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Coming Age of Cheap Alternate Energy

June 08, 1985

In reference to your editorial (May 24), "New Push for Nuclear Power," it seems you've missed the true issues and some key points.

Nuclear power is a dinosaur that has had its chance at dominance, but has been unable to complete its evolution into a clean, cheap power source and is now doomed to extinction. Regardless of President Reagan's policy, or the nuclear reactor manufacturers' desires to promote their products, economics has always ruled the marketplace in the United States.

As a power plant consultant, I have had the opportunity to see the coming of age of alternate energy in America. This small unproven technology of the 1950s and '60s is quickly becoming the most attractive resource to fill the need for new power all over the country.

Please don't give the credit for this to the large utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. They have been dragged kicking and screaming into the alternate energy business. Only legislation such as the Public Utilities Regulatory Act of 1978, the energy tax credit laws, and the Northwest Regional Power Act (all signed under President Jimmy Carter's Administration) have forced utilities to buy power generated by small power producers, opening the way for private industry to compete with the large utilities.

It is still an incredibly complex legal maze when trying to get a utility to connect its system to your alternate energy power plant, to the point where the procedure could only be interpreted as obstructionist on the part of the utilities.

Finally, as the debate over the need for nuclear plants in the future rages on, Reagan and the large utilities avoid discussing the fact that private industry is prepared to build, at its own expense, cost-effective and efficient alternate energy power plants, including small hydro, wood-fired power plants, landfill gas-generating plants, wind and geothermal plants. PG&E, as an example, has received requests to intertie over 900 megawatts of small power plants in Northern California alone and now claims no additional interties can be made because their transmission lines are full.

The Northwest Regional Power Council identified 2,000 MW of alternate energy potential in the Northwest states. A typical nuclear plant is about 1,000 MW in size. It is clear that alternate energy is available to pick up the slack if new power resources are needed.

Easing the regulatory process is not necessary to promote alternate energy. It is clean and environmentally safer than nuclear plants. All that is necessary is for Congress to continue to support alternate energy, and for Reagan to realize that he doesn't have to help the nuclear industry to help America.

There are a lot of large industrial interests behind alternate energy as well. This will become clear as the evolutionary process in the power industry continues. If we all (including Reagan and the Congress) support the development of alternative energy resources, they can do the job. We could then let nuclear power go the way of the rest of the dinosaurs.

JOHN J. SNYDER

Long Beach

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