Expert witnesses at a hearing on Capitol Hill said that preserving reliable baseload electricity options including nuclear energy must be part of the country's modern electric infrastructure.
"It's important not just to have enough energy, but to have adequate capacity to fill in the voids," president and chief executive officer of the Electric Power Research Institute, Michael Howard, said. "We're getting to the point where we're energy rich, but capacity poor and that reinforces the need for baseload generation."
During the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy hearing on modernizing the country's energy infrastructure, Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said nuclear plants are a valuable part of the country's energy mix.
"Nuclear power plants are a particularly valuable component of our electrical infrastructure because they run 24/7, offer stable prices and operate for up to two years without needing to refuel," Rush said. "Yet in the absence of action at the federal level to provide full financial recognition of these attributes, it has fallen to the states to take action to preserve nuclear plants as part of their energy infrastructure...If these state-level actions are overturned, thousands of jobs at nuclear facilities would be imperiled."
Last year, the Illinois legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill, a measure that will ensure the continued operation of the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants in that state. At the hearing, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) added that nuclear and coal plants, both baseload electricity providers, were at risk of closing and asked witnesses for their perspective on how this might affect the steady availability of electricity.
"We have for years been looking at the [electricity] generation mix," Howard said. "All of the research that we've done points toward the need for a full portfolio of generation options which includes the need for all forms of thermal generation including nuclear and coal."
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International President Lonnie Stephenson agreed.
"We're moving to the green economy. We're moving to more wind, more solar, but we still need to have reliable baseload," Stephenson said. "Nuclear is very reliable, baseload energy that has zero emissions I think there's a big role for nuclear to play."
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration 5 percent of the country's total electricity generation came from wind, 0.6 percent came from solar and 20 percent came from nuclear power plants in 2015. 33 percent came from coal and an additional 33 percent came from natural gas.
At the hearing, Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.) pointed out the very real economic benefits nuclear plants bring to local communities.
"Each nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 people," Doyle said. "The average plant also generates an average of almost $16 million in state and local tax revenue annually, and federal tax payments of approximately $67 million each year."
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said that the country needed to revamp its aging energy infrastructure, including the electricity grid and pipelines.
"Democrats strongly support modernizing our energy infrastructure much of which is either outdated, on the verge of disrepair or inadequate to today's needs," Pallone said. "It's going to take a substantial investment to realize this goal We need new hardware, new software and new thinking. Work that can, and should be done, in America by American workers for the benefit of all the American people."
Stephenson added that his union had 300 locations to train workers and would be ready to respond to any future infrastructure build out.
"Electrical infrastructure is our business," Stephenson said. "It was our members who built the first electrical grid and have kept it running safely and reliably for more than 100 years Our members are ready to get to work modernizing and expanding our grid."
The creation of a smart grid that uses digital technology to improve the reliability, resiliency and efficiency of the electricity delivery system was also a main theme of the hearing. Howard emphasized that even the smart grid of the future would have a "central" component.
"An essential near-term step is the full implementation of what we call the integrated grid: an integrated electrical system which fully realizes the value of central and distributed energy resources," Howard said.
An archived webcast and witness testimony from the hearing are available.