December 27, 2014

E.P.A. Wrestles With Role Of Nuclear Plants In Carbon Emission Rules

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December 25, 2014 | The New York Times | Matthew L. Wald

The New York Times reports that as part of its ongoing efforts to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, the EPA has proposed a somewhat roundabout way to evaluate nuclear power plants. Due to falling oil and natural gas prices, the agency has determined that 5.8 percent of U.S. nuclear power capacity is at risk of being shut down for financial reasons (nuclear becomes less cost competitive as natural gas prices fall). The EPA is proposing to give states with existing nuclear plants a 5.8 percent credit towards carbon neutrality for keeping their reactors in service.

The approach has been criticized for not setting an equal playing field: A state that were to keep its nuclear reactors running would earn a 5.8 carbon credit, the same way a state that were to shut down a reactor, but replace only 5.8 percent of its generating capacity with carbon-free electricity, would. And another low-emission source of electricity, hydropower, was passed over for any sort of credit in the proposed rules. The EPA hopes to set a final rule by June 2015, though any rule is expected to be challenged in court.

If you need a refresher on nuclear, read our explanatory piece on Watts Bar 2, the latest nuclear reactor scheduled to come online in the U.S. In June 2014, we took a hard look at what emission rules proposed that month would mean for our focus states of CO, WY and ND. Also check out our coverage on the potential of small hydropower to continue to accrue support amongst both Republicans and Democrats in the new Congress.