“I think the planet is heating up,” Graham said. “I think CO2 emissions are damaging the environment and this dependence on foreign oil is a natural disaster in the making. Let’s do something about it. I’d like to solve a problem, and if it’s on President Obama’s watch, it doesn’t bother me one bit if it makes the country better off.”
The good news is the chances of passing a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill are rising, as these quotes from a key swing GOP vote make clear. The other good news is that most of the annoying things that progressives may have to swallow to get that bill smell worse than they taste. E&E News reports:
Key Senate Democrats signaled yesterday they are willing to negotiate with Republicans on nuclear power and expanded domestic oil and gas development if it helps in nailing down the 60 votes necessary for floor passage on a comprehensive global warming and energy bill.
“Every idea is on the table,” said Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of Senate climate legislation. “We’re going to work in a bona fide way with everybody to see how to bridge a gap here. We’ve got to get a 60-vote margin. That means you’ve got to legislate, which means you have to compromise.”
Several moderate Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they are in talks with Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the nuclear language, as well as other key issues.
“A guy like Senator Kerry is looking for coalitions,” Graham said.
The notion of a nuclear title is not news — that was always going to happen. While I wouldn’t be thrilled with all conceivable provisions such a title might have, the overwhelming majority are unlikely to have a significant impact or even cost the taxpayers much money, as long as nuclear power plants remain so damn expensive (see “Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid”).
If the nuclear industry could ever get its act together and come up with one or two standardized, modular, affordable designs, they might become a major climate solution. And that wouldn’t be a terrible thing, given just how much clean energy we are going to need to stabilize near 2°C warming. But I’m not expecting any major design improvements or big cost drops for a decade or more in this country.
What exactly do the pro-nuke folk want?
Graham said he is pushing for language in the Senate bill that puts nuclear power on par with wind and solar power in terms of tax credits and inclusion in a nationwide renewable electricity standard.
“Also to deal with the waste stream,” Graham added. “You’ve got to have a disposition plan to deal with the waste.”
McCain said he brings four major demands to the negotiation table: a commitment to construction of new nuclear power plants, loan guarantees, and solutions for both nuclear waste storage and recycling.
And I’d like to be a judge on American Idol. Seriously, though, my guess is a deal can be had — and will.
The final deal is not going to call nuclear power “renewable” and stick it in the existing too-weak renewable standard, I think, but rather may tack on a low carbon electricity standard that includes nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and maybe combined cycle natural gas.
As for McCain, I just don’t know what he means by “a commitment to construction.” You can’t force people to build nukes — especially at current staggering prices:
- GOP wants 100 new nukes by 2030 while “Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns.”
- Turkey’s only bidder for first nuclear plant offers a price of 21 cents per kilowatt-hour
- What do you get when you buy a nuke? You get a lot of delays and rate increases”¦.
- Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power
- Nuclear power, Part 2: The price is not right
So we’ll throw money at nukes, just like the bill does for CCS, and a few plants will be built and the overwhelming majority of the emissions reductions will be achieved through the low-cost solutions — efficiency and conservation, natural gas fuel switching, and wind, solar thermal, and biomass.
What about drilling?
Graham suggested Kerry look to the tentative agreement reached last year among roughly 20 Senate moderates — Democrat and Republican — that would open up large swaths of new federal acreage to oil and gas development in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.
Well, this will need to be crafted in a way that does not lose votes, such as Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, but fundamentally, most of the potential drilling provisions bother me less than the nuclear ones for two fundamental reasons:
- When oil prices soar in the coming years, Democrats are not going to be able to resist the demand for opening more area to drilling anyway — so they might as well get a climate deal in return now. Oil is likely to blow past $100 a barrel in Obama’s first term — and could well blow past $150 a barrel in what will hopefully be his second term (see “Deutsche Bank: Oil to hit $175 a barrel by 2016).” Opening more federal acreage is inevitable.
- Opening more federal acreage probably won’t lead to any significant extra drilling for at least another decade. I had a long analysis of this last year — “The cruel offshore-drilling hoax.” The oil companies already have access to some 34 billion barrels of offshore oil they haven’t even developed yet, but ending the federal moratorium on offshore drilling would probably add only another several billion barrels, generating under 100,000 barrels a day in new supply — maybe 0.1% of world production — sometime after 2020. A leading EIA analyst told me in 2008 that ending the entire federal moratorium is “certainly not going to make a difference in the next 10 years.” My 2008 analysis discusses why. If this deal ripens, I’ll do another post.
We need to keep our eye on the prize — a shrinking economy-wide cap, coupled with major provisions to boost energy efficiency and and other clean technologies. This is what we need to complete the transformation to a clean energy economy begun in the stimulus, generating $100 billion a year in new U.S. investment in clean energy, sufficient to compete with the Europeans and Asians who want to eat our lunch in this most rapidly growing industry of the century. And, of course, it is what we need to achieve an international deal that gives us a fighting chance to stabilize anywhere near 2°C total warming and avert catastrophic impacts.