A woman who's pregnant today and fits her size 6 jeans through her first trimester could nonetheless see her kid set the table or do the laundry in a dozen years. In twenty years that child could pay her way through college trimming trees or installing solar panels.
Just because something is infinitesimally small today doesn't mean it can't do major service in a decade or two. That's the principle of geometric growth; in the past twenty years it has put cell phones into every remote corner of the world. That's why clean energy advocates are confident that renewable energy boosted with storage and efficiency will give the best bang for the buck as our nation transitions to a clean energy economy.
However, some conveniently forget that geometric growth principle that brought computing away from big central mainframes and on to our desktops; they swear that nuclear power is the "only" way we're going to meet the scale of this big clean energy transition.
Our job is to prioritize energy choices which are least costly and enhance our independence. And that puts us in direct conflict with a big push for new nuclear power, which is widely known as one of the most expensive ways of producing electrons due to the extraordinary engineering and secretive security needed for handling the fuel, the reaction and the waste.
Along with that high cost comes the rarely considered cost of base load energy, which means waste at night. Witness the streetlights of developed nations all over the globe lighting up outer space: that's base load power needing somewhere to go, wasting fuel, capital and water with every lumen.
Where you see base load, all too often, you also see monopoly, making you buy stuff you don't clearly want (as in Xcel Energy's Wind Source customers here in Colorado facing increased base rates for the newly built, unwanted Comanche 3 as well as cost hikes on coal). Monopoly means a big utility in your community constantly courting state regulators, building the installed capacity they want so they can get a guaranteed rate of return on it through base rates increased on customers regardless of how little energy they use. Then they send the profits out of state.
"A planned economy" is what Denver energy attorney Susan Perkins called our regulated monopoly system at a recent talk in Boulder. And it would be all the worse with nuclear power.
Conservative and independent-minded voters should be as distressed by a planned energy economy as they are about health care reform that they think triggers federal involvement and collectivism to an unnecessary degree. And here in Colorado, the Independence Institute is sponsoring legislation to protect individuals who wish to refuse to buy mandated health care insurance.
Likewise, independents ought to be outraged by a scheme that deepens the powers of monopoly in our communities, particularly where nuclear energy means federal rather than state level regulation, and the financing of the giant, default-laden projects means unlimited federal loan guarantees. It's right out of a socialist manifesto.
Privatized profit and socialized risk. Sound familiar?
The attractive free-market alternative is a wide array of energy suppliers and services, funded with private capital and municipal bonding (and yes, some subsidies), competing for contracts with local authorities headed up by citizens. Clean energy advocates in Kentucky, for example, facing a proposal for nuclear plants said they aim for efficiency and a large network of smaller energy generators, such as hydrogen fuel cells, wind, solar and small scale-hydroelectricity. "We don't have to replace one centralized power plant with another," said Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council.
Wouldn't our nation be great to spawn a clean energy economy that favors technologies our young people can safely handle, with low barriers for entrepreneurial entry, with no risks of being weaponized? But with the nuclear push we're seeing from conservative senators (including, oddly, our own Mark Udall), some future nuclear engineer could go "Dr. Hassan" on us.
The more we produce electricity from numerous smaller contributors, the closer we get to independence from multinational corporations and distant regulators who make the local voice irrelevant. For maximal jobs, we need entrepreneurship and competition to heavily favor local installations that leverage our existing distribution system. It means a maximal build-out of rooftop solar, power tagging to identify producers and buyers, demand response on heavy users, storage of all types to take up the low cost of wind. It's all about distributed generation: as American as baseball and apple pie.
And the best way we're going to get there is if conservative-minded citizens wake up and smell the freedom of pushing back against nuclear power as the wasteful socialist nightmare that it is.