There’s always a power fight of one sort or another going on in this country — especially when it comes to power production and energy policy.
Against that backdrop, state Republicans are gearing up to take another run at undoing Wisconsin’s ban on nuclear power production. Assembly debate on the proposal is slated for January.
We would hope that it passes. The only thing certain about energy policy in the United States is that it is difficult to predict and the winds can blow in different directions. That makes it all the more important for Wisconsin to keep its options open — and yes, that includes the nuclear option.
Nothing will change overnight. The economics of nuclear power right now do not favor construction of new nuclear power plants, which are incredibly capital-intensive.
But, as we said, things can change.
It wasn’t too long ago that coal was the darling of the electrical power industry. But with the advent of fracking that opened up natural gas production in Canada and North Dakota, that’s today’s favorite option.
And tomorrow? That could be hard to predict.
The Obama administration has pushed steadily to cut the nation’s reliance on coal and to drive up the cost of using coal by requiring less emissions. The president stood with nearly 200 countries in Paris last weekend in a group-hug against global warming and while the proposals they advocated are voluntary, that may not always be the case.
In the meantime, the administration and the EPA are moving forward with a “Clean Power Plan” that would require Wisconsin to cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than a third in the next 15 years.
That could change the economics of energy production significantly.
Wisconsin’s nuclear power ban was enacted 32 years ago in the wake of the Three Mile Island “disaster.” Fear is always a potent political force. But the fact remains that the United States’ “worst” nuclear accident in 1979 led to no deaths, no injuries to plant workers and none to civilians near the plant.
Those fears effectively killed the nuclear industry and Wisconsin’s ban precluded power companies from advancing nuclear power plant proposals until the federal government developed a national repository for spent fuel and any proposed plant doesn’t burden ratepayers.
Again, it’s energy policy and politics. The Obama administration and long-time Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked the licensing of the federal facility at Yucca Mountain — but that too may get another look now that Reid is gone.
So the answers are still blowing in the political wind.
In the years since Wisconsin enacted its nuclear power plant ban, the amount of energy supplied by nuclear has dwindled until now it accounts for just 13 percent of the state’s electrical power.
A good energy plan should always be a balanced one and in that vein, the state should untie its nuclear knot and be ready for whatever comes.