The nuclear power industry has seized upon the coal strikes as a way of promoting its own accomplishments. Advertisements, press releases and reports are selling the idea that, as the Virginia Electric and Power Co. put it, 'a lot of people who were cold to the idea of nuclear power are warming up to it now."
That was the title of a full-page advertisement that ran in 10 Virginia and D.C. newspapers between Feb. 27 and March 2, costing Vepco a total of $15,850, a company spokesman said. The ad, he continued, was "just part of our normal advertising campaign" that is part of the expense of doing business and part of consumers' rates.
"Nuclear power is palying a crucial role in keeping America warm, lighted and working during the current coal shortage," the industry's chief lobbyist, George Gleason, told the House Interior Committee last month.
As executive vice president of the American Nuclear Energy Council, the industry lobbying arm, Gleason said the nation's nuclear plants produced power in 1977 that would have consumed 100 million tons of coal, one-sixth of all the coal mined to produce that much power it generated in a coal-fired plant.
January was "the biggest month ever for nuclear generation," according to Scott Peters of the Atomic Industrial Forum, the trade association. "Everybody was getting every drop they could out of it. They delayed refueling or normal maintenance in order to keep the plants running as long as possible." The result was that nuclear power provided 13 percent of the nation's total, or 27 billion kilowatt hours, enough energy to satisfy 35 million persons, and saved 13 million tons of coal, Peters said.
In Vepco's area and the Maryland suburbs, nuclear power was even more in evidence. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said 63 percent of its January output came from the two nuclear units at Calvert Cliffs, although it has 16 other conventionally fired generating units.
BG&E didn't advertise the fact, however. "We don't do any advertising," a company spokesman said. "The consumers around here indicated they didn't want us to."
Vepco's ads last week noted that the Surry I and II nuclear plants had run at a near-nonstop 96.5 percent capacity since the coal strike began Dec. 6 "saying the equivalent of 1,036,000 tons of precious coal." The units supplied 29 percent of the Vepco area needs, the ad said. "Proper planning prepared Vepco for this winter's coal strike."
Industry advertising came under fire in December when a Falls Church-Tidewater group called the Consumer Congress attacked Vepco for mounting "a campaign of fear" with two ads warning of future electricity shortages.
"This is the same thing," the group research director, Thalia Zepatos, said yesterday. "This new ad is trying to sell the controversial idea of nuclear power." Consumer Congress asked the Virginia State Corporation Commission to establish guidelines on which ads may legitimately be included in the expenses that ratepayers must finance.
In states where guidelines exist, ads to promote conservation, provide information on employment opportunities, services and rates may be included in the rate base, while political, institutional and promotional ads may not. The Vepco ad last week included exhortations to conserve energy along with its observations on nuclear power and would be difficult to classify, Zepatos said.
A House government operations subcommittee is probing the tax implications of utility and other industry advertising for "grassroots lobbying" purposes, and hearings are expected to be held in April. A staff member on the commerce, consumer and monetary affairs subcommittee, headed by Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal (D-N. Y.), said spending for that purpose is commonly not separated from regular business expenses and is probably being deducted from taxable income when it should not be. The amount involved for industries nationwide, he said, may be as much as $1 billion.