“Hero of the environment” dispels myths about renewable energy

Pro-nuclear champion Michael Shellenberger visited Phoenix last week to explain why a renewable energy initiative before voters will hurt Arizona’s environment and economy if it succeeds.   

Renewable energy is not the panacea proponents espouse, said Shellenberger, a former Time Magazine “Hero of the Year” and a global expert on nuclear energy and policy.

Nuclear, on the other hand, is often misunderstood, said the environmentalist who is president and CEO of two organizations he founded, Environmental Progress and the Breakthrough Institute, that do research and education to promote “technological solutions to environmental and human development challenges.”

“If you really want to get to 80 percent or a 100 percent of energy from clean energy sources, then add more reactors,” said Shellenberger.

For 25 years, the energy policy wonk has fought to save nuclear power plants in places like his home state of California. His efforts to date have helped save 14 nuclear reactors around the world, preventing an increase in emissions equivalent to adding 14 million cars to the road, he said.

Now, he is taking on California environmentalist and fellow Democrat, billionaire Tom Steyer, who has been funding an aggressive renewable energy agenda across the country that, too, excludes nuclear. Steyer is responsible for most of the financial backing for Prop. 127 in Arizona.

Steyers’ and other politicians current attack on nuclear is misguided, Shellenberger said.

Nuclear provides clean, efficient, reliable energy to millions with little waste compared to other energy sources, he said. Solar panels, for example, deteriorate after 25 years and are extremely costly to recycle because they contain toxic chemicals like cadmium, chromium and lead.

Shellenberger was invited to Arizona by the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association to speak about why voters should reject the renewable energy initiative, called Proposition 127. If approved, it will require a change to the constitution mandating that utilities provide 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Current state regulations require 15 percent by 2025. Utilities say the costly mandate will drive up electric bills.

Proposition 127 will lead to unhealthier air and higher electric prices, Shellenberger said. In reality, air quality has not improved in places like California that is moving to 100 percent renewable and shutting down nuclear power plants, he said.

“If you don’t have nuclear, you replace it with natural gas or fossil fuels,” he said. “That always results in carbon emissions going up. Always.”

Arizona’s initiative would force the shut down of Palo Verde Generating Station, one of the largest carbon free nuclear power plants in the world. Currently, the plant produces 79 percent of clean energy for the state, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

If California had invested in nuclear instead of renewables, it would have 100 percent clean electricity, said Shellenberger, who also fights for “energy justice” to keep electric rates low for the working classes.  

An analysis by Environmental Progress shows that in California between 2016 and 2017, California’s electricity prices rose three times more than they did in the rest of the nation.

Between 2011 and 2017, California’s electricity bills rose five times faster than they did nationally, according to the study. Today, Californians pay 60 percent more, on average, than the rest of the nation, for residential, commercial and industrial electricity.

As America shutters nuclear plants prematurely, other countries are building new ones, said Shellenberger. He recently ran on a pro nuclear platform in a bid in California’s primary election for governor. He lost.

Undaunted, Shellenberger mission remains clear. Go nuclear.

Victoria Harker

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