Recognizing the whole value

We’ve written before of anti-nuclear energy activists taking a deliberately skewed view of Northwest power markets to negate the value nuclear energy delivers to the region.

The latest iteration is Phil Lusk’s Sept. 14 post at Energy Central, “Columbia Generating Station Market Test.” It is based on an apples-to-apple-pie comparison of spot market prices to the actual costs of producing wholesale power. As chief researcher for the Guacamole Fund, a group focused on “a non-nuclear future,”
Mr. Lusk’s examination of nuclear power economics only considers part of the value proposition provided by the region’s sole source of clean nuclear energy.

In contrast, the Northwest’s Public Power Council recognizes Columbia Generating Station as a linchpin for clean energy diversity, grid resiliency and low-cost predictability. Experts at the PPC understand that daily prices for energy at the Mid-Columbia trading hub do not represent the full cost or value of producing wholesale power. In fact, using spot market prices as the sole basis for comparison with firm power generation undervalues all firm power resources, not just nuclear.

The example Mr. Lusk uses of side-by-side gas stations charging vastly different prices for a gallon of gas shows the disconnect. For that analogy to be relevant, there would need to be another 1,207 megawatt nuclear power plant next to Columbia selling its electricity for half the price. There isn’t.

Let’s talk markets
The Mid-Columbia spot market is a daily bilateral market for wholesale energy. The amount of electricity actually traded in this incremental market is small when compared to the overall average megawatts required to power the Northwest. Prices in this spot market are driven by short-run variable costs – such as fuel and variable operations and maintenance expenses – of incremental generation in the Pacific Northwest. Examination of actual Mid-Columbia market prices and regional generation patterns demonstrates that daily spot prices do not allow generation owners to recover their fixed costs, such as depreciation, interest expense, labor and other fixed O&M expenses.

To illustrate, at certain times, such as when regional loads are low to moderate and hydro and wind generation are high, wind and hydro are the incremental sources of generation in the Northwest and their low variable costs drive the Mid-Columbia spot market price. At other times, such as during high system demand and low hydro and wind generation, natural gas-fired generation is the incremental source of generation and its somewhat higher variable costs set the spot market price.

Recent changes in the regional generation fleet have made it more difficult to recover fixed costs in the spot market. Large amounts of wind power have been added in the region (more than 8,000 megawatts to date), and surplus solar generation from California is imported into the Northwest. These resources, with low variable operating costs, are the incremental sources of generation driving down spot market prices more often than not.

This reduces the effectiveness of the spot market as a mechanism to recover power plant fixed costs, further negating the validity of the Mid-Columbia price index as a benchmark for valuing generation. Furthermore, the spot market does not value the capacity, resilience and other attributes that power plants provide.

Since the daily spot market for wholesale power is not an effective mechanism for recovering fixed costs of generation, how are such costs currently recovered in the Pacific Northwest? The answer lies in the fact that most wholesale power is either generated by, or sold via bilateral contracts to, utilities who then sell it to their retail customers at cost-based rates. As a result, most fixed costs of generation are recovered directly from consumers in retail utility rates, rather than via the spot market.

The big picture
Mr. Lusk’s argument lacks this important understanding of the full range of cost factors and how fixed costs are recovered. A market price index for daily spot market energy transactions is not a valid or accurate representation of the actual value of power produced by Columbia Generating Station or any other firm, long-term power supply resource.

The full “all in” economic value of Columbia is further strengthened by the plant’s environmental contribution.

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Columbia Generating Station.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council concluded in its Seventh Northwest Power Plan that “it’s not possible to entirely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power system without the use of nuclear power or emerging technology breakthroughs.” And studies by the International Energy Agency, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggest that we absolutely cannot prevent the rapid pace of climate change without preservation of current nuclear resources and aggressive investment in new nuclear.

The current 99 nuclear plants in the United States provide nearly 20 percent of the country’s power, and an impressive 60 percent of our country’s clean energy. And what is, or will be, the price on carbon? Columbia alone prevents 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually compared to the best-case natural gas replacement option. For a region facing imminent carbon constraints from nine coal and 29 gas plants, the zero-carbon nature of our existing nuclear facility will result in an even greater premium on its value.

(Posted by Energy Northwest)

Make this the Summer of Nuclear

Fifty years ago what Wikipedia describes as a “social phenomenon” began spreading across the country, and in some respects around the world. The Summer of Love as it was known marked a deep cultural shift with its roots in an optimism that life could be better – all it took was a will to change the status quo.

Summer of LoveIn the United States, the Summer of Love had San Francisco (and Berkeley, Calif.) as its epicenter, followed by New York City. London provided a hub for European Summer of Love activities and feelings. Music played a key role (The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) as did literature, poetry and fashion, all in service of new ideas and new ways of looking at existing conditions and troubles and asking “why?”

While debates can ensue about the lasting impact of the Summer of Love (The Beatles broke up three years later after all), one point is certain: there would be no going back to the way things were before.

It’s time
Coincidence or not, I’m still not sure, but there is a personal feeling that something significant and positive is afoot with nuclear energy. Not a renaissance, per se, but a revelation. We have reached a time when the cultural and societal perspective of nuclear SoN-PPT1energy is changing for the better, and among new audiences. In this case driven not by music or poetry but science, of all things! Which is good and necessary because science has a way of separating out fact from fear-mongering, which nuclear energy desperately needs to escape an undeserved taint from weapons activity. Nuclear energy wins on the facts every time.

The change, this new momentum, also emanates from California, from Berkeley environmentalist Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress; from the Mothers for Nuclear based in San Luis Obispo; and from the many other grassroots pro-nuclear groups that have been building these past few years, including Generation Atomic and Atoms for California and Californians for Green Nuclear Power. The 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise from filmmaker Robert Stone now seems like The Beatles’s Revolver album, giving a hint of the new and wonderful things to come in nuclear energy advocacy. There is even a handbook for young (and all) pro-nuclear activists written by Meredith Angwin.

Pro Nukes

Nuclear energy supporters at last year’s Save the Nukes march.

In Seattle (Seattle!) earlier this year, a two-hour panel discussion on nuclear energy drew 130 people. One of the speakers came from a company, TerraPower, in which none other than Bill Gates is heavily invested. The effort was the work of a new grassroots group, Friends of Fission, which has staged talks and discussions throughout Seattle during the past year. New voices. Fresh voices. Smart voices. Speaking up for the climate and for nuclear energy.

Flowers and sunshine (and reality)
To be fair, the nuclear energy industry faces hurdles in unregulated markets and there’s much work to be done to reach larger and larger audiences with facts and truth. We don’t have a Monterey Pop Festival or Woodstock in our future to reach massive amounts of people (or the deep pockets of the fossil fuels industry). The voices in the media will continue to sound dire and dour notes about nuclear energy as reactors close for various reasons over time (just as all generation projects do). This truly is not unique to nuclear. Just look at the issues with solar energy in Oregon with both projects and manufacturing (and here). Los Angeles County banned wind turbines from its unincorporated areas.

Beginning of the end of wind power? Of solar? Of course not. But the issues are there just the same.

There’s little argument that the growth of renewables has been driven by state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax incentives. Why wind and solar? Because renewables are carbon-free and that’s the kind of electricity the U.S. wants to encourage for staving off the effects of climate change.

Well, nuclear energy is also carbon-free.

States such as New York and Illinois have recognized this with policies to encourage nuclear plants to continue providing reliable, low-cost, carbon-free electricity. Other states are contemplating similar legislation to protect their nuclear plants (and the hundreds of jobs that go with them). Those efforts (and others nicely compiled here by Forbes.com blogger Jim Conca) are being supported by grassroots groups, students and others, including, thankfully, editorial pages.

Our nuclear energy community includes 30 countries worldwide operating 449 nuclear reactors for electricity generation, with 60 new nuclear plants under construction in 15 countries, including four in the U.S. Can I get a “groovy?”

Make this the Summer of Nuclear
The Summer of Love didn’t wash away all the ills and struggles of 1967 or the years that followed. But it became the culmination of a focus on humanity that began years earlier that proclaimed we can do better for each other if we come together with a common purpose. Lowering  CO2 levels is a common purpose, too. Or should be. Continued resistance by some to the number one provider of carbon-free electricity (nuclear) seems more baffling than ever. But it’s out there. The table is set for change.

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Given the coalition that is building organically to save existing nuclear plants and promote the many new nuclear energy technologies in development, this summer seems the perfect time to capture the moment and spread the good word about nuclear energy (and the dedicated, smart, skilled people who help produce it).

Now, more than ever, nuclear energy is needed to power our clean energy economy. Now, more than ever, new voices are joining those who have been fighting the good fight for decades; they are joining the bloggers, scientists and advocates, both in and out of industry, who realized long ago we have something very good here and we can make it even better and more abundant. We can share this technology with the world and help other countries solve their problems of polluted air and poverty. That promotes peace. That’s powerful.

Celebrate the Summer of Nuclear by reaching out and sharing with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, that nuclear energy is vital to our future for better health, better jobs and a better engagement with the world. Be positive. Correct what isn’t factual. Join these groups. Make a difference.

The planet will thank you.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Site Studies Begin on Washington’s Largest Solar Project

Neoen, a French independent renewable energy project developer, on Saturday began site studies for what would be the largest utility scale photovoltaic power plant in Washington state.

Neoen plans to build a 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar project in Benton County on land adjacent to the Hanford site. Project completion is scheduled for 2019 and Neoen is actively seeking potential customers for the solar electricity.

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Neoen is planning to build the 20 megawatt solar project on land just north of Richland, Wash.

“Neoen is very proud to be investing in a utility-scale solar project in Washington state. The project will be a competitive source of renewable energy, especially given the downward trend in the cost of solar technology. It is also the first step in Neoen’s long-term strategy in the U.S.,” said Romain Desrousseaux, Neoen Deputy CEO.

Neoen and Energy Northwest signed a lease option agreement on April 18 to lease up to 150 acres of the 300 acre site.

The Tri-City Development Council has been working with Neoen since 2014. The Tri-Cities is well-suited for solar energy because it has the available land, the infrastructure to support power projects and abundant sunshine. TRIDEC recently transferred the property to Energy Northwest, which is supporting the project’s development.

“This is exactly the type of project we envisioned when we began our effort to transfer Department of Energy land to the community for economic development,” said Carl Adrian, President and CEO of TRIDEC.

“The project further solidifies the Tri-Cities’ position as the energy hub for Washington state and confirms that the decision to transfer the land from DOE was correct.

“A huge thank you to Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and former Congressman Doc Hastings, for recognizing the economic potential the transferred land presents to the Tri-Cities,” Adrian added.

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Robert Hurler of Boden und Wasser performs geotechnical studies on Saturday at the site.

Neoen hired Energy Northwest, a generator of more than 1,300 megawatts of carbon-free
electricity for the region, to provide consulting and marketing support.

The geotechnical work that began this weekend will help determine the most viable site for the project.

Background on Land Transfer
On Sept. 30, 2015, the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office transferred 1,641 acres of the Hanford site to TRIDEC and the Tri-Cities community for economic development. The date for transfer was established in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act

The TRIDEC-led land conveyance request began in 2010. The City of Richland, Port of Benton and Benton County worked closely with TRIDEC and DOE RL to meet all the requirements for transferring the property.

By the end of first quarter 2016, 1,341 acres had been further transferred at no cost (other than title transfer costs) to the City of Richland and Port of Benton for future economic development with a focus on growing the energy sector of the Tri-Cities’ economy.

TRIDEC transferred the remaining 300 acres to Energy Northwest with the understanding that approximately 100 of those acres would be made available for a solar energy project (view: Neoen Site Map). This project had been in negotiation for nearly two full years.

About Neoen
Founded in 2008, Neoen is an independent supplier of electricity from renewable energy (solar, wind and biomass) and is set to be the first French supplier to reach 1,000 MW of installed power. Neoen has a long term view development strategy and today Neoen operates in France, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, Zambia, Mozambique, Jordan, Jamaica, Portugal and Ireland. Neoen’s main shareholders are Impala SAS (owned by Jacques Veyrat), the fund Capénergie II (managed by Omnes Capital) and BpiFrance.

Neoen aims to supply power in excess of 3,000MW by 2020, and is opening an office in Washington state to address the U.S. market.

Learn more at www.neoen.com

 

A real nuclear (energy) family

The noisy confines of the turbine building at Columbia Generating Station may not be every couple’s ideal location to celebrate a wedding anniversary, but it was just fine for Doris and James Raila of Louisiana.

The couple marked 37 years of marriage on June 1 doing what they love working for Siemens and supporting Columbia’s biennial refueling and maintenance outage.

On Turbine

Doris and James Raila on Columbia’s low pressure turbine 1-A.

“We’re happy with what we do and with the company we’re with and Columbia is a great place to work,” Doris said. “We enjoy working on turbines. So we were OK and happy with celebrating our anniversary here.”

Doris is a millwright for Siemens, earning journeyman status in 2015 after four years of apprenticeship. “It was intimidating for me at first, when I first started my apprenticeship. There were 30 or 40 guys and I was the only woman,” she said.

But she did it because it would allow the couple to spend more time together. James, a rigging supervisor, has been on the road with Siemens since 1993, working at nuclear plants across the country, including five refueling outages at Columbia. When the last of their three children graduated college, he told Doris he was tired of being on the road by himself. He wanted her to join him.

Directing

James Raila directs a suspended piece of equipment.

“We’ve known each other since we were 13 and 14. So we’ve known each other over 40 years but we’ve been married 37 years June 1,” James said. Then adds with a laugh, “That was a pop quiz, wasn’t it?”

So she did join him, but not as a millwright, not at first. “After a few years of just travelling together I thought, ‘I’m here, I might as well be working,’” she said.

And she is, on the low pressure turbine crew for this outage, making sure tools and equipment are staged so work moves efficiently. In fact, Doris and James are one of five husband-wife teams working for Siemens at Columbia. They credit Siemens with doing a good job keeping them together, not sending them to different locations.

Close Up“Running the roads takes many a marriage and breaks them up, you just got to stay focused and remember what you’re on the road for – it’s family,” said James. “And when we’re on the road the crew is the family.”

After the work at Columbia is finished, it’s back to Louisiana where their other family, including three grandchildren, is ready to wish them a happy anniversary. No hard hats nor safety glasses required.

(Posted by John Dobken; photos by Olivia Weakley)

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)

 

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.

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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)

 

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.

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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.”

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)

EVITA could be a game changer

“We have to crawl before we can walk before we can run. But we have to start somewhere and we believe these fast charging stations are a good place to start.” – Robin Rego, Energy Northwest

Call it the “charging gap.” Electric vehicle owners know what it is – the distance between charging stations on the highway. On the West side of Washington state, mainly along the Interstate 5 corridor, the gap is relatively small, with Direct Current fast charging stations located every 40 to 60 miles, according to the West Coast Green Highway website.

Electric vehicle charging station sign isolated with sunset sky.But if travelling eastward, say to the Tri-Cities area, the gap gets wider and wider, limiting routes and, likely, opportunity for Westsiders to make a carbon-free trip to a favorite Mid-Columbia winery.

Enter EVITA, the acronym for a new project involving Energy Northwest, local utilities and the Tri-Cities Development Council. It is sponsored by the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative, an industry collaboration effort.

EVITA stands for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance. The objective is to advocate for sustainable electric transportation infrastructure by promoting public/private partnerships in developing DC fast charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties, as well as along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area.

“We are focused on growing the (Energy Northwest) vision to support our member utilities with what their interests are, charging station infrastructure as an example, but also to stay on top of new technologies,” said Robin Rego, Generation Project Development manager. “Electric vehicles are a real part of storage. Storage is becoming much more important as people are focusing on renewables.”

Discussing EVITA

Alaxandria Von Hell (left) and Robin Rego, both of Energy Northwest, discuss an upcoming presentation to stakeholders on EVITA.

Rego says wind and solar, because they are intermittent, require storage to be most effective and it is becoming increasingly expensive and often not possible to use other fast responding resources like hydro and natural gas turbines to firm up renewables. Battery storage is in its infancy with electric vehicles essentially at the forefront of battery development. Energy Northwest brings its knowledge of battery storage technologies to the table, according to Rego.

Transportation versus utilities

As reported by Brad Plumer in Vox, the transportation sector in the U.S. recently passed the utility sector in carbon emissions. Plumer notes:

Over the long term, the real hope is that electric cars will catch on and help drive down overall emissions by relying more heavily on the quickly-greening power sector. Right now, electric vehicles are only 0.7 percent of the US car fleet, and turnover is fairly slow, but many analysts expect that falling battery prices should help speed up the shift by making EVs more cost-competitive with traditional vehicles.

Washington state has an enviable mix of carbon-free electricity generating resources, including all the assets operated by EN. Where the state struggles to reduce its carbon-footprint is the transportation sector, which makes up 50 percent of the state’s emissions.

The Energy Information Administration has figures from 2014 that show Washington state as an electric vehicle leader in the U.S. (see below). But in raw numbers, that’s not saying much. Washington has seven million registered cars and trucks on the road. The state’s goal is to have 50,000 electric vehicles or hybrids on the road by 2020.

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That’s where EVITA can help.

Benefits and challenges

The program involves deploying DC fast charging stations at participating businesses or organizations throughout the Mid-Columbia region. The stations will re-charge an electric vehicle in about 30 minutes. Compare that to a normal home re-charge which can take 8 to 20 hours to fully re-charge. The speed is a key attribute because EV owners will want to charge up and get back home. But with speed comes cost.

Installation of one station can run between $50,000 and $150,000. On the other side of the ledger is the potential for more customers for businesses, a tourism boost and increased electricity sales for utilities. But there are risks involved.

Fast Charger

A DC fast charging station.

Demand for public charging is relatively low and how quickly that will change is uncertain. Another risk is that little is known about the financial performance of EV charging station infrastructure.

Alaxandria Von Hell, with EN’s Generation Project Development and assisting on the project, believes it is worth finding out if there can be a path to success.

“Support of this project aligns with Energy Northwest’s core values. The expansion of EV charging station access is of valuable interest to EN’s member utilities and participants and is aligned with EN’s vision statement, to be a leader in energy solutions,” Von Hell said.

Ultimately, success rests with collaboration between a wide-ranging group of interested parties, including public and private utilities, charging station owners and operators, EV owners and government agencies. Participating utilities will be identifying potential charging station locations this summer and waiting to hear about any grant money available to offset costs.

If EVITA fulfills its promise, the program will open up a new gateway of carbon-free travel across the state.

Local utilities involved with the project include Benton PUD, Franklin PUD, City of Richland and Benton REA.

View a recent news story on EVITA by KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities by clicking here.

(Posted by John Dobken)