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Commentary Energy & Environment

Perciasepe: State’s Net-Zero Emissions Goals Can’t Be Met Anytime Soon Without Nuclear Power

Net-Zero Emissions
An aerial view of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, Maryland’s lone nuclear plant. Photo by Jbs666 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Bob Perciasepe

The writer is a senior adviser at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and former deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

This month, the Maryland General Assembly is debating essential climate legislation in both the House and Senate to chart the state’s path toward net-zero emissions. During this process, it is vital that all clean, emissions-free energy be included and nuclear energy is not taken for granted.

The General Assembly should formally recognize the essential role nuclear energy and the continued operation of Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant play in meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Two bills under consideration in the General Assembly (SB528/HB708) seek to reduce statewide greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions and address climate change.

The Senate’s Climate Solutions Act of 2022 would reduce GHG emissions by 60% of 2006 levels by 2030, increasing its current goal by 50%. And the House’s Comprehensive Climate Solutions Act would meet that same goal by 2032.

As currently drafted, both bills fail to acknowledge the vital role of nuclear in Maryland’s energy generation and assume the uninterrupted operation of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant through the end of its existing federal license in 2034.

What if, however, this assumption is incorrect, and Maryland loses 15 million megawatt-hours of clean, carbon-free electricity annually — more than 80% of Maryland’s carbon-free clean energy — and 40% of the state’s energy overall? How would the absence of nuclear generation impact the cost and timeline for Maryland to meet its emissions reduction goals?

In a recent legislative workshop hosted by Nuclear Powers Maryland, the Brattle Group provided a preview of the results of an upcoming study expected to be released later this month. The preliminary results presented at the workshop showed that Maryland would see an emissions increase of about 4 million tons of carbon — the equivalent of driving 3 million vehicles for a full year – with the cost of this increased pollution to Marylanders exceeding $2 billion.

Additionally, the Brattle report found that clean electricity production from Maryland’s nuclear resource could not be replaced quickly. It would take an additional 4,600 MW of solar and wind electricity combined to replace Maryland’s clean energy output from nuclear — that’s the same as one-third of all the renewable energy currently in operation across 13 states and Washington, D.C., the territory that makes up our regional electric grid. A feat that could take decades to achieve.

Additionally, with current electrification trends (e.g., a shift to vehicle and building electrification), Marylanders could demand up to twice the amount of clean electricity they do today by 2050. Clearly, we need nuclear electricity to support greater future electricity demand and to complement the increased buildout of renewables. Because nuclear provides power 24/7, it helps balance out the intermittent nature of solar and wind.

In addition to cutting emissions, nuclear is also a vital part of Maryland’s economy. Maryland’s nuclear industry supports nearly 1,200 in-state, full-time jobs and nearly $15 million in state tax revenues annually.

There is nothing comprehensive about a climate plan that fails to acknowledge the largest source of carbon-free energy in the state. Sadly, some states have not supported their nuclear power plants and are now seeing emission increases as fossil electricity plants fill the gap; climate change is an urgent issue and cannot tolerate such emission backsliding.

The Brattle report and other studies demonstrate that the most cost-effective path to achieving GHG reductions includes renewables and nuclear electricity, particularly existing nuclear assets. The General Assembly should acknowledge the critical role that Calvert Cliffs currently plays in its environment, economy, health and greenhouse gas reduction goals; it should codify in legislation the role it can continue to play for decades as the state plans its transition to a net-zero economy.