Does electricity at 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour sound good?
Six and a half cents is the average cost of electricity from the nuclear power plants that produce nearly 20 percent of U.S. electric power. Compare that to the 28 cents we pay on Oahu and more than 40 cents on neighbor isles.
Nuclear power is having a resurgence both in the U.S. and around the world as the price of oil and natural gas escalates into the stratosphere. Twenty-nine new nuclear plants are on the drawing boards in the mainland United States.
But here in Hawaii we might never share in the savings on electric power that people all over the rest of the country will benefit from. That is because of an ill-advised amendment prohibiting civilian nuclear power in Hawaii that was inserted into the state Constitution at the 1978 constitutional convention. Only a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Hawaii Legislature can override the prohibition.
However, we do have an opportunity to remove that unfortunate prohibition from Hawaii's Constitution if we vote for a new Con Con in the November elections, and elect pro-nuclear delegates to the new Con Con.
Removing the nuclear prohibition from the Constitution will not mean that we will build a nuclear power plant in the near future. It would just give Hawaii the opportunity to build one if the economics of producing electricity here continue their rapid deterioration. Under the current situation, once the need and desire for nuclear power here becomes clear, we could waste another two or three years getting the needed two-thirds vote from the Legislature to remove the nuclear prohibition.
Even if we could remove the constitutional prohibition tomorrow, practical problems would prevent early construction of a Hawaii nuclear plant. Current federal regulations prohibit construction of nuclear plants smaller than 600 megawatts. Since Hawaii does not have an interstate power grid to turn to if a plant breaks down, it would be necessary to have an idle plant standing by for backup. This would not make economic sense.
But smaller, fail-safe reactors are in the development process and pilot plants are scheduled to be running in 2010. Such plants undoubtedly will be in production and have federal approval by the time Hawaii would decide to go nuclear.
We all hope that currently developing alternative power sources such as wind, ocean-thermal, ethanol and solar will be successful and economical in Hawaii.
But if they are not, and if oil and natural gas continue to be so expensive, doesn't it make sense to have an "ace in the hole" to keep our economy from crashing? Particularly when that ace in the hole emits no greenhouse gases to add to global warming and does not require shiploads of fuel every month?
Clearly it does make sense. And that is why we must vote for a Con Con in November.
Tom Macdonald is a retired financial services executive and an active community volunteer who lives in Kaneohe.