By Christopher Guith
Like many other states, Iowa is taking a hard look at its energy needs and potential solutions. While high gas prices are always on everyone’s mind — with good reason — our nation is also facing a growing need for electricity sources to meet future demand. In fact, America could experience as much as a 31 percent increase in electricity demand by 2035.
Iowa is the fifth-largest energy consuming state on a per capita basis, according to government data. Therefore, in addition to becoming more efficient, Iowa needs to identify additional electricity sources if it is to increase its economic competitiveness. While coal is still the dominant source of power and wind energy continues to grow, there is plenty of room for more diversification.
Nuclear energy is a clean, safe and reliable source of electricity that has grown enormously around the world. But here in the United States, no new reactors have been built in 30 years.
That’s about to change, making it an exciting time for nuclear energy. After decades of debate and inaction, earlier this year the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved permits to build and operate two new reactors near Augusta, Ga., as well as two new reactors in South Carolina. These license approvals show the forward thinking necessary to meet our needs.
Nuclear energy provides roughly 20 percent of our nation’s electricity and more than 9 percent in Iowa at the state’s only nuclear plant, NextEra Energy’s Duane Arnold Energy Center, located in Palo. Nuclear is not just reliable, it is clean, emission-free energy. It provides nearly three-fourths of the emission-free electricity in this country. Now, Iowa has an opportunity to commit to nuclear to meet future needs, and the timing could not be better.
In addition to the clean air benefits and overall reliability of nuclear energy, the industry provides good, high-paying jobs to surrounding communities, and in today’s economic climate that is welcome news. The new reactors in Georgia will be the state’s largest construction project, with a work force projected to top 3,500.
In South Carolina, the project is providing 3,000 construction jobs. State and local economies and companies in the supply chain will see an incredible windfall as well.
While the construction numbers are strong, these new projects will offer permanent positions to as many as 800 employees per facility. In the meantime, the nuclear industry needs an additional 25,000 new workers to replace retirement-eligible personnel in the next five years.
Nuclear energy should be part of a long-term strategy to take advantage of all of our potential energy resources. As Iowans discuss this issue, it will be important to form educated decisions grounded in facts.
To that end, we at the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy — the energy policy arm of the world’s largest business organization — are committed to working with our local and state chambers and businesses large and small to help spread the message about nuclear energy.
Christopher Guith is vice president for Policy, Institute for 21st Century Energy, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. Comments: Energy