Thursday, July 26, 2012

One Guam, Green Guam, Glow Guam

Nuclear power generation on Guam must be opposed with all heart and soul.

For sure, energy prices are high on Guam but that’s because the island is excessively reliant on fossil fuels. It should turn its attention, instead, to alternative sources. This is not a knee-jerk response to the obvious risks that nuclear power brings.

After Katrina hit New Orleans, architects and builders began to imagine a different city, one that’s less dependent on fossil fuels.  New Orleans is a good city to compare to Guam.

New Orleans is ecologically fragile. Although it is part of the continental U.S., it is nonetheless separate, below sea level and uniquely vulnerable to storms. Similar to Guam, New Orleans is also culturally rich, diverse, with a modest economy and wage levels.
Since Katrina, there has been a concerted effort to build homes that use energy efficient technologies; to create housing that registers net-zero, or low energy consumption. They have been successful at doing this.

One effort by Brad Pitt, the actor, led to the Make it Right foundation, which builds highly energy efficient homes for as little as $150,000. They use solar and other energy saving technologies to dramatically reduce power usage.

Homes that have solar technologies have reverse electric meters. There are points in the day when the solar systems produce more energy than is being consumed, and this excess energy is sold to the power company. Some of these meters will literally show the amount of money that you are making.

Nuclear energy will not deliver a Green Guam. It will deliver a new set of hazards to Guam.

The recent decision by the Consolidated Commission on Utilities to even consider the feasibility of nuclear power for the island is a colossal mistake. It is astonishing that one of the most solar rich places on the planet would even consider such a move.

Let’s look at this as an economic issue alone. One estimate puts the cost of a nuclear facility at about $250 million.  With that amount of money, you could provide $10,000 grants to 25,000 homes and businesses on Guam to install solar panels.

This is really about where Guam wants to invest its energy dollars. A $250 million investment to build a nuclear power plant equals about $1,400 for every man, woman and child on Guam. One way or another, the bill for nuclear power will get paid.

The Utilities Commission can’t simply look at nuclear power in isolation, detached from alternatives. It needs to consider, as well, the rapidly improving efficiency and declining cost of solar and what an equal investment into solar might produce.

Here are some other issues to consider as well.

One: A nuclear plant will concentrate investment and jobs. Solar energy has the potential of disaggregating the island's energy production and creating new employment opportunity for people, locally trained, to install and maintain solar energy systems. Green energy is self-reliant and represents, at the very least, symbolic decolonization. 

Two: A nuclear facility will require land and ample security. The needs of the military shooting range may be modest by comparison.

Three: A nuclear facility generates hazardous waste that remains hazardous for tens of thousands of years. It will have to be transported and stored somewhere. 
Four: The risks associated with nuclear generation are not zero. Guam doesn’t need to increase the risk the government is already creating by its expanding military presence. Remember, the U.S. has given serious consideration to the need for a missile defense system for Guam. Does Guam want a missile defense system and a nuclear power plant?

Five: Guam may be an unsafe environment for nuclear energy. It is seismically unstable. It is subject to massive typhoons.

The Utilities Commission should drop its investigation into the feasibility of nuclear power. It has to be opposed now, not later.

Once this feasibility study delivers its predictable conclusions, the lobbying will begin in earnest and the opposition to nuclear power will face increasing odds, not unlike the build-up.  By the time the build-up’s environmental impact statements arrived, it was already too late.