Testimony: Supporting the Expansion of Nuclear Power in Maine (LD 689)


Testimony in Support of LD 689, “An Act to Study the Construction of
a Nuclear Power Facility in the State”

Senator Lawrence, Representative Zeigler, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a free market think tank, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on LD 689.

During the lifespan of the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, from 1972 to 1996, the plant provided roughly 119 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, supplying most of the state’s energy demand in that time. Since its closure, Maine has transitioned toward alternative sources of electricity to fill the gap left by Maine Yankee’s absence. These new sources include both heavily subsidized, expensive renewable options, as well as fossil fuel generation. Today, the state’s largest power plant is natural gas-fired.

The result has been dirtier and more expensive electricity generation for the last quarter-century. State lawmakers have been consistently searching for new, particularly renewable energy sources, leading to the increasing focus on wind and solar farms. These alternatives, however, are not only expensive and unreliable for the consumer, but they are also expensive for the government as significant financial commitments are necessary to build and support the operation of these options. 

It is often claimed that our expensive electricity is a result of Maine’s cold climate, but this is not at all the case. The average cost of electricity for Maine residential consumers in October of 2022 was 23.06 cents per kilowatt-hour, while residents of other northern, cold-weather states such as Wisconsin (16.19 cents) Minnesota (14.95 cents) and North Dakota (11.73 cents) enjoy far cheaper electricity.

The reason Maine has such high energy costs is primarily a supply issue. Maine currently generates less electricity than all but five other states, increasing pressure on prices. Making matters worse, the energy we do produce is of a particularly expensive and volatile type due to the deliberate choices Maine has made to emphasize expensive and unreliable renewable energy sources.

The inherent reliability of nuclear power is due to its more-than-90% capacity factor. A nuclear plant can run nearly 24/7, whereas solar panels and wind turbine capacity is closer to 20-35% at best, because they can only create power when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, respectively.

When Vermont Yankee shut down in late 2014, it was the fifth-largest source of generation in the region, making up 4% of New England’s total electric generation, and more than 70% of generation in Vermont. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) noted that ISO-NE, the regional grid operator, would have to make up Vermont Yankee’s lost 600-megawatts by either increasing the output of the region’s four other nuclear plants, or from importing more energy, via hydropower from Canada and natural gas from New York

Ultimately, the latter took place, as monthly in-region nuclear generation from after 2015 has averaged 17% less than between 2000 and 2014. In the same timeframe, the region went from exporting an average of 876 gigawatt-hours per month to importing an average of nearly 1,300 gigawatt-hours per month. All of this has occurred at a time of 5% lower overall regional demand, yet under significantly higher prices.

Despite the sensationalist fear-mongering about nuclear power, it has proven to be not only safe, but considerably safer (by a wide margin) than all other energy-producing options.

Beyond the technology’s safety, nuclear power continues to be remarkably inexpensive. In 2019, EIA estimated that the cost of electricity from new, advanced nuclear power plants coming online in 2023 to be 7.75 cents per kilowatt-hour before government subsidies. Current energy generation in Maine is nearly triple that cost.

Please deem LD 689 “Ought To Pass” and begin the conversation around transitioning to not only a clean, but reliable, future of power generation. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission via Flickr | CC by 2.0