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The Only Green New Deals That Have Ever Worked Were With Nuclear, Not Renewables

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nuclear power plant ruralThree weeks ago, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said, “The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.”

Then…she proposed a “transition from” nuclear power, America’s largest source of emissions-free energy.

What gives? How does she avoid the cognitive dissonance created by holding two radically opposed views?

After all, the only green new deals that have ever worked were done with nuclear, not renewables.

How do I know? Well, for starters, I helped create one of them.

How Green New Deals Fail

In 2003 I co-founded a progressive Democratic, labor-environment push for a Green New Deal. We called ours a “new Apollo project,” after the 1969 moonshot.

But it was the same green agenda of advocating taxpayer money — we asked for $300 billion — for efficiency and renewables.

By 2007 our efforts paid off when then-candidate Barack Obama picked up our proposal and ran with it. Between 2009 and 2015, the U.S. government spent about $150 billion on our Green New Deal, nearly half of which went to renewables.

An appallingly large sum — $24 billion  — was spent on biofuels, even though everyone knew that they pollute more than fossil fuels. Now we know they also destroy rainforests.

Another $15 billion went to energy efficiency, which turned out to be a massive waste of money.

Twice as much money was spent weatherizing homes as was saved. The episode disproved the widely parroted myth that efficiency investments always “pay for themselves.”

Determined to learn nothing from history, Green New Dealers are now proposing to spend taxpayer dollars weatherizing every building in America.

Meanwhile, the two poster children for renewables — California and Germany — have become models of how not to deal with climate change.

Germany spent $580 billion on renewables and its emissions have been flat for a decade. And all of that unreliable solar and wind has made Germany’selectricity the second most expensive in Europe.

Emissions in California rose after it closed one nuclear plant and will rise again if closes another. To the extent its emissions declined, it was from the replacement of electricity from coal with electricity from cheaper and cleaner natural gas.

Bottom line? Had California and Germany spent on nuclear what they instead spent on renewables, both places would already have 100% clean power.

Green Nuclear Deals

Chagrined by my role, which resulted from equal parts ideology and ignorance, I spent the last decade looking around the world for alternative models.

I quickly discovered two things. First, no nation has decarbonized its electricity supply with solar and wind. Second, the only successful decarbonization efforts were achieved with nuclear.

Just look at France and Sweden. In the 1970s and 1980s, they built nuclear plants at the rate required to achieve the alleged climate goals of the Green New Deal.

Sweden in 2017 generated a whopping 95% of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 42 and 41 coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power.

France generated 88% of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 72% and 10%, respectively, coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power.

Some claim Denmark decarbonized its electricity sector using wind, which is nearly half of its electricity.

But the tiny European nation was only able to deploy that much wind electricity because it could dump its excess wind electricity onto its neighbors — at a very high cost. Denmark today has the most expensive electricity in Europe.

If you want wages to rise — and Ocasio-Cortez and the Democrats say they do — then you should want energy to be cheap, not expensive.

Expensive electricity retards economic growth, which puts downward pressure on wages. By contrast, cheap energy increases growth and raises wages.

But even comparing jobs, the ones in the nuclear sector pay far more, and are far more stable, than the temporary jobs throwing up wind farms and solar roofs, and retrofitting buildings.

Where nuclear energy depends on high-wage and highly-skilled workers, most “green jobs” are low-wage and low-skill.

And adding solar and wind to the grid make electricity expensive. Those U.S. states that have deployed the most have seen sharp rises in their electricity costs and prices compared to the national average.

Some nations like Norway, Brazil, and Costa Rica have decarbonized their electricity supplies with the use of hydroelectric dams, but they are far less reliable and scalable than nuclear.

Brazil is a case in point. Hydro has fallen from over 90% of its electricity 20 years ago to about two-thirds in 2016. Because Brazil failed to grow its nuclear program in the 1990s, it made up for new electricity growth with fossil fuels.

And both Brazil and hydro-heavy California stand as warnings against relying on hydro-electricity in a period of climate change. Both had to use fossil fuels to make up for hydro during recent drought years.

That leaves us with nuclear power as the only truly scalable, reliable, low-carbon energy source proven capable of eliminating carbon emissions from the power sector.

The Fanaticism of Renewables

Given nuclear’s singular status in decarbonizing electricity, how does Ocasio-Cortez avoid the cognitive dissonance that should be created by her desire to both slash emissions and shut down nuclear plants?

By viewing solar and wind as radically new energy sources capable of disrupting outmoded forms of energy.

In reality, renewables are our oldest forms of energy, and both electricity-generating solar panels and wind turbines date back to the late 1800s.

Even the call for a Green New Deal is old, not new. In 2015, a group of British Lords and Sirs copied our 2003 new Apollo Project and issued their own call for a “Global Apollo Programme.”

And we got our idea for a new Apollo Project from a 1998 Nature article calling for “an international effort pursued with the same urgency as the Manhattan Project or the Apollo space program.”

I traced the history back as far as it goes until I finally discovered the first call for the U.S. to invest “hundreds of millions” for solar energy due to its “tremendous potential.” It was made by the U.S. secretary of the interior — in 1949.

It turns out that renewables have had a fanatical following for a very long time. Consider these headlines from The New York Times and other major newspapers:

The three articles above are from 1891, 1931, and 1939.

It turns out that renewables have been viewed, for nearly 200 years, as a potential source of humankind’s spiritual salvation.

In 1833, a utopian socialist German immigrant to the U.S. proposed to build massive solar power plants that used mirrors to concentrate sunlight on boilers, mile-long wind farms, and new dams to store power.

“It is just possible the world is standing at a turning point,” a New York Times reporter gushed in 1931, “in the evolution of civilization….”

All that was needed was a Green New Deal.

Michael Shellenberger is Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment,” Green Book Award Winner, and President of Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization.

Read more at Forbes

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