A regular theme of this blog is that closing or stopping one energy source means that more of something else immediately will take its place. Today, we are finding out what is the answer in California to the question: If not nukes, then what?
The owners of two nuclear stations in California threw in the towel last week and announced that they would close more than 2,000 megawatts of nuclear generation that supplied about 10% of the power of California. The plants have been crippled by massive repair problems on which already $700 million have been lost in a vain effort to fix.
Putting aside the economics, the environmental consequences of this decision--at least for carbon emissions and the climate--are not going to be pretty. The nukes are being replaced by mainly new natural gas plants and some renewable energy capacity. This trade puts another 8 million tons annually of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an amount equal to adding 1.6 million cars to the road.
While the above is bad enough, the full story is actually even worse. Most likely the annual increase in carbon emissions of 8 million tons, as a result of closing the 2 nukes, will last for 20 years. And so the nuclear closure will raise carbon emissions by a massive 160 million tons over the next 20 years, compared to what would have happened had the plants remained open. That's an environmental disaster!
While wind and solar are growing rapidly and can be accelerated further, the plain truth is that, even in California, where renewable energy will supply 30% of all energy by 2020, they cannot replace fully or even mostly the loss of big plants that operate around the clock.
If not nukes, then what? If not gas, then what? Today, the answer to those questions don't have great environmental answers.