By Mary Olson

When advisor Dave Freeman helped President Carter navigate the rough waters of the 1970s oil crisis his compass was to find energy that is produced but does not perform a useful function – and stop that waste. Like pumping gasoline on the ground much of our electric power capacity today is effectively wasted.

How is power dumped? An un-insulated roof or leaky old windows cause a furnace to work too hard; newer appliances and industrial motors use a fraction of the juice, paying for themselves many times over (once is savings, more is profit). The trick is that wasted energy when “saved” is “here” and available for another purpose…since it is already generated there is no additional pollution or toxic waste, and also no need to build a new power plant; it is pure “cream.”

North Carolina is awash in power we already have, that is not being used. Imagine an economy nearly twice the size on what we generate today – or alternately a fraction of the power we have now supporting what we do today – possible? Yes. Architects Mike Nicklaus in NC, and Steven Strong nationally, design buildings that not only use less power, they save a system as much energy as they use: net zero.

Unfortunately, our current market is not structured for energy corporations to take advantage of this “cream.” To make more money, they must make and sell more power…even better, build new power plants. NC utilities are rewarded for building new plants on a percentage basis (12.4% guaranteed return on capital investment) so the more they spend, the more “rewarding” this is. Thanks to a 2007 law, NC utilities now charge customers “upfront” for new power plants and still get that return on investment. This may explain why there is such a debate going on about “what kind of power plant we need,” rather than the real question: do we need one at all?

Sadly, President Obama is calling for three times as much taxpayer support for reactor construction than the Bush Administration offered (from $18.5 to $54 billion). The problem is, we don’t need new plants – we have enough wasted energy in our system now to transition to renewables while phasing out both coal and nuclear in the process.

Even without factoring in the real costs (construction, contamination at all fuel cycle sites, waste management or isolation for 100,000 human generations), nuclear is still one of the most expensive forms of power out there, on a par with retail photovoltaic panels – except the solar panel does not need police to protect it, threaten anyone with cancer, or take billions of gallons of water to cool it.

There are many reasons that on February 11, 1985 Forbes Magazine declared nuclear power the “largest managerial failure in history” including the $100 billion default in nuclear loans for the nuclear reactors we have today. A vibrant economy will not result from investment in a dead industry. President Obama and his team are repeating a titanic mistake by pouring billions of dollars into loan guarantees for the all but dead nuclear reactor industry. Thirty years without a new reactor order means that Obama is really trying to resuscitate a cold corpse.

Here in North Carolina we have a better idea: NC SAVE$ Energy would create an independent, non – utility administration for a statewide energy savings program. If you have read this far, read “energy recovery program!” The mandate begins with residential housing stock and would invest in energy upgrades and retrofits. NC SAVE$ Energy will stimulate the NC economy, create three to six times more jobs that investment in new nuclear, reduce air pollution, prevent radioactive waste and oh by the way, free up a significant portion of the power already being generated here and now in NC.

It is discouraging to hear that the Governor’s new Energy Policy Council is going to tour Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris nuclear reactor; this is not progress. It is time to listen to President Carter’s advisor, Dave Freeman again – who later as the head of TVA presided over the cancellation of 7 nuclear power plants because they would have cost too much. We have what we need; we simply need to use it wisely.
Olson is the Southeast Regional Coordinator for Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
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