Big Energy, part 1

In the spirit of the upcoming U.S. elections and national budget discussions, the next 3 posts will federal energy subsidies, loans, tax benefits, and finally energy lobbying.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report published earlier this year shows an interesting study on tax-related subsidies of energy sources since 1977.  Interestingly, in recent years, subsidies for renewable energy has eclipsed both fossil fuels and nuclear energy put together.

In any case, over the last 30+ years, our country has seen very little subsidy for nuclear in comparison to any other energy source.  And yet, nuclear energy continues to produce 20% of U.S. electricity, without producing any carbon, ozone, NOx, or SO2, and while producing very little waste.

Figure on Energy-Related Tax Prefences, published by the CBO, Mar 2012.

It is even more interesting to look at the cost of loan guarantees given in this report.  Remember Solyndra?  It was a recipient of Section 1705, one of the three major loan programs, which was geared toward renewable and biofuel technologies.  The other two programs were for automotive energy efficiency (Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) program) and for nuclear and clean energy facilities (Section 1703).

So far, there have been no nuclear loan guarantees made.  While there are costs for the other two programs, the nuclear loan guarantee program required a fee from the recipients to cover any costs.  So even if any loans are made, there are no anticipated costs to taxpayers for the nuclear related loan guarantees.

By contrast, there have been significant defaults in both of the other two programs.  The default of Solyndra is perhaps just the largest or most well known of this group, at $535 million (for further reading see Solyndra, Explained).  Worse, it was found that $3.9 billion in federal grants and financing flowed to 21 clean energy companies backed by firms with connections to five administration staffers and advisers. 

So, is there a Big Nuclear?  Or, perhaps we are just seeing the continued reign of Big Fossils, mixed with Big Renewables?  No matter your energy stance or political opinions, it can be agreed that the more that money and influence skews our country's energy investments, the less likely that the best decisions are made.


  1. Have you found any comparisons on the amount of DOE R&D funding that goes to different energy sources and energy efficiency/storage?

    1. Yes! And that is actually the next post. :) I can send it to you separately if you want.


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