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ARIZONA OPINION

Arizona Opinion: Don’t believe the hype: Nuclear and natural gas won’t save us

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

It seems like common sense: the most reliable and affordable source of energy is energy from the sun, powered on your roof or in your neighborhood and delivered directly to your home. No expensive pipelines or new transmission lines needed. Yet Republicans keep trumpeting nuclear and natural gas as the way to “transition” us to renewable energy. Their arguments just don’t hold water.

Arizona currently has what Republicans like to call an “all of the above” approach to energy, with 43% of our electricity coming from natural gas, 28% from nuclear, and just 9% coming from solar. Yet, we have a tremendous opportunity to expand solar energy with battery storage to keep our grid reliable and energy affordable as average annual temperatures continue to rise. Solar prices have fallen 50% over the last decade, and Arizona is poised to become the solar capital of the nation.

The claim that clean energy, specifically energy efficiency, renewables, and storage, is expensive is a decade out of date. Even before the massive investments of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act (IIJA), energy efficiency and renewable energy plus storage have been the less expensive options. Yet, we keep hearing that Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) or “micronuclear” technology will be the real hero, coupled with more natural gas production. Micronuclear is a pipedream not rooted in the facts: new commercial SMRs are in early development phases. Some call them “powerpoint reactors,” as none have been fully licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the pilot that has received design approval in the U.S. is far from site-specific approval.

Some will argue that these new reactors can be cooled with closed-water cooling loops, greatly curtailing water usage. That claim has been out there for all sorts of power plants for decades. The claim does not hold water because the cost of building and maintaining the loops is high. The Palo Verde Generating Station uses more than 70 million gallons of water per day. Does that sound like a sustainable solution in one of the most water-scarce regions in the country?

Then there is the cost of SMRs, which remains unknown as the technology is not nearly ready for deployment. If it’s anything like the current nuclear plants we have now, it will not compete with solar and wind with battery storage.

As I write this piece, a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea is leaking methane at the projected total equivalent of one-third of Denmark’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that gas transmission lines are targets for geopolitical conflict is playing out in real time. At a time when science is telling us to reduce our carbon emissions, Republicans are gunning for solutions that will raise emissions, claiming we will secure our energy independence by moving all our gas production to the U.S. They neglect to acknowledge the immense risks of natural (fossil) gas.

We can no longer ignore the adverse health impacts of fossil fuel-powered homes. Research shows that fossil fuel machines leak harmful toxins into the air at all times — even when they’re not being used — including carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzene. A gas stove in your home is the equivalent to living with a smoker. Why would Americans want to invest in a source of energy proven to be toxic and volatile when we have clean, safe, cheap alternatives?

In our Republican commissioner’s world, Americans will have oil rigs and nuclear reactors in their backyards. In the Democrats’ world, they’ll have solar on their roofs and homes free of harmful, flammable gas. Which world do you want to live in?

Lauren Kuby is a Democratic candidate for Arizona Corporation Commission


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