Reliable, low cost electric power is critical to maintaining economic growth and our quality of life. Life expectancy has doubled, and the economy has grown eight-fold since 1900 with both directly linked to the growth of the electric industry. The effect is being replicated in developing countries today. Even developed countries find every 10% increase in power costs reduces economic growth by 1%, an important fact when most developed countries only grow 2 to 3% a year long term. Maintaining fuel mix variety is crucial to maintaining reliable, low cost power.
All of our reliable electric power and 94% of our total power comes from fossil fuel, nuclear fuel, and hydroelectric dams, and all are under attack by environmental groups. Environmentalists prefer wind and solar power that are un-reliable, and expensive even after large subsidies are applied. Wind farms operate about 30% of the time, and power costs about twice as much as conventional power. Solar operates about 14% of the time, and costs three times as much as conventional power. In Delaware, the required use of wind and solar power, combined with a carbon tax, is on track to raise electric rates 20%.
Reliance on a limited number of fuel sources is problematic. Japan is scrambling to meet power demands after the shutdown of nuclear power plants following the tsunami damage to the Fukushima nuclear facility. Similarly, wind farms accounted for half of new power plants in 2012 but dropped to 8% when federal subsidies dried up.
Concerns about low natural gas supply, and high prices, led to a moratorium on new natural gas fired power plants in the United States only to have that reversed a decade later when the shale gas revolution began. For the last few years about half of new power plants have been natural gas fired and other power plants have switched from coal to natural gas. Consequently, 4.5% of total electric generation switched from coal to natural gas over the last five years. But the pressure to export natural gas, and limited pipeline infrastructure could reverse the natural gas price advantage at any time.
Power plants in Delaware produce about two thirds of the electric power we use. Importing the other third results in our electric bills being 25% higher than the average state from price premiums related to electric grid congestion. We need more in-state power generation and building natural gas fired plants makes the most sense. However, this will leave us almost entirely reliant on natural gas as we only have one plant running on coal, and have no resources for hydroelectric power. EPA rules make it unlikely any new coal fried plants will be built.
For Delaware, the only viable option for conventional fuel diversity is nuclear power. Fortunately, new designs for super safe, lower cost, Small Modular Reactors (SMR) are working their way through the approval process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Over the next five years we could see a major revival of the nuclear industry in the United States. Over 400 new nuclear power plants are already being built globally.
Nuclear power plants take a long time for site approval and construction. It is time we begin to plan for new nuclear power plants in Delaware. New Mexico just passed legislation setting up a committee to study the feasibility of building SMRs in their state. We should do the same.