By Michael Mariotte

Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor under construction in Sanmen, China, courtesy of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration released the results of a major review of the nation’s electric grid, concluding that billions of dollars of investment is needed to modernize the grid, replace aging power lines and prepare for more renewables entering the electricity marketplace. The Department of Energy’s FY 2016 budget already includes a funding request from Congress to begin this task.

When billions of dollars are at stake, there can always be disagreement about the exact amount that should be spent, and how the upgrades are prioritized. But you wouldn’t think that anyone could deny that the grid needs upgrading, nor that it needs to be able to accommodate the rapidly growing deployment of renewables, both utility-scale and rooftop.

You wouldn’t think that unless, of course, you’re with the nuclear power industry and your response to every energy issue and initiative is to hold out your hat for more subsidies, while trying to kick your cheaper competitors aside.

So the Nuclear Energy Institute quickly put out a statement arguing that “…taking steps to preserve America’s operating nuclear plants and create favorable market conditions to ensure new ones are built is at least as important as the grid infrastructure and transmission issues….”

Yes, the nuclear industry says, apparently with a straight face, that more government subsidies to nuclear power are “at least as important” as upgrading the electric grid to bring it into the 21st century.

Here’s a clue, NEI: No it isn’t. We can get by–quite easily really, and, in fact, preferably–without nuclear power. We can’t get by without an electric grid that works. And all those clean renewable sources of electricity are coming whether the nuclear industry likes it or not, and the grid has to be ready for them.

The electric grid may not be pretty, but it remains necessary. And bringing it into the 21st century is essential.

After 30+ years in this field, the greed and gall of this industry are still able to amaze me. But you can be sure that the NEI and its partner utilities won’t be content with issuing a statement; they will be actively pressing for their priorities. It’s not a real visible issue, and won’t be publicly, but it’s part of their ongoing war on renewables being conducted in statehouses across the country and offices of obscure government agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Another relatively obscure federal agency is the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which provides loans and other support to encourage the export of American goods. In theory, that would seem to be a reasonable mission for the government to undertake. It helps American companies, helps create jobs, helps with the balance of trade.

In practice, the lion’s share of ExIm money has benefited two industries: aviation and nuclear power.

I’m always a little nervous about the “strange bedfellows” approach to politics, where people from opposite ends of the political spectrum join together, from very different …read more

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