Some thoughts on testifying in front of Congress

testifying.jpgYou only get 5 minutes of oral testimony for the Senate or the House, about 700 to 750 words if you talk reasonably fast. I have done a fair amount of testifying over the years, so now I always write out my oral testimony and then read it.

Yes, reading text is not as ideal as simply speaking extemporaneously — but five minutes is so short that if you don’t write it out, you’ll end up saying a lot less and certainly leave out a bunch of important things.

How many times do you actually get to talk to a member of Congress when they (technically) have to listen — it is a “hearing” after all? Not bloody often, so make your best of it.

One important note — most Congressional testimony is so unbelievably bland that members tune out almost immediately. Like any story or pitch, you either catch people’s interest in the opening seconds or you are wasting your time (and theirs). This goes double for a speech that is read.

You should be able to find a link to the webcast on the Senate Environment and Public Works homepage. You can read more about the hearing here.

My written testimony is mostly a shortened version of my Center for American Progress report, “The Self-limiting Future of Nuclear Power.” The oral testimony is below. Since I am going last or next-to-last on the second panel, I may change some of these remarks at the last minute to rebut or respond to other points.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to share my views on nuclear power. I have three main points.

First, the licensing process should not be expedited. The economic and safety risks are too high. Second, nuclear power is so expensive it is unlikely to achieve net growth by mid-century without another hundred billion dollar in government subsidies. Third, Congress should focus federal support on energy efficiency and renewables. They are now better bets than nuclear power.

Since a nuclear accident could have such harsh consequences-costs ultimately borne by American taxpayers-Congress must enforce the strictest safety standards. If power plants take 6 to10 years to build, that is because the industry has failed to develop and standardize a limited set of simple, modular, failsafe reactor designs that could tap into economies of scale from mass production. In the American market there at least five new designs.

Delays are not due to U.S. red tape. Nuclear plants face similar delays in other countries. Why? Quality problems. The first advanced reactor design built in the West — in Finland — is already 25 percent over budget and two years behind schedule because of QUOTE “flawed welds for the reactor’s steel liner, unusable water-coolant pipes, and suspect concrete in the foundation.”

Second, once touted as “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power simply became QUOTE “too costly to matter,” as the Economist put it back in 2001. Yet today, nuclear power is triple the price it was back in 2001. An industry trade magazine headlined a recent article, “For some utilities, the capital costs of a new nuclear power plant are prohibitive.”

Nuclear economics expert Jim Harding e-mailed me that his current “reasonable estimate for levelized cost range … is 12 to 17 cents per kilowatt hour lifetime” – much higher than current U.S. electric rates.

Last August, AEP CEO Michael Morris said he was not planning to build any new nuclear plants: QUOTE: “I’m not convinced we’ll see a new nuclear station before probably the 2020 timeline.”

So much for being a near-term solution.

In October, Florida Power and Light testified that two units totaling 2,200 megawatts would cost up to $18 billion, which is $8,000 per kilowatt .
Progress Energy told Florida regulators that twin 1,100-megawatt plants would cost $14 billion, which “triples estimates the utility offered little more than a year ago.” Its 200 mile transmission project will add $3-billion more. Total cost again nearly $8,000 a kilowatt.

Nuclear plants are now so expensive Duke Power refused to reveal cost estimates for a proposed plant in the Carolinas.

A recent California Public Utility Commission study puts the cost of power from new nuclear plants at 15 cents per kWh. Energy efficiency, wind and, solar all beat that price.

To date, California’s efficiency programs have cut total electricity demand by 40,000 gigawatt hours for 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. California plans to more than double those savings by 2020. If that effort were reproduced nationwide, efficiency would deliver enough savings to avoid the need to build any new U.S. power plants.

A May report by the Energy Department concluded Americans could get 300 gigawatts of wind by 2030 at a cost of under 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Utilities in the Southwest are already contracting for concentrated solar thermal power at 14 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour. The California PUC puts solar thermal at 13 cents — including six hours of storage capacity, which allows concentrated solar to follow the electric load from early morning to late evening.

Even solar photovoltaics with battery storage can now be installed cheaper than what Florida ratepayers are being asked for nuclear.

In conclusion, nuclear power’s many limitations-especially its escalating price-will constrain its growth in America. Merely maintaining the current percentage of generation provided by nuclear through 2050 will require building some 75 large replacement reactors, with a total cost approaching $1 trillion. That won’t happen without massive Congressional subsidies.

A U.S. cap-and-trade system will help all low-carbon energy resources, including nuclear. After 50 years and nearly $100 billion in subsidies from Congress, if new nuclear plants can’t compete in this emerging low-carbon market, then frankly it doesn’t deserve yet more taxpayer support or any expedited licensing.

Thank you.

2 Responses to Some thoughts on testifying in front of Congress

  1. Rick says:

    It’s ironically well timed. I have The China Syndrome on reserve at my local library. I originally saw the movie just before my 18th birthday back in March ’79 where I lived at, what New Yorkers call “The Jersey Shore” and I remember the nuclear power industry saying that the events depicted in the film couldn’t possibly happen until Wednesday March 28th when they did happen almost exactly as the movie depicted at reactor 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility in Pennsylvania.

  2. llewelly says:

    Ironically, the massive federal expenditures on pro-nuke G.W. Bush’s idiotic war in Iraq will make the huge federal subsidies required to support nuclear power much more challenging.