Letter to NYT Editor: Making the Transition to Renewable Energy

Source: By MICHAEL GOGGIN, AWEA • Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2016

To the Editor:

Embrace of Renewables Has a Hidden Cost,” by Eduardo Porter (Economic Scene column, July 20), perpetuates the myth that nuclear and renewable energy are competitors. In reality, cheap natural gas is causing nuclear’s woes because fossil fuel power plants set prices in electricity markets, not wind or nuclear.

Cheap fossil fuels have a 500 times larger effect than wind on setting the prices received by nuclear plants, according to the country’s largest electricity market monitor. Mr. Porter does note: “The economics of nuclear energy are mostly to blame. It just cannot compete with cheap natural gas.” But he still blames renewables.

As the lowest cost and most scalable zero-emission resource, wind energy must play a central role in decarbonization. Wind accounted for 77 percent of United States growth in zero-carbon electricity over the last decade, while Europe has slashed emissions using renewables.

The main challenges facing both renewables and nuclear are that carbon pollution is unregulated and that we need a stronger grid to deliver our low-cost energy to consumers.

We hope that nuclear proponents will work with us to solve the real problems holding back all low-carbon energy, rather than waging internecine warfare.

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Senior Director of Research

American Wind Energy Association


To the Editor:

Eduardo Porter exaggerates the challenge of integrating renewables into the electricity grid by taking a narrow view of tools we have to support these clean energy resources.

Much of the world can make larger investments in renewables with negligible changes to the grid. For places ahead of the curve, like California and Germany, it will be important to use carbon-free technologies that make grid operations more dynamic.

For example, energy storage and load-shifting programs are flexible, and unlike fossil fuels, they don’t emit pollution that causes climate change.

Nuclear can be an important source of carbon-free electricity, but in places where costs to build renewables are less than costs to operate a nuclear plant safely, it may not make sense to keep the nuclear online.

In some cases, nuclear plant generation can make the grid less flexible and more difficult to integrate renewables. But these are known challenges that can be solved.

We would do better to focus on reducing fossil fuel pollution instead of pitting nuclear against renewables.


Senior Energy Analyst

Union of Concerned Scientists

Oakland, Calif.

To the Editor:

We can blame subsidies for the difficulties cited in the column.

Remove all subsidies, put a price on carbon emissions that reflects the full environmental cost of burning fossil fuels, and let the market sort things out. Perhaps there will be a nuclear renaissance. Perhaps there will be a surge in new and cheaper storage technology, and renewables will realize their full potential.

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Perhaps we’ll start sequestering carbon dioxide from natural gas, a process whose useful product is hydrogen. Or maybe all of the above. A carbon fee is gaining support from both conservatives and liberals for whom saving the earth is more important than preserving their ideological purity.


Montauk, N.Y.

The writer, a retired engineer, did research on energy-efficient buildings at Brookhaven National Laboratory for more than 25 years.

To the Editor:

Eduardo Porter does a good job of itemizing the growing pains of wind and solar, but he doesn’t put these problems in context.

Yes, Germany grew its renewable market aggressively and has been forced to rely on coal as a backup, but that was only after Fukushima persuaded the Germans to shut all of their nuclear plants without any prior planning. Neither does Germany have anything close to our potential for renewable power because of its geographical constraints.

Similarly, Mr. Porter cites the oversupply of solar power in California during daylight hours, but he does so without discussing the true nature of the problems involved or their solutions beyond creating fear of making any change at all.

What critics of change don’t want to address is how haphazardly we are going about this necessary national transition to renewable energy. It should surprise no one that absent a coherent federal plan to build our energy infrastructure of the future, we are going to create problems for ourselves that need never have happened.


Chatham, Ill.