customers will serve the organization well. Along with our board of directors, I have every confidence that Laura will not only uphold the tradition PACE has built over the past eight and half years, but that her vision and enthusiasm for our cause will open new avenues of service and reveal exciting opportunities.

To the various members of my board who have trusted me with the responsibility of executive director and to the countless supporters who offered encouragement and assistance during my tenure, I offer my heartfelt thanks. I also ask that you renew your commitment to PACE as the organization begins a new chapter under new leadership. The time is still right for an organization devoted to representing consumers and smart energy policy is more important than ever. We can’t afford to give up the fight!

Jun
12
2017

Tyree: American Electricity Consumers Are On A Diet

The following guest blog comes from Corey Tyree, Ph.D., Director of Energy & Environment at Southern Research and a Senior Policy Advisor for the Energy Institute of Alabama

Whether it be food or energy or water, Americans are known for consuming more and more. There is at least one exception – electricity. In Alabama, and the U.S. as a whole, we are consuming less and less. Electricity consumption (as measured by electricity sales) has fallen nationally five of the past eight years and only increased 5 percent during the 2000s. Consumption in Alabama lags behind even that slow pace, with consumption actually decreasing 1 percent in the 2000s. And the recovery since the Great Recession has been no recovery at all for Alabama electricity suppliers with consumption of their product again declining (2.2 percent) in the period 2010-2015.

Electricity consumption once strongly correlated with economic growth. When the economy grew, so too did electricity consumption. This correlation had been weakening for decades. Never has this been more evident than in the most recent decade, which saw gross domestic product increase 15 percent while electricity consumption remained flat. Electricity consumption remained flat even as Americans built more homes, built larger homes, constructed new commercial building space, built new information technology infrastructure, migrated westward and southward where space heating and air conditioning is more heavily utilized, and spent more and more of our lives staring at large, bright screens.

These sources of additional electricity consumption are moderated, in some cases dwarfed, by other factors such as: 1) building codes that include efficiency measures, 2) slowing population growth, 3) near market saturation of electric appliances, 4) energy efficiency standards (e.g. appliance efficiency standards), 5) success of utility demand-side management programs that resulted in greater adoption of energy efficiency measures, 6) distributed electrical generation (e.g. rooftop solar), and 7) structural changes in the economy to less energy-intensive industries.

The impact of these factors on electricity sales to the residential, commercial, and industrial segments is profound. Programs like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR reduced electricity consumption an estimated 200 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Homeowners and commercial business owners alike are implementing more efficient technologies that require less electricity than existing stock. Publix reduced electricity usage by about 10 percent by replacing existing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient LED lights. Publix also installed 150,000 kilowatt-hours of distributed solar power generation, which further reduces the amount of electricity they demand from electric utilities. Even energy intensive industries such as steelmaking are finding a way to cut electricity consumption. Electricity consumption from U.S. steelmakers fell 5 percent from 2002 to 2012 even as cost considerations favored increasing production from efficient electric arc furnaces, which receive a greater proportion of their energy from electricity than basic oxygen furnaces. Going forward, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects the energy intensity of each of the residential, commercial, and industrial segments to continue to fall over the next 25 years.

Economists and other industry experts will tell you the decoupling of electricity consumption and economic growth should come as no surprise. This decoupling is the hallmark of advanced economies, they will tell you. Mature economies tend to require less and less energy to sustain themselves. The experts will point to other advanced economies such as some of the European Union member states (e.g. Belgium) or Japan and explain that electricity demand has also stagnated. While the situation may be old news, we sure do struggle to predict electricity demand for something so well understood. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has continuously revised downwards its electricity consumption projections over the last decade as it badly overestimated electricity demand growth. The most recent 2016 projections peg electricity sales growth at just 0.7 percent per year on average from 2016-2040, or similar to the 0.6 percent growth observed from 2000-2015.

Will the most recent projections of slow growth finally get it right? Electric utilities in Alabama seem to think so. In its most recent Integrated Resource Plan filing, Alabama Power Company states that “customer electrical requirements can be met reliably with the Company’s current supply-side and demand-side resources until 2035.” Likewise, Tennessee Valley Authority, in its most recent IRP filing, states there are “no immediate needs for new base load plants.” It was these same market realities that led TVA to deem the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site as surplus and sell the plant to private developers. Just like Energy Information Administration, TVA and Alabama Power Company have revised their outlook for electricity demand downward relative to previous analysis, which is saying something because even the older analysis projected historically weak demand growth.

There is a lot we don’t know. Penetration of distributed generation could accelerate the decline in electricity sales. Stronger than expected electric vehicle sales, economic growth, or full electrification of space heating could have the opposite effect and foster higher levels of electricity demand. Certainly these things could happen, but that’s not what we should plan for when have many decades of data suggesting this isn’t a short-term trend caused by year-to-year variation in weather or economic growth. The data suggest a long-term, consistent, and unmistakable reduction in electrical energy intensity across all segments caused by structural changes in our economy that appear irreversible.

Planning for less than 1 percent growth in electricity represents a new era in electric utility planning. Historically, electric utilities in the Southeast planned to add new generating capacity every few years to keep up with surging population and economic growth. This faster cadence of construction will be replaced in the new era of planning with a slower pace, one driven by the need to meet slow demand growth, replace the occasional plant retirement, and add new renewable resources to benefit customers.