Analysis confirms nuclear’s value

Facts still matter. And the fact of the matter is residential utility rates in Washington state are the lowest in the nation. But some people want to change that and force Washington residents to pay more for their power.

“…the widely-publicized decline in solar and wind prices now makes it probable that (Columbia Generating Station) could be replaced entirely with renewable resources and still deliver a cost reduction to Pacific Northwest customers. Once thought to be too expensive, renewables are becoming a viable option for utilities…”

Portland economist Robert McCullough wrote those words as part of a February report pushed by Physicians for Social Responsibility, an anti-nuclear energy group dedicated to closing Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility and eliminating nuclear energy entirely from the U.S. electricity mix.

McCullough based his conclusions mostly on levelized cost of electricity reports by Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. However, in doing so he misrepresents the Lazard LCOE 10.0 report, which clearly states that renewables alone can’t replace baseload generation. By ignoring the cost of firm capacity resources needed to back up intermittent generation from renewables, McCullough significantly under-represents the costs that would be incurred if Columbia were retired prematurely (it’s currently licensed through 2043).

McCullough’s conclusion: replacing Columbia with renewables yields a net present value savings of $261.2 million to $530.7 million through June 2026.

A recently released analysis (PPC Analysis – McCullough CGS Report) by the Public Power Council, an entity that has represented the Pacific Northwest’s consumer-owned utilities for 50 years, uses actual data for the Northwest to show McCullough is simply wrong in his conclusions.

The PPC report concludes McCullough’s recommendation would cost Pacific Northwest power customers $271 million a year, as well as impact the region’s power supply resource adequacy.

Playing with numbers

As the PPC report explains, McCullough uses the “median” Lazard LCOE to make his cost comparison, which gets him a cost per megawatt-hour for solar of $42.50 and $31 for wind. The PPC writes, “(a)lthough these values might be realistic in some circumstances, they are wildly inconsistent with the values produced specifically for this region by the [Northwest Power and Conservation Council].”

But the numbers in the Pacific Northwest aren’t as friendly to McCullough and PSR, so they avoid them altogether. The PPC looked at the NWPCC’s Seventh Northwest Power Plan to find levelized costs more in tune with the region where necessary replacement power for Columbia would be generated. “The least expensive new renewable resources in terms of levelized cost in the 7th Power Plan is $61.43 per MWh for utility scale solar and $102.45 per MWh for wind. Many options are significantly higher,” the PPC writes.

They go on to offer a slight rebuke of McCullough’s research tactics.

“Although the (McCullough) report cites the NWPCC and the 7th Power Plan in other instances, the choice to rely on a minimally documented, national level report for levelized resource costs rather than the extensively vetted regional analysis used by the NWPCC is not explained.”

Perhaps we can help. Anti-nuclear energy ideology drives many folks to discount scientific facts about nuclear (such as calling carbon-free nuclear “dirty”) and economic facts that don’t serve their point of view (such as existing resources being cheaper than new resources, even renewables). A lot of people across the country just participated in the March for Science which was, in part, a protest against this type of tactic. In fact, PSR members just marched against this type of tactic.

Doing the math

The PPC takes the NWPCC solar cost of $61.43/MWh and adds Bonneville Power Administration’s Resource Support Services number, basically capturing the cost of an intermittent resource versus a baseload, or full-time, resource. The PPC report uses BPA’s 2018 rate case number of $16.30/MWh for solar.

“Using regionally vetted analysis from the NWPCC and BPA’s latest proposed rates, the least expensive replacement for the power of (Columbia) with intermittent renewables would be utility scale solar facilities in Idaho at a total cost of $78.84 per MWh,” according to the PPC report.

The average cost of power for Columbia Generating Station is $48.50/MWh through 2026 (including transmission), according to the PPC.

McCullough Chart new

Given the difference between the two costs, based on Columbia’s 1,019 aMW annual output (1,019 MW of generation an hour multiplied by 365 days), the McCullough/PSR recommendation would cost power customers $271 million a year over what they currently pay.

“This result is consistent with a scenario analysis conducted in the 7th Power Plan that examined the change in regional portfolio cost for the planned retirement of a 1,000 MW carbon free resource. That analysis found an increase in regional power costs of
$3 to $6 billion on a net present value basis over 20 years,” the PPC concludes.

Other report issues

Cost is certainly an important factor when considering electricity resources. But so is capacity and reliability, or what McCullough strangely sees as “inflexibility.”

In his report, McCullough writes, “Indeed, as renewable energy standards in the Pacific Northwest, California, and other Western states require additional variable resources, inflexible baseload plants, including nuclear and coal plants, will become increasingly problematic.” This ignores two key points: that intermittent generation from renewables is not a reliable replacement for baseload generation; and, existing Northwest coal plants are and will be retiring, reducing the available amount of baseload generation in the region. By arguing that Columbia should be retired, McCullough is doubling down on these challenges.

The Public Power Council report catches this mistake.

“The NWPCC conducts a rigorous, annual Pacific Northwest Power Supply Adequacy Assessment which looks forward five years. The most recent assessment conducted in 2016 for adequacy in 2021 already shows significant potential for resource deficiencies based on the planned retirements of the Boardman, Centralia and Colstrip Units 1 & 2 coal facilities. Retirement of (Columbia) would significantly exacerbate these issues,” the PPC writes.

A final point from PPC: BPA uses the hydro system to help balance the wind generation in the region. The baseload electricity from Columbia Generating Station provides significant additional margin to accomplish that while still maintaining an environmentally-friendly carbon-free mix. Following the McCullough/PSR formula would put added pressure on BPA and the hydro system.

Here’s why:

“(T)he 7th Power Plan specifically does not rely on the large scale development of intermittent resources to meet capacity needs, instead calling for demand response measures as available or natural gas generation,” according to the PPC analysis.

Reports, reports

So to summarize, McCullough took 48 pages to reach a result that was off by literally more than half a billion dollars at best ($750 million at worst) versus a three-page analysis that provided facts relevant to the Northwest and its power customers, and showed the true value of Columbia Generating Station to the region.

As another regional energy expert said about this McCullough report:

Overall, it looks like Robert McCullough hasn’t changed his basic approach. Instead, he’s just adding more superstructure on top of a weak foundation. For example, he willfully continues to ignore and misrepresent the fact that the Mid-Columbia spot market only reflects the variable operating costs of resources, and at best only allows a small portion of the fixed costs of owning resources to be recovered.

As headline grabbers, McCullough’s reports do the job admirably (see here and here, for example), but as the basis for serious energy policy discussions, they seem to miss the mark, and in this case, wildly.

(Posted by John Dobken)

 

Of Marches and More

“(Climate change) is along with the prevention of nuclear war the greatest challenge facing humanity today.”

That statement does not contain a lot of wriggle room.

The line is from a letter to the editor written by Jim Sawyer, identified as a member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility by the organization. That is a group trying to shut down Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant and is in favor of eliminating nuclear energy altogether.

Nuclear energy provides 60 percent of the carbon-free electricity produced in the United States. That dwarfs wind (17%), solar (2.7%) and hydroelectric power (19%) by comparison.


PowerPoint Presentation


The real reality
So how does one go about tackling “the greatest challenge facing humanity today”? Eliminating sources of clean energy would seem a dubious beginning. We have seen in states where nuclear plants shut down that carbon emissions rise. Look at Vermont (Vermont Yankee). Look at California (San Onofre, and perhaps Diablo Canyon). New York is gearing up to replace carbon-free Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant with a carbon-emitting natural gas plant. Even in Germany, often held up as an example of how to do renewable energy policy, emissions, coal use and electricity costs are all up.

This week, the Environmental Defense Fund acknowledged this reality in a post in favor of offering targeted financial incentives to existing nuclear energy plants to remain operating, if the alternative is to replace them with natural gas. That’s smart.

Nuclear Energy Saves Lives LGRenowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, in a study published by NASA’s Goddard Institute in 2013, found the clean air energy from nuclear power has saved 1.8 million lives and may save as many as 7 million more.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been saying for years that nuclear energy must be part of the climate change solution. In 2014 they wrote, “Achieving deep cuts will require more intensive use of low-GHG [greenhouse gas] technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear energy, and CCS [carbon capture and storage].”

Given these pro-nuclear voices and benefits, one would think the Physicians would be calling for MORE nuclear energy, not less.

To make a difference
Which brings us to Saturday, when people from all across the country will be marching for science. Some critics have said the march is more about politics than science, which in some cases and for some people may be accurate. Leave that aside.

Sci-con.Artboards.AtomIt is refreshing that the Seattle march organizers (and indeed the national organization) created a graphic that features the symbol of the atom and sought to make nuclear energy part of the conversation. Nuclear science is an often forgotten field, foolishly equated by some to simply making bombs. But it is so much more (as in saving lives through nuclear medicine – surely PSR supports that!). As Dr. James Conca has said, when a mainstream media outlet features a segment on nuclear energy, the “expert” is almost always an activist, not a scientist. That needs to change.

To embrace science (and facts) is to realize that spent nuclear fuel is not the problem so many anti-nuclear activists make it out to be. It is used as a rhetorical fallback position (“yeah, but what about the waste”) to argue against any new nuclear energy. This should stop. Used nuclear fuel occupies a tiny land footprint and poses no environmental concerns as it is currently stored. The science tells us that. If one believes otherwise, that’s a departure from science into ideology. Science is helping us develop a way to utilize this spent fuel and turn it into more clean energy. Thankfully, interest in developing advanced reactors is gaining momentum.

To embrace science is to realize radiation is not the stuff of 1950s b-movies. That while natural disaster-induced nuclear events such as Fukushima are absolutely devastating to displaced local populations, claiming that people or fish/wildlife will be greatly affected by any resulting radiation/contamination is irresponsible. Scientists, real scientists, have looked at the impact of the releases from Fukushima on health and future cancer rates and found them to be negligible. That’s science. Anything else drifts into the realm of “alternative facts.” And who wants to go there?

Ideology is what drives false narratives about “easily” replacing baseload, or full-time, energy resources with intermittent ones. See an example here of how difficult it can be, even on a small scale. (Paywall alert). Don’t be mistaken, we need wind and solar as part of our electricity mix, especially to displace carbon-emitting resources. But using wind and solar to replace either hydro or nuclear makes zero sense in the age of climate change.

While storage technologies are promising, they aren’t efficient enough or economic enough to replace large hydro or large nuclear or large fossil resources. In 20, 30 or 40 years, perhaps. But groups like Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility want to close down nuclear plants yesterday. That’s irresponsible. Tesla cars are fun to talk about, but the world still runs on pick-up trucks and Camrys.

Mr. Sawyer continues his letter, “What’s almost as horrifying as these impending and looming realities is our government’s incomprehensible indifference to the problem and the seeming commitment and desire to accelerate a problem that the human imagination cannot even begin to come to grips with.”

Doctor, heal thyself.

The PSR position on nuclear energy was born of, and lives in, a pre-climate change universe. Since the time most anti-nuclear energy positions were formed in the 1970s and 80s, nuclear energy has only gotten better as an energy resource. The U.S. fleet now has annual capacity factors over 92 percent.US-Nuclear-Industry-Capacity-Factors It’s safety record continues to be unmatched. Which may be one reason anti-nuclear energy arguments focus almost exclusively on cost of power. But if you believe, as Mr. Sawyer and his colleagues believe, that climate change is “the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” shouldn’t that change the prism through which costs are viewed? How does the public health factor into PSR’s cost analyses? (Hint: it doesn’t for nuclear. Washington’s PSR chapter actually posted that link on their Facebook page, missing the irony). Cost for anti-nuclear groups is a convenient cudgel that only swings at one target, an opportunity brought about by (current) low natural gas prices. But then they don’t want natural gas either. That’s what ideology does for you.

Science… just the facts
While we still await an energy storage system capable of city-scale baseload equivalence; or a large-scale electric grid that can turn part-time energy resources into full-time, dispatchable resources; science has already developed a resource that is carbon-free, cost-effective and runs more than 90 percent of the time with an abundant supply of fuel.

Yeah, science did that.

Support science with your feet, but more importantly, support it with your brain and your heart.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Resolute about Nuclear Energy

Four Energy Northwest member utilities issued resolutions during the past two months calling for the continued operation of Columbia Generating Station during its lifecycle. Columbia received a license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012 to operate through 2043.

Pacific County Public Utility District 2 commissioners were first to place their signatures behind the economic and environmental value of Columbia, followed
March 28 by Benton and Franklin PUDs and Grant County PUD 2.

Resolutions adopted by Benton PUD and Franklin PUD also took to task a recent report commissioned by the anti-nuclear energy group Physicians for Social Responsibility. In the report, researcher Robert McCullough claims Columbia’s output can be replaced by renewable resources. (See our blog post for more on the report).

“We felt pretty strongly about this,” said Franklin PUD general manager Tim Nies during the utility’s public meeting March 28, referencing “a lot of flaws” in the PSR report. “CGS is baseload…and the cost of generation from CGS is still a really good deal.”

Resolutions

Such statements of confidence join state bi-partisan political support for nuclear energy generation that, according to Gov. Inslee last year, is “a vital part” of the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible generating resources.

Last summer Washington State Democrats passed a resolution titled, “Retain the Columbia Generating Station”. In early March the Benton County Republican Party passed a similar resolution which, like its democratic companion, is expected to advance this year to full state party support.

Brent Ridge edit

EN Vice President for Corporate Services/CFO Brent Ridge

“This all started with the state democratic party, which focused on the environmental benefits of nuclear power generation,” Brent Ridge, vice president for Corporate Services and chief financial officer, told Franklin PUD commissioners. “Now we have a resolution from Benton County republicans that’s similar, but leans toward the specific economic benefits of Columbia.”

Directly responsible for more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, Columbia is the third largest electricity generator in the state, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. Plant operations prevent an atmospheric carbon impact equivalent of keeping 600,000 cars off the road, or equal to eliminating every passenger vehicle in Oregon’s Multnomah County.

Last month Pacific PUD leaders also pushed back on a local activist’s call to close Columbia because of “risks to the Columbia River.” In a letter published in the Chinook Observer, Commissioners Diana Thompson, Michael Swanson and Dick Anderson spoke to Columbia Generating Station’s safe and efficient operation, declining costs, recent generation records and environmental benefit.

“PUD commissioners and employees have gained insights and knowledge about nuclear energy and nuclear energy operations; about their systems and back-up systems; the regulatory framework these plants operate in; and the professionals who keep the plant running safely and efficiently,” the commissioners wrote.

(Posted by Mike Paoli)

 

Making the Case for Nuclear Energy: 5 Questions

Everyone comes to nuclear energy along different paths. For some the journey starts in high school. For others, later in life, after knowledge has been gained and, perhaps, views have changed.

Such is the case for the participants in Tuesday’s event (April 4) at Seattle Town Hall, Making the Case for Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century (tickets and information available here). The event is an effort by the grassroots organization Seattle Friends of Fission, a group of Seattle-area residents, to ensure nuclear energy is part of the climate change discussion.

Panelists Dr. Jim Conca, Forbes.com contributor on energy and environmental issues; Dr. Nick Touran, advanced nuclear reactor physicist for TerraPower; Kristin Zaitz, senior consulting engineer, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and co-founder of the group Mothers for Nuclear; and moderator Scott Montgomery, nationally acclaimed writer, and adjunct faculty, University of Washington Jackson School of Intl. Studies, offered their thoughts on how nuclear energy became a calling instead of just a career.

Speakers


Northwest Clean Energy: What first got you interested in nuclear energy?

Nick Touran: I first got interested in solving the energy challenge in high school. I went to the local engineering school not knowing how exactly to do this and ended up in a discussion with a peer advisor on what to major in during freshmen year. She asked what I my interests were and I said “energy.” Then she asked me if I had considered the nuclear engineering department. I had not.

Kristin Zaitz: I’m a civil engineer by training. I chose my profession when I was in my teens, flipping through college catalogs. The pictures of civil engineers were all outdoors, inspecting bridges, taking water samples. I didn’t want to be in an office. In my career I’ve rappelled down enormous concrete structures, swam amongst beautiful Pacific Ocean sea life, hiked along rivers, explored pristine coastland and tide pools,  and I’ve done that all while working at a nuclear power plant.

Scott Montgomery: I am a geoscientist and became an anti-nuclear activist in the 1970s. At that time, fear focused on radiation and on nuclear power as a dangerous technology forced upon the public by an anti-democratic concentration of power by a military-industrial-government system.

I began to question my views in the early 2000s, due to rising concern among scientists about climate change. One key influence was the endorsement of nuclear power by many of these scientists, who wrote of reevaluating their own former ideas.

Jim Conca: As a young planetary geologist in the 1970s, I first became interested in nuclear as

Jim Conca Salt I0001

Dr. Jim Conca with Delaware Basin salt from New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project.

possible propulsion for spacecraft. Later, I worked on deep geologic disposal of nuclear waste and began to see the irrational fear that surrounds radiation and nuclear power, and how the misunderstanding between weapons and energy led to nuclear being used as a political tool during the Cold War.

Being an environmentalist and understanding both climate change and the massive direct pollution caused by fossil fuels, it became obvious that we need all non-fossil fuel sources for a sustainable future that provides everyone on Earth with reliable and sufficient power to have what we consider a good life.

SM: Educating myself on basic nuclear science and radiation led me to look into the Manhattan Project, the detailed development of weapons and the impacts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and from there, into the history of nuclear power, the medical literature on health effects of radiation, and a great deal more. Over the past decade, as part of my research for a book on the future of nuclear in this century, I have had conversations with hundreds of physicians, radiation workers, nuclear engineers, radiobiologists working at hospitals, health physicists at the Centers for Disease Control, anti-nuclear activists, and ordinary citizens.

 

Scott M Tour

Scott Montgomery, at far right, with students from his class on a tour of Columbia Generating Station.

The combination of all this study and work has made it clear beyond measure that nuclear power is among the least threatening of all major energy sources and among the most essential for battling climate change.

KZ: I’m interested in conserving our precious land, cleaning up our air, and protecting our climate. When I connected nuclear energy with the things that I value, my interest in nuclear was born.

Far more has been done out of uninformed fear than informed understanding.
– Scott Montgomery

Northwest Clean Energy: Why do you think there is not more widespread acceptance of nuclear energy?

Kristin Zaitz: Because of people like me. Like many people, I am afraid of things that I don’t know a lot about, I am biased in ways that I don’t immediately realize, and I am not naturally good at assessing risk. We all tend to seek out data that confirms our beliefs.

IMG_2040

Kristin Zaitz with children Oliver and Kate.

I have spent over fifteen years working at a nuclear power plant, learning, questioning, exploring, discovering. When I started my career, I thought that I was going to uncover a pile of dirty secrets that the mad scientists were hiding. My preconceptions were the product of the mainstream environmental anti-nuclear fear campaign that preys on the public’s lack of information about nuclear power coupled with fear of radiation and nuclear weapons. It took many years for me to shake that fear, but I ended up discovering nuclear energy to be one of the best kept secrets in land conservation and climate action.

Nick Touran: I once went out on the streets of Ann Arbor, Mich. asking people what they thought about nuclear energy for a documentary. People generally mentioned the typical four

lab_dinner

Dr. Nick Touran of TerraPower.

concerns: waste, bombs, accidents and cost. But one woman summed up the general feeling really well when she said “Honestly, my gut feeling is that I’m not in favor of it, but I don’t know hardly anything about it.” Her friend standing there chimed in “I second that!” So I’ve made an effort to try to help people understand nuclear energy better. Generally, the more someone understands it, the more accepting of it they are.

Scott Montgomery: This is both an easy question to answer and a challenging one to explain. There is little doubt in my mind:  the most fundamental factor is the fear of radiation. It is not a simple fear, combining as it does many anxieties about society and the self. But it saturates nearly everything to do with nuclear power, from the unending talk of “safety” to the idea of a “dirty bomb.”

Jim Conca: Agree. The intentional, but incorrect, fear of all radiation, even at low levels that cause no harm.

SM: Far more has been done out of uninformed fear than informed understanding. Educate and reduce that fear, and a great burden will be lifted.

Northwest Clean Energy: If there was one thing you could tell someone to help them understand why nuclear energy is good, what would it be?

Scott Montgomery: 50 years of civilian nuclear power, with an average of 300 reactors operating, has resulted in only 3 large accidents, two of them without a single injury to the public.

Jim Conca: Fewer people have died as a result of nuclear power than any other form of energy, including renewables. It is the most reliable, safest, longest-lasting form of energy we have.

Kristin Zaitz: I’d want them to understand how electricity is generated, how it is transmitted, and the magnitude of our consumption in the developed world. When you look at the abilities and limitations inherent in the technology of each available energy source, and pair that with the environmental pros and cons of each, you realize that there is a trade-off in every energy scenario. We need to understand those trade-offs and make wise choices. With nuclear as part of a clean energy mix, we can provide abundant energy to our growing world and minimize the impacts to people and nature.

Nick Touran: I like informing people that if they got 100 percent of their energy (electricity, transportation, heating, everything!) from nuclear fuel, they’d consume about 1.5 soda cans of it in their lifetime and produce no climate-altering byproducts. I’d then go through the key concerns and point out how there are reasonable solutions to all of them, but I guess that’s more than one thing.

Northwest Clean Energy: What is the greatest myth about nuclear energy?

Kristin Zaitz: The greatest myth about nuclear energy is that we don’t need it, and that we can decarbonize without it. Germany is a great practical example of this. Germany is succeeding at adding lots of wind and solar power to the electric grid, but still its carbon emissions are rising since this intermittent supply is backed up by fossil fuels. We simply cannot decarbonize our energy supply with renewables as long as they are backed up by fossil. Energy storage is something that we don’t do well at large scale, or for any appreciable length of time. In absence of an energy storage miracle, Germany and many others are doing the only technologically possible thing that they can do and locking in their dependence on fossil.

Nick Touran: That they’re unsafe. At a public meeting last year the people laughed out loud when a nuclear supporter said it was one of the safest energy sources known. Upon even brief research, anyone can see that the data support this conclusion. Nuclear has actually net saved 2 million lives worldwide by displacing air pollution deaths even considering the effects of nuclear accidents. I think it’s a shame that people reject the data on this one.

Northwest Clean Energy: Looking to the future, what is your hope for nuclear energy, in the U.S. and the world?

Jim Conca: My hope is that the United States will retake the global leadership in nuclear science and nuclear power. We should complete development of new reactor technologies that are ideal for eradicating global poverty and reverse global environmental degradation before we pass the point of no return, somewhere around 2050.

Nick Touran: Some Chinese urban populations are losing something like five years of life due to air pollution, so they have an urgent clean energy need. Accordingly, I see China, India, and Russia building large nuclear fleets in the somewhat near future.

Scott Montgomery: My hope is that the U.S. will see the need for expanding and advancing nuclear power in a major way, a technology it has given to the world. That the many new nuclear start-up companies in the U.S. and Canada focused on advanced reactors that address waste and non-proliferation concerns, find major success.

Kristin Zaitz: I want energy access for all of humanity, clean air, a livable climate, and room for nature. I see this happening through the protection of existing nuclear energy, and the expansion of new nuclear and other clean technologies across the world.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Reader Beware: apples and oranges alert

When rhetoric edges toward demagoguery, techniques to beware of include selective use of data and misleading statements that may sound appealing but actually perpetuate misconceptions. And when an author’s own numbers don’t support their broad conclusions, it’s time to be even more wary about going along for the ride.

Enter Robert McCullough’s latest faulty comparison of the cost and value of various forms of power generating resources (Renewables Cost Report, published by McCullough Research on Oct. 5).

The primary focus of McCullough’s report is on declining costs for new renewable resources such as wind power and solar photovoltaic generation, relative to other types of power supplies, including new hydroelectric power plants. The report begins by reiterating the conclusion reached in an earlier McCullough Research report:

“This assessment only reinforces the conclusion I reached in my report last year – renewables such as solar and wind are less than half the cost of hydro.”

Immediately following this statement, the McCullough report presents a table comparing the average levelized (life-cycle) cost in Canadian dollars per megawatt-hour (MWhr) for the following generating resources:

mr-lcoe

Careful readers will quickly note that the numbers simply do not support McCullough’s claim that hydro is double the cost of other forms of renewable generation. According to his own comparison, the levelized cost of power from the Site C hydro project is estimated to be 15.6 percent higher than the cost of onshore wind power, and 41.5 percent higher than the cost of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generation. So right out of the gate, McCullough’s rhetoric is unsupported, even by the cost comparison he prepared himself.

But wait, it gets worse. McCullough’s simplistic comparison of the cost of power from these types of power resources totally ignores the practical reality that they have very different characteristics and capabilities. As a result, the value of the power produced by different types of power generation varies dramatically.

This is not a small point.

U.S. News and World Report made sure its readers were aware of LCOE drawbacks, the exact drawbacks McCullough chooses to ignore.

Despite the strengths of LCOE as a metric – it is easy to understand and widely used – it has some shortcomings, too. Namely, it leaves out geographic variability, changes with seasons and usually ignores the cost of environmental impacts such as the cost of carbon emissions. This metric is a bit too simple when comparing variable wind and solar generators to power plants that you can turn on and off at will, such as those fueled by uranium, coal and natural gas.

And one could add water.

For example, consider solar photovoltaic generation. As the McCullough report (correctly) notes, solar PV in the Pacific Northwest only produces at a 19 percent to 26 percent capacity factor. But what the McCullough report does not mention is that solar PV generation occurs primarily during the spring and summer months between mid-morning and late afternoon. Meanwhile, consumption of electricity in most of the Pacific Northwest is typically highest during earlier and later parts of the day, and during the winter season. This means that other, less intermittent forms of generation are needed when consumers use the most electricity. It also means that a significant share of solar generation occurs when the market value of power is low – further reducing the value of solar PV compared to other types of generation. These realities are not acknowledged in the McCullough report. (He does reference the potential use of energy storage to partially mitigate the daily mismatches between solar PV generation and consumer use of electricity, but conveniently neglects to include the additional costs that would be incurred for storage.)

Anyone living in the Pacific Northwest has felt the bite of Old Man Winter of late, with temperatures falling into the single digits for extended periods. How are people staying warm? Mostly from baseload, or full-time, electricity resources like hydro, fossils and nuclear.

BPA Source Graph.png

Is that value worth something? We think so.

Diversity is key

One of the information sources quoted in the McCullough report is Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 9.0, which was published in 2015. The Lazard LCOE analyses are actually a good source of information about costs for various types of power generation. But unlike McCullough, Lazard is realistic about how a diversified mix of resources is needed to keep the lights on. Toward this point, here is a key quote from Lazard’s press release for their latest LCOE Analysis 10.0, issued December 15, 2016:

“Even though alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the optimal solution for many regions of the world is to use complementary traditional and alternative energy resources in a diversified generation fleet.”

We could go on with identifying flaws in the McCullough report, but will close by observing that it improperly compares the cost of generating resources with the market value of wholesale power, and does so only when it supports false conclusions. For instance, the McCullough report once again trots out a previously-debunked and overly-simplistic comparison of the operating cost of nuclear power with “the low market cost of electricity.” Meanwhile, the report refrains from comparing the cost of new renewable resources with “the low market cost of electricity.”

When it comes to biased, inconsistent and misleading “analyses” like those presented in the latest McCullough report, reader beware.

(Posted by John Dobken)

EVs – What’s not to like?

Carbon emissions from the transportation sector eclipsed emissions from the utility sector last February – the first time that’s happened since 1979. In Washington state, our electric utilities derive most of their power from low carbon sources, including hydro, nuclear and wind. Electrifying cars, trucks and buses will have a major impact on the state’s overall carbon footprint.

Imagine never filling up at a gas station again. Instead, simply pull into the garage and plug the car into a charging outlet. Adding to the convenience, electric car drivers dramatically reduce petroleum dependence, improve transportation sustainability, improve environmental stewardship, create jobs and help the economy.

What’s not to like about driving electric?

Are electric vehicles expensive?
The purchase price keeps going down and combined with an additional $7,500 tax incentive, you can buy a new EV for well under $8,000. And there is a growing “gently used” inventory as owners upgrade to newer models. Lease rates are also competitive – as low as $199 a month. (Find out more about incentives here.)

Are EVs expensive to operate?
After an average day of driving, electric cars fully charge for less than $1. The cars can be plugged into standard home electrical outlets, and electric cars typically charge at night when electricity demand is lowest. On a cost per mile basis, the operation of an EV is approximately one-third to one-quarter the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Since electric cars don’t have exhaust systems and don’t need oil changes, maintenance costs are relatively minimal. Brake wear is reduced thanks to regenerative braking, which sends the energy back to the battery. To maintain an electric car, just rotate the tires and keep them properly inflated.

robin-rego

Robin Rego, generation project development manager, and Garrett Brown, Mid-Columbia Electric Vehicle Association president, discuss the benefits of driving an electric car during Energy Northwest’s Public Power Forum. (Mitch Lewis photo)

How efficient are electric cars?
Only 13 percent of the energy stored in a gallon of gasoline makes it to the wheels in a typical gasoline car. The rest of the energy is lost due to other factors like heat and friction. In a typical electric car, more than 52 percent of the energy used in charging the car goes to the wheels.

How safe are electric cars?
EVs have the standard safety features expected in conventional vehicles, such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, pre-tensioning seatbelts and airbags. Another common feature is a noise generator, which, in the absence of a conventionally fueled engine, creates noise to warn pedestrians when an EV is approaching.

Manufacturers have compensated for battery overheating by equipping electric cars with preventative technology, such as fuses and circuit breakers that can disconnect the battery when sensors detect an oncoming collision. Other measures include coolant systems, which keep the temperature low while the vehicle is running. The battery pack is located in the center of the car, on the bottom of the chassis and away from front and rear crumple zones.

Will electric utilities start to raise rates as more EVs start to use charging stations?
Utilities report negligible load growth due to the 2008 recession, conservation, energy efficiency and distributed generation (residential and community solar). EVs contribute to load growth and increasing sales will reduce the need for rate increases. Electric vehicles also enable utilities to increase load without adding new generation facilities.

How do charging stations help the local economy?
Hotels, shopping malls, wineries and other businesses that have installed charging stations have experienced an increase in business from customers waiting for their EVs to charge.

Energy Northwest is the facilitator for the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance, which promotes public and private partnerships in developing charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties and along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area. EVITA comprises Benton and Franklin PUD, Benton Rural Electric Association and the City of Richland. Other cities, ports and chambers of commerce have signed letters of support for this venture. (See our blog post on EVITA here.)

Along with being convenient, good for the environment and the economy, safe and cost-effective; electric vehicles are sleek, quiet, clean and fast.

What’s not to like?

(Post by Robin Rego, EN generation project development manager, proud owner of an EV.)

Sharing, learning and acting for continuous improvement

Columbia Generating Station recently hosted a Japanese delegation from the Hokuriku Electric Power Company, including the chief nuclear officer and the engineering manager for Shika Nuclear Power Station in Shika, Ishikawa.

The visit is part of a partnership between U.S. and Japan CNOs to exchange information and operating experience. During this meeting, hosts and visitors discussed probabilistic risk analysis (a method to determine station risk), risk management and risk communication.

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Corey Olivier, Operations Support manager (center) shows FLEX equipment to visitors from the Hokuriku Electric Power Company in Shika, Ishikawa, Japan. The six-member delegation spent two days at Columbia as part of a partnership between U.S. and Japan nuclear plants. (Kevin Shaub photo)

“This was tremendously valuable,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief nuclear officer. “We all understand that nuclear power is a global industry, and that our performance is linked. A challenge to any plant in the world is a challenge to our entire industry.”

“We appreciate your team coming here and spending time with us,” Sawatzke told the six-member delegation at the conclusion of the visit. “We are very impressed with the actions you have taken to improve the protection of your safety equipment.”

During the two-day visit the delegation toured Columbia and EN’s new FLEX facilities. flexFLEX is a nuclear industry response to the events at Fukushima Daiichi that adds to the industry’s defense-in-depth safety at nuclear plants across the U.S. (See more about EN’s response here.)

Akizumi Nishino, chief nuclear officer for Shika Power Station, noted the additional seismic support on plant equipment, calling it “impressive.” Toshihiro Aida, manager of engineering at Shika, said he was struck by the cleanliness of the plant. If you’ve been to Japan, you know that’s saying something.

The delegation also saw preliminary work for the hardened containment vent system that will be installed during Refueling and Maintenance Outage 23, which begins in May. The system is part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s post-Fukushima actions, and will include a 164-foot vent pipe running up the south side of the reactor building. The system will provide a direct means of venting an area of the primary containment, known as the wetwell, to outside the secondary containment structure during beyond-design-basis accident conditions.

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Diagram showing where Columbia Generating Station’s hardened containment vent will be located.

The tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant eliminated any onsite power at the plant after an earthquake removed all offsite power. Subsequent fuel melting led to hydrogen explosions that destroyed the reactor buildings (secondary containment) at three of the Fukushima Daiichi units. The loss of the various fission product barriers led to the release of radioactive materials, which further hampered operator efforts to mitigate the accident. The disaster claimed no lives, nor is it expected to, but today more than 80,000 people are still displaced from their homes.

One of the lessons directly taken from that series of events is the need for licensees with Mark I and Mark II containments to either upgrade or install a hardened containment venting system that will remain functional during beyond-design-basis severe accident conditions. Mark II containment systems were not designed with a “hardened” containment venting system, though the current design can employ other methods for reducing containment pressure. Columbia has a Mark II containment and, therefore, must design and install such a venting system to build-in additional protections in the event of a beyond-design-basis severe accident.

What is a “hardened” vent? From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“Hardened” means these vents must withstand the pressure and temperature of the steam generated early in an accident. The vents must also withstand possible fires and small explosions if they are used to release hydrogen later in an accident.

The vent will provide a reliable method to ensure continued operation of reactor core isolation pump cooling operation and removal of decay heat during a beyond-design-basis event where all onsite and offsite power is lost. Along with our added FLEX safety equipment stored on site, it will further enhance Columbia’s safety margins.

As a continuous learning industry, the U.S. nuclear reactor fleet has put a lot of effort into reviewing what happened at Fukushima to make U.S. plants even safer. For Columbia, the NRC declared the plant “safe” regarding seismic hazards. New evaluations are taking place and will be completed soon. The Army Corps of Engineers recently completed its flood hazard evaluation and found that Columbia remains a “dry site,” in other words, the facility will not experience flooding to a level that would impact its safe operation should one or more Columbia River dams fail upstream of the station.

This continuous learning is making the industry safer – and more efficient. Nuclear energy is a full-time, or baseload resource. Capacity factors for the industry as a whole are rising; Columbia has operated at a more than 92 percent capacity factor over the past four years. As the threat of climate change becomes more real, carbon-free nuclear energy will become more relied upon to provide the clean-air energy that benefits the global environment while powering our homes and businesses, and sustaining our national standard of living.

(Posted by Kevin Shaub/John Dobken)

Innovative Solar Project Awarded State Grant

Energy Northwest will receive state funding for a first-of-its-kind solar power generating and battery storage system that will also include a technician training center in north Richland. The specific amount of funding granted each utility has not been announced. Energy Northwest requested up to $4 million.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week $12.6 million in Clean Energy Fund grants to five utilities in Washington. The governor made the announcement in Seattle at the Northwest Regional Clean Energy Innovation Partnership Workshop hosted by the University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. At the event, the governor joined U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell to discuss the Pacific Northwest’s role as an international leader in developing the technologies to power a growing 21st century clean energy economy.

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Gov. Jay Inslee speaking at UW’s Clean Energy Institute. (Photo courtesy: UW)

Besides EN, the grants will fund projects proposed by Seattle City Light, Snohomish County Public Utility District, Orcas Power and Light and Avista. The utilities and their partners will match the state funding at a minimum ratio of 1 to 1.

“With these awards, our leading utilities will demonstrate how to integrate battery storage with solar energy and stand-alone energy systems, train the workforce to build and maintain these systems, and lead the industry into the clean energy future,” Inslee said.

The Horn Rapids Solar Storage and Training Center would be located at the regional educational training center owned by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The project would comprise a four-megawatt direct-current solar generating array across 20 acres, a one-MW battery storage system and an IBEW technician training center. What makes the project unique in Washington state is the integration of the 1-MW vanadium flow battery, making it the first utility scale solar and battery storage project. The project will be developed and operated by the Energy Services and Development division of EN.

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Brad Sawatzke, EN COO

“Energy Northwest is committed to developing smart energy solutions for our customers and the region,” said Brad Sawatzke, EN chief operating officer. “This one project will deliver clean energy, provide valuable research, and offer training for IBEW members. It’s a win-win-win.”

First Solar, a Tempe, Ariz., manufacturer of photovoltaic modules designed for large scale, grid connected and off grid solar power plants has offered to donate half the panels needed, significantly reducing costs for the project. The City of Richland has expressed interest in receiving the power, and the local economy would benefit with hundreds of IBEW workers each year receiving training at the center. “Currently 1,200 hotels rooms in Richland are used by students visiting the center,” Robin Rego, EN Project Development Manager said. “The training center expects the number will triple with this project.”

Both PNNL in Richland, and the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute, will utilize the project for clean energy-related research. Utility construction company Quanta Services/Potelco of Washington also has played a major role in developing the project.

Commercial operation of the facility could begin by late 2017.

According to a news release from the office of Gov. Inslee, the Clean Energy Fund strengthens Washington’s position at the forefront of a clean, low-carbon energy future. Through the fund, the state invests in technologies that save energy, cut costs, reduce emissions and create good-paying jobs.

“Gov. Inslee and the state of Washington continue to champion clean energy innovation. Driving innovation is at the core of how our country maintains its leadership in developing clean, low-carbon energy technologies,” said Moniz. “I was pleased to join the governor to highlight innovation, as the Department of Energy is an active partner with Washington and many other states to enhance the U.S. energy security, climate resilience and economic leadership.”

(Posted by John Dobken)

Clean Energy Standard a Breakthrough for New York’s Environment, Economy

(From the Nuclear Energy Institute/Environmental Progress)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The New York Public Service Commission today approved New York’s first-ever Clean Energy Standard, a policy championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo which explicitly recognizes the role nuclear plants play as carbon-free sources of power. Following is a statement from Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“New York’s visionary Clean Energy Standard blazes a vitally important public policy path. It establishes an important state policy precedent for efforts to achieve significant carbon reductions from all clean energy sources while maintaining a healthy economy.

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“Gov. Cuomo and the Public Service Commission correctly acknowledge nuclear power plants as indispensable sources of emissions-free power, meriting explicit valuation by the state as a clean energy source. Other states should strongly consider emulating New York’s new energy standard.

“This program provides enormous cost savings to New York’s consumers. The Public Service Commission staff estimates that the benefits of retaining the state’s nuclear plants in the first two years of the program, valued at $5 billion, dramatically outweigh the estimated costs of less than $1 billion.

“New York’s six reactors produce nearly 60 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity. With the state’s aggressive carbon reduction goals, the state’s leadership acted swiftly and emphatically to ensure preservation of its most significant low-carbon tool. The New York Public Service Commission’s action today will assure New Yorkers of a future that protects the environment while maintaining facilities that are linchpins of local economies.

“Reactors elsewhere in the country are under financial stress today, because their attributes are not fully valued while at the same time natural gas prices are at historic lows and renewable energy sources are subsidized via tax credits and/or mandated additions of wind and solar capacity. Policymakers and leaders in other states should closely review New York’s Clean Energy Standard and work expeditiously to enact comparable policies that preserve these vital clean energy assets.”


The group Environmental Progress, which has also been campaigning for the measure, celebrated today’s victory…

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…while noting there is much more work to do to fully value nuclear energy’s contribution to the environment.

We applaud the Public Service Commissioners and Governor Cuomo for crafting a Clean Energy Standard that will at least temporarily save New York’s nuclear plants. This initiative is an inspiration to environmentalists and workers in Illinois, California and other states fighting to save other nuclear plants at high risk of closure.

At the same time, the measure still discriminates against nuclear by not including it in the state’s long-term clean-energy mandates. That makes New York’s policies less ambitious than they could and should be.

Read more at their blog here.

(Post by John Dobken)

Closing Diablo Canyon a big loss for California

Pacific Gas and Electric announced last month an agreement in which they plan to close Diablo Canyon by 2025.  Basically, Diablo Canyon’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses finish in 2024 and 2025 (two-unit plant), so PG&E would have to make a decision, fairly soon, on whether to attempt to renew the licenses. PG&E decided not to file for renewed licenses. In other words, if this agreement holds, California’s only nuclear plant will close in about eight years.

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Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, located in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.

Closing Diablo Canyon before it needs to be closed would be a disaster for the environment, the grid, the ratepayers, and the people who live and work near the plant.

The announcement raises a lot of questions.  It is not quite what it seems to be.

Why now?

So, the first question might be: why is the announcement coming now?  Does it take eight years to get an NRC license renewal?  Well, maybe. NRC license renewals for controversial plants can take many years.  For example, Duane Arnold and Vermont Yankee are sister plants. Duane Arnold’s license review took two years.  Vermont Yankee, beset with protesters and near large anti-nuclear groups based in Massachusetts, received its license renewal only after five years.

Meanwhile, Indian Point applied for license renewal in April 2007, five years before its license expiration date of September 2013 and 2015 (two units).  The licenses are still under consideration by the NRC, but because the owners submitted the license applications in a timely fashion and the NRC review process can be slow, the NRC has extended the original licenses for plant operation. From the point of view of getting an NRC license extension, Diablo Canyon didn’t even have to apply  to the NRC until 2019. So why this announcement now for Diablo Canyon?  Why not wait a few years?

This announcement came now because Diablo Canyon also needed an extension of its lease on waterfront land (for its cooling water intake and so forth) by 2018. This month, the California Lands Commission held hearings on granting the extension.  Also this month, because of those hearings, five pro-nuclear groups in California held a March for Environmental Hope. This march started in San Francisco and ended in Sacramento, in the hearing room about the lease extension. In other words, the state of California Lands Commission was on the spot to say “yes” or “no” to Diablo Canyon.

I rarely feel sorry for bureaucrats, but I almost do in this case. Many California politicians are anti-nuclear, which would have meant that the Lands Commission would try to oblige them and shut down Diablo Canyon.  Yet, there was no scientific basis for such a decision, and any decision against the power plant could easily be challenged in court.  Plus, the pro-nuclear marchers were showing up at the hearing.  What to do?

The answer was: kick the can down the road.  Endorse the agreement. But to understand that answer, we have to understand who made the agreement, and what the agreement was.

The agreement

Now, as a usual thing, an agreement about operating a plant is made between a state and a plant owner. Such agreements are enacted by Public Service Boards or Public Utilities Commissions (quasi-judicial bodies). This agreement, on the other hand, is an agreement between PG&E and several other entities: they agreed on a joint proposal they presented to the California Public Utilities Commission. Who are these entities? Rod Adams describes the agreement in his post at Forbes: NRDC Announces PG&E Has Agreed to Kill Diablo Canyon.

Yes, you read that right. NRDC: Natural Resources Defense Council.  The majority of signers were anti-nuclear groups: Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Environment California and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.  Two more groups were unions of utility employees (IBEW and Coalition of California Utility Employees), and then there was PG&E. The joint proposal these groups recommended is that the Lands Commission continue to lease land and allow Diablo Canyon to operate past the 2018 date of their California land license. In return, PG&E will not seek a renewed NRC license for 2025.

The can has been kicked down the road.

The crowing and the consequences

PG&E’s press release about Diablo Canyon Includes the statement that “California’s new energy policies will significantly reduce the need for Diablo Canyon’s electricity output.”

Meanwhile, others said closing Diablo will make it easier to bring more wind onto the grid (given that nuclear is just so reliable at supplying electricity, which used to be the point, it can’t ramp down quickly enough to accommodate the fluctuations of weather-dependent wind).

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The turbine deck at Diablo Canyon. (Courtesy http://www.jimzim.net)

About here, no doubt, people would expect me to discuss the millions of difficulties with integrating wind to the grid, and the tons of carbon dioxide that will go into the atmosphere as consequence of shutting down this plant. For example, when the much-smaller Vermont Yankee plant closed, the natural gas and greenhouse gas emissions on the New England grid went up 7%, according to Utility Dive.

Yes, closing nuclear means increasing carbon emissions. Closing nuclear means increasing natural gas, pretty much everywhere. The trouble is that a carbon increase is so obvious that it almost doesn’t bear repeating.  I want to look at some other things instead.

The fine print                                                      

PG&E isn’t actually going to replace Diablo Canyon’s power with low-carbon power. This isn’t really the fine print. It’s in pretty big letters in the Joint Proposal about Diablo Canyon (link above).

In words and in press releases, PG&E talks about replacing Diablo Canyon power with low-carbon power.  Meanwhile, in the actual Joint Proposal, PG&E promises to replace the 17,600 gigawatt-hours of low carbon electricity with 2,000 gigawatt hours per year of “reduced energy consumption,” and another 2,000 gigawatt hours of “GHG-free energy resources or energy efficiency.”  There seems to be no acknowledgment of the separation between 4,000 gigawatt hours (we will do this by 2025, says PG&E) and 17,600 gigawatt hours (nuclear provides this at Diablo Canyon.)  Michael Shellenberger’s article “How Do We Know? We Read the Fine Print” has the details.

Meanwhile, the actual grid situation in Southern California is pretty bad, even with Diablo Canyon on-line.  As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported: Heat wave raises worries about power outages. A summary of that article: rotating outages are being planned…but so far….”the system is holding up.” 

In a way, reading various articles about rotating outage planning in Southern California is a little like “reading the fine print.” Nobody seems to be mentioning these rolling black-out plans in the same breath as they mention the plan to close Diablo Canyon. And California is still a long-way from its goal of 50 percent renewables. In Washington state, for instance, the renewable portfolio standard is 15 percent by 2020. But it is aimed principally at diversifying, not de-carbonizing, the state’s already abundantly clean energy supply. As such, eligible renewables integrate, rather than compete with, clean hydro and nuclear. All are critical for meeting a state’s clean power goals.

In summary, the low-carbon power from Diablo Canyon cannot be replaced by more wind turbines. PG&E doesn’t even claim it will do this. The nuclear power will almost certainly be replaced by gas-fired power. However, if you read the rotating-outage articles, you will note that Southern California is currently having a hard time getting enough gas.

I fear that the overly-Utopian dream of a purely-renewable-power-supply may soon turn into a nightmare for Southern California.  However, I hope that in eight years, pro-nuclear advocates can turn this around and keep Diablo Canyon open. (My post at my own blog: Diablo Canyon and What To Do About It).

With nuclear power, I hope we can change this potential nightmare back into a low-carbon reality.

(Post by Meredith Angwin)