US low-carbon power seeks way past pandemic

25 March 2020

The USA's clean energy sectors have outlined the government support they need to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Associations representing the nuclear, hydro, solar and wind energy industries have all written to Federal leaders for help.

NEI President Maria Korsnick (Image: NEI)

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has written to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, requesting assistance to ensure continued nuclear operations during the COVID-19 crisis, and also to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Kudlow on the nuclear industry's recommendations for economic recovery.

In her 19 March letter to Mnuchin and Kudlow, NEI President Maria Korsnick wrote that the nuclear energy industry is "committed to working with the administration to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity as the nation addresses the COVID-19 crisis". NEI member companies are "anticipating - or are already experiencing - severe financial strain", she wrote, "as product orders are delayed or cancelled, as industrial electricity demand falls, and as workforce availability becomes increasingly constrained".

To help, NEI has identified specific policy and legislative proposals that would be of immediate benefit: enabling essential support for nuclear infrastructure; providing grants for COVID-19-related paid leave; incentivising investments in resilient nuclear generation; and providing temporary regulatory fee relief.

For example, the bipartisan Nuclear Powers America Act would provide a 30% investment tax credit for certain expenditures, helping to ensure the financial viability of the nation’s nuclear fleet which provides nearly 20% of America’s electricity, she wrote.

Regulatory fees amount to about USD15 million annually for a typical two-unit nuclear power plant and temporarily waiving them would result in “expeditious savings” for consumers as well as increased revenues that the industry could invest, she wrote.

In her 20 March letter to Brouillette, Korsnick noted that nuclear energy plants have been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as critical infrastructure, because continued operation of the power grid is vital to pandemic response.

This spring, 32 nuclear power stations in 21 states are planning to undergo refuelling outages, which are essential to maintaining reliable and clean power generation, she wrote, adding that plants can also have unplanned safe shutdowns with similar challenges during a pandemic.

On 19 March, the American Council on Renewable Energy, American Wind Energy Association, Energy Storage Association, National Hydropower Association, Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) delivered a joint letter to the US House and Senate leadership, stating that the growth of the clean energy sector is placed at risk by a range of COVID-19 related impacts.

These impacts include, they wrote, "supply chain disruptions that have the potential to delay construction timetables and undermine the ability of wind, solar and hydropower developers to qualify for time-sensitive tax credits, and a sudden reduction in the availability of tax equity, which is crucial to monetizing tax credits and financing clean energy projects of all types".

They have asked for: an extension of "start construction and safe harbour deadlines" to ensure that renewable projects can qualify for renewable tax credits despite delays associated with supply chain disruptions; provisions allowing renewable tax credits to be available for direct pay to facilitate their monetisation in the face of reduced availability of tax equity; and enactment of a direct pay tax credit for stand-alone energy storage to foster renewable growth and help secure the more resilient grid we need in these difficult times.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, said on 23 March that some sectors in the solar industry could see a 50% reduction or more, up from Bloomberg New Energy Finance's estimate of 16% to 30% a week ago. At the end of 2019, the US solar power industry employed about 250,000 Americans, she added.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is considering economic relief options for the fossil fuel sector due to the pandemic and the recent fall in oil prices. According to a Morning Consult survey, conducted 10-12 March, 43% of US adults would support an economic relief package that includes help for the oil and gas industry, while 31% would be opposed.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News