I heard it again yesterday in a webcast I conducted on overcoming obstacles to renewables.
One of the more than 300 energy folks who tuned in asked, "When will renewables be able to stand on its own two feet without subsidies?"
When will nuclear power be able to stand on its own two feet? Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the federal government had to provide backstop insurance to the commercial nuclear fleet in the event of catastrophe. To date, that has been a sound decision - since there has never been an enormous nuclear accident related catastrophe of a scale that only the federal government could address.
Now the next generation of nuclear, like wind and solar, needs more federal support - in the form of loan guarantees. It seems the kitty offered up to kickstart a new generation of nuclear is not sufficient to handle all of the first tier projects. So today's newspaper reports the Obama administration will seek $9 billion more on top of the $18.5 billion it announced in February for nuclear loan guarantees.
There is another track that nuclear proponents are talking to support nuclear. Exelon, the largest nuclear operator in the US, has said that the best shot in the nuclear arm would be to establish a carbon emissions price of $100 a ton. That would make nuclear viable relative to fossils. Problem: the Senate energy bill - which faces an uncertain fate - calls for pegging the price of carbon at $25 a ton.
If you like nuclear, you should be pushing carbon cap. Ditto if you like renewables.
And our poll of webcast listeners Thursday reveals that many of you believe renewables will surge in importance. I asked listeners what share of our electricity generation in 2020 will come from renewables? Just 10 percent of the respondents believe it would be under 5 percent. Today, it is around 1 percent. Close to 44 percent believe it will be between 5 and 10 percent, 38 percent believe it will be 10-20 percent and 8 percent believe it will be more than 20 percent.
I wonder when our policy makers and industry leaders will start connecting the dots - the headlines dominating our news. The coal mine disaster. The horror in the Gulf. Those are real world events with real costs - both human and financial. Those are costs after the fact
Getting proactive with our energy reality - pricing carbon - will allow renewables and nuclear power to take their place rightful place in the energy pantheon, lessening our ties to the fossil past and all that entails. They require we shoulder costs up front.