The EPA carbon plan: coal loses, but nuclear doesn't win

By Mark Cooperfor Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The EPA plan picks a loser: coal. It does not, however, pick winners among the low-carbon options available. It does not offer much in the way of sweeteners for any specific technology.

The claims and counterclaims about EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards have filled the air: It will boost nuclear. It will expand renewables. It promotes energy efficiency. It will kill coal. It changes everything. It accomplishes almost nothing.

Evaluating the impact of the so-called Clean Power Plan requires a clear view of how the new rule will work. The plan centers on performance standards, which have yielded effective outcomes in other energy areas—such as appliance efficiency standards and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles. It sets a moderate, mid-term target for carbon reductions, but allows for flexibility because it does not dictate the use of specific technologies or products. States are allowed to design programs in response to local conditions.

The EPA plan picks a loser: coal. It does not, however, pick winners among the low-carbon options available. It does not offer much in the way of sweeteners for any specific technology. Assuming that states generally adhere to the prime directive of public utility resource acquisition—choosing the lowest-cost approach—the proposed rule will not alter the dismal prospects of nuclear power, which will therefore play no role in the reduction of carbon emissions from power plants.

EPA’s analysis of the proposed carbon pollution guidelines reflects this reality. EPA forecasts for nuclear power are flat-lined, which means that other resources—including energy efficiency, natural gas, wind, and solar—will carry the full weight of carbon reductions.

It is unlikely that the states will act irrationally enough to make the EPA analysis miss the mark by a wide margin. The marketplace and 48 of the 50 states have declined to embrace nuclear energy during the past decade, despite the incentives included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Continue reading at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: The EPA carbon plan: Coal loses, but nuclear doesn't win

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