If Christine Todd Whitman were really serious about promoting jobs in the energy industry, she would be talking about wind and other renewable energy resources, not nuclear power. Her July 9 op-ed, co-written with Florida State Rep. Juan C. Zapata, overstated the benefits of nuclear power and mentioned none of its drawbacks.
Whitman claims that constructing new nuclear plants has the potential to create "as many as 70,000 jobs," but how long would that take? According to Whitman's own figures, building one new reactor would produce as many as 2,400 construction jobs, and, once built, would employ 800 workers. To generate those 70,000 jobs — 75 percent of them temporary — the industry would have to build 22 new reactors. Given the lack of a trained labor force, constraints on the availability of key manufacturing components, and Wall Street's reluctance to finance them, building 22 reactors would take at least two decades to accomplish even under the rosiest scenario.
In any case, her projection of 70,000 jobs pales in comparison with renewables. If the federal government established a standard requiring utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, it would create 297,000 new jobs, according to a 2009 analysis by my organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists. Echoing our analysis, a February 2010 study by Navigant Consulting found that a 25 percent by 2025 standard would create 274,000 jobs.
Energy efficiency programs also would produce more jobs. A 2009 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that a national standard requiring utilities to institute programs reducing electricity demand by 15 percent and natural gas demand by 10 percent would generate more than 220,000 jobs by 2020.
Texas is blessed by a wealth of renewable sources. In fact, it has the technical potential to generate more than 17 times the electricity it used in 2008 from renewable energy, primarily from wind, bioenergy and solar. And it is beginning to take advantage of that bounty.
Texas is a national leader in wind energy, generating more than 9,500 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity, thanks in part to the state's renewable electricity standard. That standard requires utilities to increase their reliance on renewable resources to produce at least 5,800 MW (about 5.5 percent) of the state's power needs by 2015. On March 5, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported a record high for instantaneous wind output of 6,272 MW. That met 19 percent of the total state customer demand, showing that Texas is on track to exceed the standard.
Likewise, Texas has been a leader on efficiency. It was the first state to adopt an energy efficiency resource standard, which required utilities to use efficiency to cut 10 percent of annual growth in power demand. This year the standard jumped to 30 percent of customer demand growth. Increased energy efficiency will translate into lower electricity bills.
Texas's leadership on renewables and efficiency has meant more jobs. In 2007, Texas ranked second to California in numbers of businesses (4,802) and jobs (55,646) tied to the clean energy sector, according to 2009 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Can new reactor construction compete? According to a recent report by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, even if new construction created 2,400 temporary jobs per site, a significant number of those jobs could go to workers overseas. All applicants seeking permits to build new reactors or building them now – including the South Texas Project — plan to use or are using foreign manufacturers and labor to build major reactor parts.
Whitman also sidestepped the issue of construction costs — which have quadrupled over the past decade — and the fact that the industry has such a miserable financial track record that Wall Street will not invest in new reactors without massive federal loan guarantees and other subsidies.
The South Texas Project she touts, which is building two new reactors, provides a sobering example. CPS Energy, San Antonio's public utility, first planned to hold a 40 percent ownership stake, tried to reduce it to 20 percent, and then, when the cost estimate jumped from $9 billion to $13 billion, tried to pull out completely. CPS fired its top executive, filed a $32 billion lawsuit against the plant owner, and ultimately wound up with less than an 8 percent stake. The plant owner is still seeking investors, as well as a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, which would put U.S. taxpayers on the hook if the project falls apart. South Texas, whose reactor vendor is Japanese manufacturer Toshiba, is reportedly third in line for a loan guarantee.
So why is Whitman pushing nuclear power? Because the group she co-chairs, the benignly sounding Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, is a front for the nuclear industry. The industry trade organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), created the coalition – which is little more than a website with a list of supporters — and is its sole funder. Whitman, who has been shilling for NEI for four years, has a right to earn a living, but your readers have the right to know she is a paid industry mouthpiece — a fact that she routinely fails to disclose — and that she is not giving them the whole story.
Elliott Negin is the media director for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.