Nuclear versus Wind


By Joe Campbell
November 25th, 2008

Alex Tabarrokat Marginal Revolution points out the downside to wind power at those times when “the market value of the power is zero or negative.” He points out a story of how wind farmers in Texas were actually paying the council in Texas that regulates the electric grid to take their electricity so that they would be eligible for tax credits. 

Certainly this is ridiculous – but I don’t think the only conclusion to take from this is that we need nuclear power plants. Tabarrok acknowledges that the reason the market value of power is so long in certain locations is the poor state of our energy infrastructure – which loses a large amount of energy that is transported over long distances. He writes that nuclear plants would be as clean as and less expensive than “costly and inefficient transport networks.”

But he doesn’t deal with the issue of nuclear waste – which makes nuclear power far from clean. He doesn’t discuss – and you can see why as this is just a short blog post – the positives of having a more flexible energy infrastructure.

Whether nuclear is the only feasible option comes down to two questions Tabarrok doesn’t address:

  • What is the cost of upgrading our energy infrastructure?
    This New York Times piece by Matthew L. Wald doesn’t make it seem as if the problem requires new technology as much as an upgrade of a very old system: “The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.”
  • Do you have a long-term strategy for dealing with the radioactive pollution generated by nuclear reactors?
    To date, I don’t think there are any good solutions to this.

A third question might concern the safety of nuclear power plants. But I think this threat – whether of a meltdown due to terrorism or error – is largely overstated.

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