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How Red States Could Leapfrog Blue States In Foundational Energy Tech
Healthy partisanship and a yearning to get things back "how they used to be" can drive progress for everyone
Given that it will require an all-of-nation effort to wean off fossil fuels while continuing to meet America’s growing energy needs, an idea I have been pondering is how America’s Red States can match or even leapfrog Blue States in certain kinds of advanced energy production.
It’s not crazy to think that Red States can eventually be serious competitors with Blue States in producing cheap, clean, reliable energy—and that this would be good for all of America (and beyond).
The news that Bill Gates is looking to West Virginia (where Trump won a whopping 68% of the vote in 2020) as a home for nuclear energy innovation really motivated me to write more about this prospect.
Microsoft co-founder Gates, who visited a closed down coal-fired plant in Glasgow, West Virginia on Monday, called the West Virginia’s Legislature’s decision last year to repeal the state’s ban on nuclear power facilities “quite impressive” and said he’s looking for sites to expand his nuclear energy development efforts to the east coast.
West Virginia’s new law has opened the door for Gates—who cofounded nuclear power company TerraPower—to discuss turning the coal-fired plant into a nuclear energy plant.
“Really, I think six months ago we really weren’t on their radar much at all, nuclear wasn’t, but the Legislature did say, ‘Okay, we’re open-minded to nuclear’ and that was quite impressive,” Gates said of the organization in charge of the coal-fired plant.
There are a few reasons why Red States like West Virginia might be more likely to accelerate the adoption of nuclear energy in the U.S.:
Red States have economies that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. Nuclear power can provide a cleaner alternative to these fossil fuels, without requiring a significant change to the existing energy infrastructure. Additionally, the technology of advanced nuclear reactors have improved in recent years and have become more affordable and easier to maintain. This also makes it an attractive option as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Additionally, many Red States have a strong presence of the energy and manufacturing industry, this can make it more likely for them to support the construction and maintenance of nuclear power plants, as it would bring jobs and economic growth.
Also, conservatives care a lot about energy independence. And investing in nuclear would further reduce the need for the U.S to import energy from other countries, even as the U.S. phases off of fossil fuels.
Finally, nuclear energy might be appealing to Red States for the purpose of outcompeting Blue States in producing advanced energy technologies. The motivation can be partially motivated by partisanship, but it’s not a bad thing for conservatives to be excited about nuclear, and push for innovation in nuclear so that it outcompete solar and wind (at least, in some regards). A great political win for Red States would be being able to produce clean energy at a lower cost than Blue States.
Red States could really benefit from embracing nuclear and other advanced energy technologies. And many of its residents understand this.
Anthony Smith, a bus driver whose grandparents lived in Glasgow and whose parents worked at the coal plant before it closed, said the town of less than 1,000 is in need of a boost: “This town needs rejuvenating, honestly. It was different back then, you know? I’d love to see things back how they used to be, that’s probably what a lot of people feel anywhere they’re from that has an area that’s struggling, they just want to see it get better.”
A mix of healthy partisanship, need for high quality energy and manufacturing jobs, and ability to repurpose fossil fuel infrastructure could make Red States the perfect places to accelerate advanced energy production.
Understanding the complex mix of needs and values of different communities—whether Red, Blue, or something else altogether—is essential to understanding how they can be motivated to help level up America.
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