Late last week, Amy Harder, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, announced on Twitter that the president of Navajo Nation had met with White House staff at least eight times in an effort to protect an important coal-fired power plant on Navajo land. The Navajo Generating Station has been a target of EPA rules and the subject of some degree of controversy. In fact, PACE has referenced the plant often when speaking to groups about the impacts of EPA rule making on jobs.
A comment on Harder’s tweet caught my attention. Erica Fick, editor of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Exchange blog, wasn’t too concerned about the potential closure of Navajo Generating Station. Fick commented, “Solar employed 7k+ people in AZ last year. Why are we splitting hairs over 800 jobs lost to coal?”
My response to Fick was simple. The reason to be concerned over the loss of 800 jobs in an impoverished community should be obvious. Jobs are important. Jobs is an economically depressed area are even more important. Not to mention that the plant remains a source of baseload electricity in the region.
We’re not alone in our advocacy for the Navajo Generating Station, of course. The people who stand to lose the most from the plant’s potential closure have ramped up their efforts to preserve it. The Navajo and Hopi tribes have now joined forces to tell lawmakers that the plant is an important economic driver for the region and particularly for tribal members.
Without a change in EPA policy toward Navajo Generating Station, the plant will be forced to shut down one of its three 750 megawatt units by 2020. Even the units that would be allowed to remain running would have to be equipped with costly upgrades by 2030. In other words, the plant has found itself in the crosshairs of EPA policy. Without some intervention by the president or the legislative branch, Navajo Generating Station will soon find itself on the list of coal-fired power plants shuttered by federal rules.
The story is complicated even further by California energy mandates that are designed to reduce the import of fossil fuel electricity. California state law essentially forces public utilities to walk away from contracts with coal-fired power. This has real implications for the power plants in the region such as Navajo Generating Station, since California is a net importer of electricity and often requires power from nearby states like Arizona. As recently as two years ago, southern California received as much as half of its electricity from three out-of-state coal-fired power plants.
Notwithstanding the major contributions of Navajo Generating Station to meeting the energy demand of the region, the plant is important for other reasons. It is an economic engine for one of the poorest places in America. It creates steady, high-paying jobs in an area where few are available. It symbolizes stability for a community that sorely needs it. Hopefully, the pleas of Navajo and Hopi leaders don’t go unnoticed by leaders in Washington, DC. The Environmental Defense Fund might nonchalantly turn a blind eye to the potential loss of 800 jobs, but our nation’s leaders shouldn’t.
The following is a guest post from Christine Csizmadia, director of state government affairs and advocacy at NEI. Follow Christine on Twitter at @CCsizmadia.
A big part of my job is working with members of state legislatures and their staffs. One the most important working relationships I have is with the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). State legislators from all over the country look to NCSL for policy analysis, leadership opportunities, state benchmarks and, most importantly, facts and information to help them shape policies on the issues that they face.
NCSL’s new report, “State Options for Keeping Nuclear in the Energy Mix,” has all the history, facts and figures to explain why state policies and the electricity markets have created unintended consequences for nuclear power. By introducing price competition and Renewable Portfolio Standards, which are meant to encourage new technologies, policymakers have inadvertently created a math problem that ends up subtracting nuclear.
It is hardly sensible to subsidize one form of zero-emissions energy in a way that pushes another form of zero-emissions energy out of the market.
In response to the alarming trend in nuclear plant closures, state policymakers have course corrected by starting their own trend: enacting new policies that will fully value the benefits that nuclear brings. The actions taken by Illinois and New York to preserve nuclear plants are explained in the NCSL report. Both states chose to take control of their energy infrastructure planning. Making electricity without emissions has always had a cost, but we have never had to pay separately for it. It’s kind of like how we always took for granted carry-on luggage space on airplanes until we were charged for it. Was it ever really free?
Although the NCSL report focuses on the preservation of today’s reactor fleet, other states are warming up to new nuclear energy projects. Wisconsin last year repealed a 33-year moratorium on new reactors. In 2016 in Kentucky, the State Senate voted to do the same, and the legislature will take up the question again this year. With almost a dozen other states with the same moratoriums, which state will be next?
There are many states that would like to be the leader of the pack and create incentives for advanced nuclear technologies. Take for instance New Mexico, which has commissioned a study on the feasibility of small modular reactors.
We have never had this amount of chatter around nuclear energy at the state level. This is thanks to the states that are taking the lead to keep nuclear energy in the mix for the benefit of their constituents. We look forward to the continued trend of state policies properly valuing nuclear power for providing emission-free, 24/7 electricity to tens of millions of households and businesses.
PACE has written often about the importance of fracking and inexpensive natural gas to America’s energy future. Now, a new report from the American Automobile Association shows that low gasoline prices saved Americans more than $115 billion dollars last year, compared to 2014 prices.
According to AAA, that $115 billion works out to $550 in savings per licensed driver in the U.S., or about $1,000 per household. That is a staggering benefit for American families dealing with stagnant wages. The report found that families used the extra money toward better education, healthcare, or housing, raising their overall standard of living.
The huge increases in domestic oil production, made possible by hydraulic fracturing or fracking, are the main reason energy prices have fallen so steeply. In fact, fracking was the single largest factor responsible for increasing disposable income for the average American family.
The reality is that low gas prices don’t just save people money; they also lead to job creation and general economic growth. In fact, since the 1970’s, higher oil prices have preceded every significant increase in unemployment, while low oil prices have preceded every decline in unemployment rates. The relationship couldn’t be more clear: cheaper energy means a better economy.
Oil and gas prices, of course, are not the only energy prices that affect the American standard of living. Electricity prices remain a significant part of the average family’s household budget. Fracking has saved money in that area, too, by putting downward pressure on the price of energy commodities in general.
Over the next four years, it would make sense for President Trump and Congress to work toward unleashing the full potential of fracking. Increases in production will continue to drive energy prices down, meaning more money in the pockets of Americans and additional job growth.