Whitman Strategy Group

N.J. can use nuclear power to diversify its energy supply: Opinion

by By Christine Todd Whitman, nj.com on 11-29-2014


New Jersey’s cities are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with many urban centers recently posting population gains after decades of steady decline. Young people, in particular, want to live and work in vibrant downtowns and are voting with their feet. Employers are responding by relocating to urban areas in order to attract this talent pool.
But to accommodate the workforce of the future, cities need robust infrastructure — roads, rails, wires and pipes. Unfortunately, New Jersey has fallen behind other regions in managing its infrastructure, particularly in water resources in its urban areas.
Our water infrastructure is old, out of date and poorly maintained. Water supply lines in New Jersey’s cities can leak as much as 30 percent of the clean water that flows through them before it gets to its destination. Sewer lines are sometimes 150 years old, made of brick or wood, and held together only by the ground in which they’re buried.
Related: 9 un-fun, even alarming, facts about NJ water systems
More intense and more frequent rainstorms stress these systems beyond their capacity, causing more frequent line breaks and forcing raw sewage into rivers, neighborhoods and even homes. And, as Hurricane Sandy has shown us, without action we risk being increasingly unable to withstand future severe weather events.
The problem has been ignored for many years, but a looming deadline means it must be addressed in many of our cities that have combined sewer and stormwater systems. By the end of this year, 21 New Jersey cities will face a government mandate for upgrades that will compel a multibillion-dollar investment. Our cities must address this crisis now, not only to meet regulatory requirements, but also to continue their nascent efforts to attract economic investment and workforce talent.
In May, we were pleased to lead a group of experts and thought leaders from various disciplines across the state who convened to work on this problem. Represented at the meeting, which was organized by the land-use policy organization New Jersey Future, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, were water and sewer utilities, investor-owned water companies, local officials, academic experts, environmentalists and community- and economic-development organizations. All were focused on developing what we have called an Agenda for Change to move this issue forward.
Included in the Agenda for Change are practical steps, including sharing and implementing best practices to drive down future costs, as well as ambitious items, such as identifying and leveraging new funding sources. In particular, the agenda recommends innovative new approaches like green infrastructure, which manages stormwater at the same time that it creates local jobs, beautifies cities and enhances real estate values.
Every item on the agenda is focused on strengthening New Jersey’s cities as drivers of the state’s future growth; fostering economic prosperity for all; making the state more resilient to severe weather; and creating healthy and sustainable places where residents can live, work and play. Investing in our urban water systems will pay dividends across the state.
New Jersey’s water infrastructure has been held together patchwork-style for a long time, and transforming it into a modern, sustainable system that can support growth and prosperity in the future is an enormous undertaking. It will require the sustained support of lawmakers, the business community, elected and civic leaders, and citizens.
And while the costs of fixing the problem are high in the short term, the costs of doing nothing will be far higher in the long term. We cannot be discouraged because it is difficult. Other cities across the nation have proved this is both possible and beneficial. All we need is the will.

As our federal and state governments launch a serious attack against climate change, New Jersey has a new opportunity to lead the way in supporting a clean energy future.

New Jersey is already one of the leading states when it comes to producing electricity from carbon-free sources of energy, thanks to a power portfolio that includes emissions-free nuclear energy, solar power and wind energy. As a result, we are ranked in the top third of states with the least amount of carbon pollution.

While on the right track toward a clean energy future, we must acknowledge that there is room for improvement, and we can lead this effort.

If we are serious about addressing climate change in the future, while maintaining reliability and affordability of our electric supply, we need to embrace all clean energy options. Diversity of technologies and fuel in our state’s electric system is the most cost-effective means of managing the risks of disruptions. In fact, a recent study by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based IHS Energy revealed that diversity of supply lowers the cost of electricity by more than $93 billion a year nationwide and halves the potential variability of monthly power bills compared to a less diverse supply.

Renewables like wind and solar are increasingly important to our state and our country. In fact, solar-generated electricity experienced the greatest amount of net growth among renewable sources, increasing by 115 percent nationwide since the first half of 2013. But even with this impressive growth, renewable energy sources produce only a fraction of our electricity needs, and they are intermittent sources of power. Nuclear energy, operating 24/7 for up to 24 months without refueling, is the workhorse of the carbon-free portfolio.

Nuclear energy generates 51 percent of the state’s electricity, and all but a fraction of New Jersey’s carbon-free power. The industry’s economic footprint in the states is even greater, with $259 million of materials, services and fuel for the industry purchased from more than 1,000 New Jersey companies.

Our electricity demands are growing again, having rebounded from the recession. This highlights the crucial current and future role that emissions-free, always-on energy sources like nuclear power should play in our energy portfolio.

As experts predict another harsh winter, we should consider that not all energy sources are the same – either in terms of meeting the high electricity demand during extreme temperatures or avoiding unwanted price spikes. During the Polar Vortex last winter, nuclear energy facilities around the country helped to maintain reliability of the electricity grid in the face of extreme weather – operating as high as 97 percent efficiency – proving to be stable and reliable while emitting zero carbon. On the other hand, the price of electricity supplied by natural gas-fueled power plants spiked by triple digits in some states.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. The Clean Power Plan would reduce carbon from the electric power sector by 30 percent by 2030. With this goal in mind, we must also consider that our country’s electricity needs are projected to grow by 28 percent by 2040. It will take a diverse mix of energy sources and conservation initiatives to satisfy our nation’s ever-growing appetite for electricity while keeping our air clean. That means extending the operation of today’s reactors while building next-generation nuclear energy technology to serve future generations who will demand both reliable electricity and clean air.

In an environment of heightened political partisanship, public policy often gets bogged down in debate over choosing energy winners and losers. We need a new approach—one that sets a clear and simple goal of carbon reductions and rewards all carbon-free sources equally. Rather than encouraging renewable energy sources in low-carbon portfolios, as many states historically have done – these standards should be expanded to embrace all clean energy sources that contribute to a lower-emission future.

Regardless of your political stripes, everyone can agree that we want reliable, affordable energy and clean air to breathe.

Christine Todd Whitman co-chairs the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. She is the former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.



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