My Turn: Nuclear must be part of our energy mix

Last modified: 8/3/2013 12:23:02 AM
July’s stretch of blistering heat and humidity serves as a reminder that we live in a world with limits on our energy supply. As we tried to keep ourselves cool during a six-day stretch of 90-plus degree weather, we hit record levels of electricity use in New Hampshire.

Our state’s electricity plants were stretched to the limits of capacity. The New England region set a one-day usage record last week, and we flirted with records the rest of the week.

That type of demand requires our power supply companies to go full throttle on its electricity generators. Everything revs up, and all plants come online. That type of demand also raises the risk that if one thing goes wrong, the results can be catastrophic. Remember New York City in 2003? One link in our power chain broke, and millions lost power on a hot summer night in the northeast. Outages stretched into multiple states.

Our power grid is connected regionally to ensure that when demand rises, supply can match it. But what makes it strong is also its greatest weakness, especially when demand skyrockets.

As a mayor, I believe we need a smart dialogue about the future of our energy needs. Affordability is important, but reliability is absolutely essential. We have an ongoing discussion about hydropower coming from Canada via Northern Pass. But that’s only one piece of a bigger conversation.

For example, Seabrook Station, a nuclear energy facility, provides roughly one-third of the state’s electricity. No one talks about that today, but Seabrook is doing what the experts said it would do years ago. Nuclear energy, once a highly controversial subject and the focus of many protests and political debates, now provides 20 percent of our nation’s power.

I make this point about nuclear energy for two reasons: It’s already here in our own backyard; therefore it must remain a topic of our region’s energy discussion. We must continue to take responsible steps to ensure it’s part of our energy debate.

Demand for energy is rising, even outside of our peak summer temperatures. According to reports, our nation’s electricity needs will grow 22 percent in about 20 years.

There are other reasons to make sure nuclear energy remains an option. Look at the economics beyond providing power to our state: Seabrook’s facility employs hundreds of people. Jobs at U.S. nuclear energy facilities today pay 36 percent more than the average salaries in the local area. In addition, the plant’s owner pays millions in tax revenue and to the state and local communities.

Furthermore, this technology helps avoid local emissions from older, fossil fuel plants. That’s important because despite our state’s efforts to clear the air, we can’t control pollution levels alone. New Hampshire is downwind from Midwestern power plants whose pollution drifts and settles over us. Several of our counties have been designated as areas of “non-attainment” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This means pollution levels consistently exceed national air quality standards, even though we aren’t contributing to it.

New Hampshire’s older power plants are equipped with the latest emission reduction controls. That’s important. We get our power without so many harmful side effects of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide belching from local smoke stacks. But outside forces still dirty our air. Environmental impacts are an important factor in our energy debate, and we have to be aware of what we are all doing as we demand more power.

This is a conversation that starts locally, but just as the electricity grid is connected to the region and the rest of the nation; it is a dialogue that must include everyone. We can’t overlook what is working right now.

The bottom line is this: In order to meet future electricity demands, the U.S. will need to embrace a broad portfolio of American-produced energy solutions, and nuclear energy must be a part of the mix.

(Concord Mayor Jim Bouley is a member of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a nonpartisan, national group that supports nuclear energy as part of the nation’s electricity supply.)

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