By Rachel Dawson
On Thursday, October 15, Portland General Electric pulled the plug on the Boardman Coal Plant, PGE’s largest power plant. Boardman had a nameplate capacity of 550 firm megawatts of power and was decommissioned 20 years prematurely.
While environmentalists celebrate the plant’s closure, utility executives are still trying to figure out how they will keep the lights on in our region.
That’s because the more coal plants our region removes from the grid, the more likely we are to experience future blackouts. Multiple studies from groups like the Northwest Power Pool, E3, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council all reached the same conclusion: Our region will have a shortage of power by the mid-2020s that could lead to blackouts and extreme price volatility.
Curious about what this would look like? Look no further than California. In August, the state experienced rolling blackouts as it leaned too heavily on imports and didn’t have enough of its own firm power.
Our utilities aren’t far behind. Large Northwest utilities plan on investing in wind, solar, batteries, and—like California—market purchases. To avoid California’s same fate, our utilities and officials need to acknowledge that an intermittent resource powered grid is not a reliable or an affordable grid. Instead of celebrating Boardman’s closure, they should invest in firm power sources like natural gas and clean nuclear power.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.
By John A. Charles, Jr.
The state legislature is seeking policy proposals for “equity in education.” Here’s an idea: how about a money-back guarantee for public schools?
The K-12 system is based on the assumption that all students should attend neighborhood public schools. Even in the best of times, that wasn’t working for many families. Now the assigned schools aren’t even open; the governor has mandated online learning.
Virtual education has some benefits, but also imposes new costs for parents. They are now part of the educational workforce, except they’re not getting compensated.
There is a solution. School districts are funded from three primary sources: the state school fund, the federal government, and local property taxes. The state share alone averages about $10,000 per student annually. The legislature should offer parents a refund of the $10,000 if they leave the public school system. This would instantly make the departing families better off, while reducing crowded conditions for those students who remain. With fewer students, it would be easier for public schools to restore classroom education. Everyone wins. One system cannot satisfy all needs. The best way to give families more options is to provide them with the equivalent of a Food Stamp card upon request, and let them swipe it for the instructional services they need.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.
By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
President Trump is frequently accused of lying. But he doesn’t have a monopoly on falsehood. Look around the Portland region and you’ll see our local politicians lying to us. We live in our own Pinocchio-land.
Metro’s “Get Moving 2020” ballot measure is a $5.2 billion tax increase disguised as a transportation measure. It’s a permanent tax on the total compensation paid by every private business and nonprofit with more than 25 employees. Metro says it’s a payroll tax, but it’s much more. It will tax every dollar you earn — even the money you save for retirement.
Comedian John Oliver says, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” And, that’s what Portland City Council has done with a major charter change packaged as some minor housekeeping.
Portland says the amendment merely clarifies the charter. In reality, the amendment will open a spending tap with water customers on the hook for ever rising water bills.
Portland Public Schools deserves its own wing in the Hall of Pinocchios. PPS put a $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot. About $200 million of the new money will be used to fill cost overruns on the projects funded by the 2017 bond.
How did PPS run $200 million over budget? Simple: PPS lied to us. The school board intentionally low-balled cost estimates to fool voters into approving the measure.
This year, voters must put an end to the billions of dollars of fibs our local politicians are telling. Pinocchio learned his lesson about lying; it’s time for our politicians to learn theirs.
Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.
By Rachel Dawson
Did you ever watch the Simpsons and think nuclear waste from utility plants looked like glowing green goo oozing out of cans?
If you answered yes, you might be the victim of media propaganda. The waste produced by utility nuclear power plants is not a leaking green goo. In fact, it’s not capable of leaking at all as nuclear waste is a solid metal rod (better known as a spent fuel rod) instead of the green ooze many associate it with.
These misconceptions are important to dispel as potential future power shortages along with increased clean power mandates make having a clean and reliable baseload power source like nuclear increasingly important.
In reality, nuclear fuel is made up of multiple ceramic pellets stacked vertically in long metal tubes. The resulting waste looks no different and actually has the “consistency of a teacup.”
Nuclear spent fuel remains radioactive for thousands of years. But the idea that it will one day be unearthed and “spilled” across green pastures and waterways is a scenario based more on science fiction than reality.
For one, spent fuel is never left exposed. The spent fuel rods are kept underwater for up to eight years (in what are known as spent fuel pools) “until the radiation levels decay to levels that can be cooled without water.”
From there, the spent fuel is either recycled or placed in large concrete canisters, known as dry casks, and stored underground. This step is where the United States differs from France, where nuclear energy makes up 71.7% of electricity generation.
Recycling spent fuel is the most efficient way to manage nuclear waste. Spent fuel contains over 90% uranium, which is usable fuel. Recycling spent fuel allows one to draw out more energy from the fuel, have less remaining nuclear waste, and convert the waste into immobilized chemical forms. France, for example, embeds its remaining nuclear waste in vitrified borosilicate glass.
However, it is currently illegal to do so in the United States. President Jimmy Carter prohibited recycling nuclear spent fuel in 1977 during the Cold War due to fears that it would be used to create nuclear weapons and concerns that it was not cost-effective. This left us with the remaining option of burying our country’s spent fuel in the ground.
In the 43 years since President Carter made this decision, multiple nations around the world, including France, Japan, and Great Britain, have all chosen to recycle their spent fuel without the proliferation of nuclear weapons officials were concerned would be correlated with it.
NuScale Power, an Oregon based company developing small-modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), claims to have more modern recycling technology than France, but is unable to take any action here in the United States.
Additionally, nuclear waste is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be, so long as it remains enclosed. There have been no recorded injuries or deaths caused by the commercial nuclear waste contained in dry casks.
Nuclear waste is the only energy resource byproduct that doesn’t make it into the environment, as it is completely contained. Environmentalists should be more concerned with wind and solar technology, which sends used wind turbines and solar panels to landfills after they’re retired.
Oregon passed a moratorium on building new nuclear plants in 1980 until the nuclear waste problem was solved. Perhaps our legislators were watching too many cartoons when the moratorium was passed, as burying spent fuel in dry casks has a track record for being safe and does not adversely affect the environment.
No energy source is perfect. But by utilizing improved safety technology and recycling spent fuel, nuclear energy can come pretty darn close. Oregon legislators should work to relegalize nuclear power in our state as future coal closures will cause our region to lose thousands of megawatts of reliable power “which may result in both extreme price volatility and unacceptable loss-of-load, or blackouts.” Doing so will allow our state to meet clean energy mandates while ensuring the lights are kept on when we need them most.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.