There is an article in the Chicago Tribune titled Chicago’s ‘green’ promise fades: Chicago taxpayers on hook for carbon credits that do little to fight global warming that tells the story of the city purchasing carbon offsets from a plant burning wood waste from the forest products industry. People like Joe Romm are expressing disappointment that the city is not following through with a old pledge to buy as much as 20 percent of the city’s electricity from politically approved (by people like Joe Romm) energy sources.
“This is very misleading to the public,” said Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who has sharply criticized the carbon offset market. “A city with the clout of Chicago should be able to do this right.”
The funny thing about this episode is that Chicago probably leads all US large cities in having the lowest CO2 emissions per capita since it gets about 70-80% of its electrical power from fission power plants. As the birthplace of controlled nuclear fission, Chicago should be proudly touting its emissions superiority, not apologizing for its neglect of an empty promise to purchase sanctioned “offsets” to line the pockets of wind turbine manufacturers. There is a pretty interesting thread of comments associated with the article, including some favorable comments about nuclear power’s contribution to reducing pollution. I added the following comment to the mix, hoping to encourage additional thinking about the opportunities for the city to prosper from its long association with fission power production.
It warms my heart to see that at least three of the 43 comments posted before mine recognize that nuclear power is clean power that does not directly release CO2 to the atmosphere. Even when the entire life cycle is considered and pessimistic assumptions are made about the source of electricity used in fuel and materials production, nuclear power is competitive with wind in terms of life cycle emissions. In tons of CO2 per gigawatt-hour, a 2002 University of Wisconsin study puts coal at more than 1000, domestic natural gas at more than 600, solar at about 60, traditional nuclear at 19 and wind at 17. Obviously, those are averages and will vary for each specific technology and project.
Chicago already has some of the very lowest per capita emissions of CO2 of any city in America since the city proper receives about 70-80% of its power from fission (the whole state of Illinois is in pretty good shape at 50%.) It is only because of public ignorance and the pressure of anti-nuclear groups like Romm’s Center for American “Progress” that Mayor Daley even considered making the promise to waste money by purchasing offsets.
Illinois could make money instead of spending it by selling offsets. Its production of emission-free electricity could be increased significantly with a relatively low investment of time and money by refurbishing and relicensing the Zion nuclear plant. Having that already built and formerly licensed facility sitting idle is like an airline company having a couple of well-built, well-appointed, lightly used luxury airliners sitting unused on a back lot because no one wants to take the time to rebuild the engines and get it back in the air.
The main difference is that a refurbished Zion would produce low cost, emission free electricity with potential benefits to the state measured in multi hundreds of millions of dollars every year. (2000 Mwe x 8000 operating hours per year x $40-80 MW-hour wholesale value of electricity = $640-1280 million dollars per year.) Throw in a massive quantity of emission credits from a truly new source of electricity and you can be talking real money!
The jobs involved in the refurbishment and the eventual plant operation would be welcome additions to the local economy in times like these.
Unfortunately, Exelon does not like the notion of restoring a proven source of low cost electricity, even if they are the plant owner. I know that is hard to understand, but in a market like that in the Midwest, new supply would reduce the average price of electricity by reducing the number of hours each year when natural gas is the price setter. Since Exelon owns 17 low cost nuclear plants already, selling the output from all of those facilities at a lower price reduces their bottom line.
Perhaps the taxpayers (aka ratepayers) who supplied the funds to build Zion in the first place should reclaim their property and hire a company like NRG to handle the refurbishment and plant operation.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast