See the report, New Nuclear Power is Ruining Climate Protection Efforts and Harming Customers
Listen to the audio from the press conference
Read Clinging to Dirty Energy in the South – a by-the-numbers look from the Institute of Southern Studies
Report shows Southeast utilities plan not to replace coal-fired power, but to add nuclear capacity despite falling demand – while jacking up rates and blocking clean energy advances
DURHAM, NC – Despite a six-year public relations blitz touting nuclear power as essential for a low carbon future, five southeastern utilities trying to license and build reactors have no intention of using them to replace coal-fired power plants. Instead, because captive state governments have forced financial risks onto customers, the “Southeast Five” are pursuing costly and unneeded nuclear and natural gas projects while blocking the measures that could retire coal – energy efficiency programs along with solar and wind power.
That’s according to watchdog group NC WARN, which today released an unprecedented analysis of utility practices in the Southeast. The Durham-based group also called on the CEOs of the Southeast Five to shift their enormous resources toward clean-energy measures. Such a transition, NC WARN says, would allow the phase-out of coal units, a move that is critically needed to help avert runaway climate disruption. The shift is also essential because of a regional economic triple-threat posed by worsening climate disasters, eye-watering rate hikes caused by massive expansion of generation capacity, and the high risk of nuclear project failures.
“For years the nuclear industry has told the public that, despite financial and safety hazards, new nuclear plants are needed so coal plants can be replaced,” said the report’s author, Jim Warren, during a press conference today. “The reality is that the Southeast Five CEOs have no intention of phasing out coal – even though accelerating climate changes are already hammering our national, state and local economies, while harming people and our environment. Skyrocketing power bills are an added assault on businesses and the public.”
The group analyzed data filed with regulators in a region where most of the remaining U.S. nuclear projects are being pursued. They found that despite CEO Jim Rogers’ purported green credentials, Duke Energy Carolinas plans to reduce coal-fired generation by less than 4% by 2030, while expanding generating capacity by a net 36%. Rogers has boasted of plans to retire coal units, but the report shows that all of those are old, small boilers, and some aren’t used at all. Warren says Duke is on track to double customers’ rates; a current request would bring residential rates to 25% higher than 2009 levels.
In total, the Southeast Five plan to retire only 16% of their coal capacity over the long term, mostly by closing older plants that have been fully depreciated and are little-used.
Dr. William Schlesinger, President of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and former Dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said during today’s teleconference: “The overwhelming majority of the world’s climate change scientists have shown that rapid global warming is real, and it’s because of humans. It is dangerous to our health, our food supply, our cities and our national security – in short, our future. NC WARN’s report reaffirms that the United States should be leading in the pursuit of energy sources that do not release fossil carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, focusing on solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal powers.”
Other Southeast Five utilities are also pursuing growth strategies despite national trends of declining long-term electricity usage due to economic restructuring and energy-saving practices. The report shows that some intend to expand sales outside their regions. Also that Southeast Five are not only ignoring – but actively blocking – the advances in solar and wind power, along with efficiency programs that would speed the phase-out of coal plants while reducing the need for new nuclear units. Duke Energy and Progress Energy plan to cease development of energy efficiency and renewable power after meeting the small amounts required by 2007 legislation in North Carolina.
Some of the Southeast Five claim that new natural gas units are cleaner than coal. But Cornell researchers have concluded that the “fracking” fuel cycle could create worse carbon releases than those from coal. NC WARN also notes that Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson plans to put gas units into the rate base but keep burning coal whenever that fuel is cheaper in the marketplace.
Some leading climatologists warn that if annual greenhouse emissions continue rising worldwide beyond 2015, global warming is likely to move past irreversible tipping points due to various feedback mechanisms that are well underway. The NC WARN report emphasizes that even if the global community quickly begins reducing emissions, climate conditions will continue worsening for decades due to past greenhouse gas pollution. That period of time, Warren added, “will fully challenge our economic and social systems with chaotic weather and wildfires, and impaired water and food supplies, all of which amplify global conflicts and suffering.”
Warren added, “We are calling on the heads of these five corporations in the Southeast to use this window of opportunity – which is closing rapidly – to help avert runaway climate change and to join the public in a clean energy revolution that creates jobs and protects power bills. CEOs Jim Rogers and Bill Johnson hope to soon lead one of the world’s largest electric utilities, the merged Duke and Progress Energy. They are in position to provide a positive “tipping point” toward stabilization of our global climate and southeastern economies – without adding more nuclear power – instead of continuing to block the very path that can phase out electricity generation from carbon-based fuels.”
“On their current path,” he said, “they will face a public revolt over climate change and soaring power bills. There is no time left to pretend that nuclear power can help with the climate crisis.”
NC WARN attorney John Runkle punctuated the point today, “These utilities’ business model has taken the Southeast directly away from climate protection and economic stability. We know how to close coal plants without adding more nuclear plants – by steadily increasing energy-saving programs and by bringing in solar and wind power and cogeneration. It’s time to change course.”
*The Southeast Five are Duke Energy Carolinas, Florida Power & Light, Georgia Power (a subsidiary of Southern Company), South Carolina Electric & Gas, and Progress Energy, which maintains two separate service areas in Florida and the Carolinas.