Aug 302013

Over the last 50 years, California’s nuclear power plants have received more than $8.2 billion in federal support. Meanwhile, solar tax credits are on the verge of being cut from 30 percent to 10 percent in 2016.

That’s the top-level finding of a new report from DBL Investors, which compares the support that the nuclear power industry received in its critical early years with the federal support going to solar power right now.

The findings are clear, and troubling. You can sum them up in three charts from the report:

First, we see the relative funding, in 2012 dollars, that nuclear (in red) and distributed solar (in blue) received during the industry’s first five years.

subsidies for nuclear power vs solar power during the first five years

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Solar clearly got a much smaller slice of the federal pie than nuclear did, although things start to pick up toward the end of that first five years — by 2011, solar received almost the same amount of funding that nuclear did in 1967.

… Until you get to the second chart, which shows how those subsidies continued for nuclear:

Subsidies for nuclear power vs solar power over time

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That’s all well and good, since look at that super promising growth trajectory for solar funding — we’re on the right path, right?

Unfortunately, the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) — which currently reimburses homeowners for 30 percent of the up-front costs of installing rooftop solar — is slated to be cut dramatically at the end of 2016. Starting January 1, 2017, unless new legislation is enacted or the ITC is extended again, the refund will drop to just 10 percent. That big of a drop, totalling thousands of dolars in lost incentives per installation, will have a potentially huge impact on the growth of solar in California and nationwide.

Granted, solar has been growing as a power source in California, even as nuclear has been shrinking: The closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant took a big chunk out of the state’s nuclear generation, as the chart below shows.

solar generation vs nuclear generation

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But without continued support, the odds are much longer that we’ll see the kind of continued growth in rooftop solar that we desperately need to transition to a clean energy future.

One of the reasons that nuclear power has been financial possible in the U.S. has to do with the Price-Anderson Act. The report’s authors write:

[The Act] caps the liability of nuclear power producers in the event of an accident. The Price-Anderson Act was originally supposed to be authorized for only ten years, while nuclear developers sought to prove safety and reliability, but has been continuously reauthorized since its passage in 1957.

… The original Price-Anderson Act Senate report justifies the Act’s 10-year sunset provision saying that, by then, “. . . the problem of reactor safety will be to a great extent solved and the insurance people will have had an experience on which to base a sound program of their own.”

Of course, tell that to the people of Japan, currently staring down the barrel of continued leaks and threats from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which could eventually cost $250 billion to clean up.

In closing, here’s a little piece of bumper-sticker wisdom, courtesy of the folks at VoteSolar:

solar power bumper sticker

Meanwhile, you can do your part and see if your roof is right for solar today!

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