We live in a world of energy. The days of candle lanterns and wood fires are largely gone, except for nostalgic trips to the family cabin. Now we have a need for readily available and relatively inexpensive electricity. Without it, our lives grind to a halt.
The number of solar arrays and wind generation units located in the West speak to a changing world when it comes to generating electricity. The accompanying policy discussions speak to the difficulty of providing the amount and reliability of those sources when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t break through the clouds.
In part because of the market and policy discussions, the cost of energy produced by renewable sources has decreased and solutions to pollution from traditional energy sources have been explored. There has been a push to rely more heavily on wind and solar resources to supply power and, in turn, reduce carbon emissions.
One big issue: typical “green” energy sources like wind and solar are not suitable for baseload. When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, it's hard to produce the necessary amount of energy being demanded by customers from those resources. Just last winter in Colorado, days of extreme cold led to energy companies begging customers to reduce their energy usage; wind and solar lacked the reliability Colorado families needed. Limiting energy production to just a few sources is not practical and is not in the best interest of ratepayers.
As a component of an all-of-the-above power portfolio, nuclear fission is the process of splitting uranium atoms, converting the energy release into heat, and producing energy. The electricity created from nuclear energy is the most reliable and steady form of emission-free energy available today. Additionally, nuclear energy plants produce power at their maximum capacity over 93% of the time during the year, which is nearly double that of natural gas and coal units and up to 3.5 times more than wind and solar.
Unfortunately, nuclear energy has a bad reputation. This comes from a misunderstanding of risks involved and how much clean energy it actually produces. Modern advances in nuclear power plant design will lead to smaller-scale plants that are more cost-effective to build and safer to operate. Pueblo County is currently exploring small modular nuclear reactors as a replacement for the Comanche coal-fired plant that could close by 2040.
Today, nuclear energy makes up 20% of energy generated in the country annually and provides 52% of the clean energy. This helps to reduce 555 million metric tons of emissions every year, avoiding 470 million metric tons of carbon.
Additionally, nuclear energy is far more efficient. Nuclear fission releases greater amounts of energy, and requires less fuel to operate, meaning less waste produced. For comparison, one gigawatt of nuclear energy is equal to the same amount of energy as two gigawatts of coal and three to four gigawatts of renewable sources.
Wind and solar, traditional renewable energy sources, coupled with nuclear power, make a reliable and economical resource mix. Innovative products, like the new small modular nuclear reactors being developed by NuScale and the Idaho National Laboratory, are designed to work alongside renewables and allow them to vary output as necessary to complement intermittent generation of renewables.
In order to meet the demands of today’s families and businesses, we need clean options. When it comes to power generation, Colorado ratepayers cannot afford to let the myths about nuclear sideline the resource. Let’s not get left in the cold. The science shows that nuclear power is a safe and viable resource that can help generate good, clean power for generations.
Rep. Hugh McKean (R — Loveland) serves as Minority Leader in the Colorado General Assembly.