Chattanooga Times Free Press: Alexander blasts EPA for favoring wind and solar over nuclear power

Posted on April 29, 2015

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today blasted proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency for favoring wind and solar power over nuclear power in curbing carbon emissions that EPA says are linked with global warming.

Alexander, a leading Senate advocate of building more nuclear reactors, said Tennessee is being unfairly treated in having to make a significant 38.9 percent cut in carbon emissions under EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan, which doesn't fully recognize the new nuclear reactor being built at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.

"When we are developing a clean air plan, we get credit for all the solar panels and wind mills that don't amount to much in our state or anywhere else and we get credit for 6 percent of the nuclear power generation and you don't count the new Watts Bar reactor that is coming on which is nearly 1,200 megawatts of absolutely clean electricity," Alexander told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a Senate hearing today. "It's the energy equivalent of going to war in sail boats when the nuclear Navy is available."

EPA's carbon control rules, as proposed, don't count the reductions coming from nuclear power plants already started when the rules were adopted. TVA began building its twin-reactor Watts Bar plant near Spring City, Tenn., in 1973, although the project has been halted and delayed since.

McCarthy acknowledged the concerns of Alexander and others about how EPA is recognizing nuclear plants that are not finished but which utilities are spending billions of dollars more to complete, in part, to help replace carbon-emitting coal-fired generation. The EPA head hinted that some change might be made in how EPA counts the carbon reductions from  Watts Bar and other new nuclear plants, which could help Tennessee and TVA meet the new EPA requirements under its current energy plants.

"That point has been made very clear and we are really looking at that," McCarthy told Alexander.

One of McCarthy's predecessors, former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, visited Watts Bar today and also said she is hopeful that EPA will re-evaluate how it assesses Watts Bar and other new nuclear plants that were started before the EPA rules were drafted but which will still play a role in curbing carbon emissions in the future. She said the Clean Power Plan should give credit to TVA for Watts Bar Unit 2.

"I hope that we will keep nuclear power at least where it is today (about 19 percent of all generation) despite some plant retirements because it is such a huge part of our clean power," Whitman said.