The future isn't what it used to be. We were promised flying cars and jetpacks and bionic limbs and ridiculously cheap nuclear power. Well, cars are still firmly situated on the ground, and Illinois and New York approved massive bailouts for nuclear power plants.
Dominion Energy, the owner of the Millstone nuclear power plant in Connecticut, tried to get the state legislature to grant it special status to keep the lights on. That the plant could eventually close might be a bummer for Dominion, but it ought to be great news for consumers, especially those living on fixed incomes. The price of power and heating is dropping, so now consumers and taxpayers will pay lower utility bills.
Not surprisingly, Dominion Energy doesn't want the nuclear plant to close and is still trying to wrangle something with state legislators. The move to keep the plant open is happening despite opposition from groups across the political spectrum, from the AARP to the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. Other states have considered such requests and either doled out taxpayer money or socked ratepayers and taxpayers with higher rates (in Illinois and New York), or in several cases told the nuclear operators to go away (in Florida, Vermont, Wisconsin, and California).
Connecticut ought to reject the special pleading and let the plant "close," as the newspaper headlines would have it. In reality, there won't be a full closure any time soon. The company would likely idle the plant (6 years from now) and leave in a skeleton crew. In the event that there was an energy shortfall, they'd bring it back online to take advantage of the higher energy prices. That, in turn, could help push the price back down.
That's how markets are supposed to work.
When there is a commodity in abundance ? in this case, fuel to fire generators to give us more power ? the price of that commodity falls. If supplies of fuel run low, the price climbs. And one kind of fuel can be subbed in for another as the new upstart fuel gets cheaper.
Sometimes this shift prices whole classes of fuel right out of the marketplace. We no longer hunt whales for their oil. Not many people are upset about that.
It's depressing to consider that many power companies pushed for a certain amount of deregulation and got it and now want special treatment when they face real competition. PJM Interconnection, which coordinates power supplies for some of the Northeast, South, and Midwest, estimates that it has about 26 percent more power on hand than it needs to meet its clients demands. So, prices are set to come down and power generators are not happy, and they are looking for ways to minimize the red ink.
One very effective criticism of American capitalism is that it simply privatizes profits and socializes losses. That is not usually true. Yet such cronyism is rightly resented by many citizens when it rears its ugly bald head.
Consumers and taxpayers will be much better off with lower monthly rates and lower taxes when politicians simply let the energy market do its job.
If nuclear plants can compete in that market, great. And if not, sayonara.
David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
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