Further, in February it was reported that the Department of Energy was reviewing a scenario in which one-third of our existing nuclear fleet would be shuttered. A March 2014 study by Third Way — a think tank that advances moderate policy and political ideas — puts hard numbers on the ‘tragic and dire’ consequences of such a decision in terms of carbon emissions, saying, “Shutting down a third of the U.S. nuclear fleet would raise electric sector carbon dioxide emissions 8.0%... twice the single-year effect that Germany experienced when it shuttered 40% of its nuclear plants in 2011.”
The reason we are hearing about this now is that the PTC has fueled a flood of taxpayer-funded megawatts onto the grid that, because of the subsidies, can undercut the other traditional generating sources. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) alone, the growth in subsidy-generated wind has been 282 percent in just seven years, and another 577 percent growth is expected to undercut other generating sources by 2016.
Notwithstanding the unintended consequences of the PTC in unleashing a chain of events that could catalyze climate change, the experts are also warning us that the PTC is a costly and inefficient way to fight carbon emissions. The last PTC renewal in 2012 cost American taxpayers over $12 billion, and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has labeled the PTC — in terms of carbon emissions reductions — as a tiny bang for a huge buck.
So here’s some food for thought as Congress contemplates another free ride for our wind turbines: the PTC subsidy is a wolf in a lamb’s clothing. It looks like support for a noble and green cause, but it’s actually a recipe for the opposite. I, for one, hope our elected representatives heed this warning.
Mike Krancer previously served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.