Now is the time to create a goal of energy diversity in South Carolina. That should be our mantra, instead of continuing to rely so heavily on nuclear power.
The case for diversity isn’t limited to electricity prices and security. Consumers want choice.
Unfortunately, South Carolina’s nine nuclear reactors generate 55 percent of the state’s electricity. If construction of two new reactors at V.C. Summer had been completed, nuclear power’s share would have exceeded 60 — the largest energy source by far.
The rest of our electricity comes from coal (23 percent), natural gas (17 percent), and renewables (5 percent).
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Nuclear isn’t going away, but a diverse mix of generating options is an essential characteristic of a robust and resilient electricity system. If current trends continue, that diversity is at serious risk.
South Carolina needs more energy as it builds and lights new communities, powers farm machinery, drives electric vehicles and robot assemblers and stores and moves information. Our economy therefore requires increased electricity production. For the sake of consumers as well as security, it should come from diverse sources.
Natural gas has many virtues as a fuel compared to coal and nuclear power. It is a cheap, and critically important, component of the state’s energy mix.
The fact is that rapid technological advances in shale-gas production mean there is an alternative option in South Carolina’s energy future that will almost certainly be far cheaper than relying on more nuclear or coal capacity.
Without low-cost electricity from natural gas, South Carolina will be unable to keep much of its manufacturing base.
Six nuclear plants around the country have closed since 2012, and another eight plants are slated to close due to competition from cheap gas. It is the clearest sign yet that the fortunes of nuclear power are skidding so fast that utilities need to cut back on nuclear plant construction.
Renewable energy sources can play an increasing role in South Carolina’s electricity supply because diversity and redundancy are important for lower cost and higher security. But natural gas should be central.
Jeffrey C. Nelson