What now, Pilgrim?

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant is closing. Anti-nukers and neighbors are celebrating, but climate activists and energy wonks are wondering how we’re going to meet Massachusetts’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, since the old nuclear plant supplies most of the state’s carbon-free electricity.

“We’re at an energy crossroads,” our governor declared. “The current rules .. don’t allow us reasonable cost and new supplies to meet our commonwealth’s goals. We have to address cost, carbon, and climate change.”

There’s a challenge! What are the best ways to get the best cost, carbon, and climate change deal?

“We are,” says the natural gas lobby. “We have a fuel that is cheap, clean, and available very soon. You just have to pay for some new pipelines.” (And don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain who wants to ship gas from those pipelines to Europe.)

Are the fuel fossils right? Or is a cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative available?

Here’s what we think at BostonCAN.


Source     Affordable?       Reliable?      Clean?    When?         

Nuclear Huge cost to build & decommission Until the plant fails or melts down Not if you include radioactive waste Not after 2019
Coal, Oil Being priced out of the market Yes No – climate & health costs Now
Natural Gas Now, but not if we start competing w/ European buyers Yes No – methane leaks and toxic emissions Need to build new pipelines
Wind Price more stable than natural gas…. Intermittent – need storage Yes Now
Solar & installation cost is going down Intermittent – need storage Yes Now
Hydro Low cost Yes Canadian hydro destroys forests, emitting toxins Need to build new transmission lines

No one energy source – wind, solar, tidal power – can fill the regional energy gap Pilgrim’s closure will leave. Plugging our leaky gas distribution pipes won’t save enough gas to fill the gap, though it’ll help. Energy efficiency won’t solve the problem by itself. But taken together, all these clean energy solutions may well cancel the need for new gas supply pipelines.

Demand management is a particularly interesting strategy. According to recent testimony before the state Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, 40% of the state’s electrical generating capacity lies idle 90% of the time. It’s just there for those ten days a year when the demand for electricity peaks – very hot or very cold days.

Is there a better, cheaper way to deal with peak demand? Yes – manage it. Other states do. Their utility companies work with big electric users to cut demand when the system gets overloaded. They reward customers for voluntarily cutting electric use at peak times. That costs a little, but far less than building power plants that lie idle nine days out of ten. And far less that building new pipelines to supply them.

Why don’t the Baker administration and Baker’s DPU pursue these really smart solutions?