All eyes are on the Texas grid right now. We should watch carefully, because Maryland must deal with a changing climate too.
That doesn’t mean tweaking around the edges. It means a thoughtful and transformative approach to building a carbon-free, reliable and affordable energy system for the future.
This is obvious from recent California wildfires and droughts, and nationwide record high and low temperatures, powerful hurricanes in the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and oceans creeping up our beaches everywhere, including here in Maryland.
Our state elected officials are taking action. The General Assembly passed a law four years ago that calls for examining pathways to 100 percent clean power by 2040. And now President Biden wants it done by 2035.
This is an enormous job, and it starts with valuing what already exists.
As a nuclear engineer from the University of Maryland, and a former site vice president at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, I can say nuclear energy has three important gifts to offer our state.
The first is a head-start. Thirty-eight percent of our generation is already from nuclear carbon-free power. That’s close to double the national average, and it’s the foundation of our clean energy portfolio; it’s more than 80 percent of Maryland’s clean energy. We also have hydro, wind and solar, and we’re going to need every carbon-free source we have.
The second contribution is new nuclear technology, which will be more affordable and versatile, well-suited to a grid that must integrate a lot of variable energy from wind and solar. Innovation is happening all over the country but important work is happening right here.
Late last year the Energy Department chose two companies to demonstrate advanced nuclear technologies in five to seven years, and one of them is in Bethesda. X-Energy is moving forward with a design that will produce very high temperature steam, great for efficient production of electricity but also for replacing gas in various industries.
The third is a strong base of qualified nuclear workers with decades of experience, who will help make a smooth transition to new forms of carbon-free energy. There are about 700 full-time workers at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, and hundreds of engineers and other experts around the state, many of whom are here because of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville or the Energy Department in the District.
This transition goes beyond stabilizing the climate. We can solve the smog problem in Baltimore and the DC suburbs, which has been felt most acutely by inner-city residents, many of them low income and communities of color.
By cleaning up the electric system, we can get more clean air value out of every electric car that the state helps residents buy, every charging station at BWI and everywhere else.
To make this transition work, we’ve got smart engineers and entrepreneurs working on the new tools we’ll need. But we’ll also need appropriate government policies.
The first is that while President Joe Biden is taking a whole-of-government approach to the climate problem, we should also take a whole-of-technology approach. All technologies should be evaluated for what they offer and how they integrate into an energy system. And second, energy markets and federal and state policies must value emissions-free electricity.
At the moment we’ve got an aspiration to be clean but a regulatory system recognizing almost nothing but price. It’s better to identify what you want – carbon-free energy – and pay for it, than to identify what you don’t want – carbon-based fuels – and buy that instead.
There is a clean future ahead of us, and nuclear energy will be at its heart.
Maria Korsnick lives in Annapolis and is president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C.