Growing economy depends on clean energy

TURKEY POINT: The FPL nuclear plant in southeast Miami- Dade County is a major power generator in this part of the state.
TURKEY POINT: The FPL nuclear plant in southeast Miami- Dade County is a major power generator in this part of the state. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

After years of economic stagnation, Florida’s economy and demand for electricity are growing.

Just last month, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported that the state’s annual growth rate has exceeded the national rate for almost three years, and that all 10 of the state’s major industries have experienced job gains. Simultaneously, Florida’s backlog of homes for sale is down, home prices are increasing and new buildings that require more electricity are going up.

Another driver for electricity demand is the fact that our lives and economy have become far more dependent on electronic devices like smartphones. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts electricity demand will grow by 29 percent by 2040.

Florida is the world’s 19th largest economy, and now more than any time in our history, reliable, affordable electricity is the lifeblood of our economy. In many respects, Florida is leading the way in developing a balanced, more-secure energy portfolio. About 62 percent of Florida’s electricity is generated using natural gas, 21 percent from coal, 12 percent from nuclear and 5 percent from other sources, including renewables.

As states and energy companies plan to balance future energy production against environmental concerns, there are many reasons nuclear energy must continue to be part of the solution. In a state like Florida, where a major population center is at the end of a peninsula, having fuel diversity is even more critical to ensure the lights stay on.

Today, Florida has four nuclear plants operated by Florida Power &vLight. Combined, these reactors provide enough electricity for some 1.8 million homes, regardless of the weather or time of day. Because these facilities produce so much power and the cost of the fuel is consistently low, the company can hedge against market-based price fluctuations that can come with other fuel sources.

This is good for energy security and good for consumers.

Moreover, nuclear energy provides 98 percent of Florida’s carbon-free electricity. Because nuclear plants’ production process emits no greenhouse gasses, Florida’s reactors have effectively offset 15 million tons of carbon emissions each year. That’s the equivalent of removing 3 million cars from the road annually.

More broadly, having nuclear power as a substantial part of the state’s energy mix will help Florida comply with proposed rules under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Without nuclear energy, Florida will fall short of its goals, forcing a costly transition away from higher-emitting technologies, such as coal or oil.

Fortunately, if the state continues to maintain a supportive policy environment for new nuclear facilities, and invests in other technologies like utility-scale solar, meeting these goals is eminently possible.

Beyond the consumer and environmental benefits, nuclear power plants are economic engines for the communities where they are located. Having lived near Turkey Point for many years, I can attest to the fact that the recently completed plant upgrades bring thousands of workers and an infusion of millions of dollars into the state.

Florida’s economy is growing again, and the future is bright. But our ability to attract new industries and innovators requires that we maintain a reliable supply of affordable electricity, a clean environment, a good quality of life and a vibrant economy.

While power generation has become somewhat of a political issue, I have found most people, regardless of political affiliation, agree that reducing carbon emissions is something worth doing. Clearly, because of the role nuclear energy plays in each of these areas, it must remain part of our state’s strategy.

Christine Todd Whitman is a part-time Floridian, a former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.