Renewable Energy Cannot Substitute for Nuclear: A Georgia Perspective

Thorough look at energy resources in Georgia – and how nuclear energy plays a vital role.

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Renewable Energy Cannot Substitute for Nuclear:
A Perspective on Meeting Power Generation Needs in Georgia, USA

The often-discussed issue of replacing nuclear with solar or wind is a false choice—solar and wind energy cannot substitute for nuclear energy. With respect to how we should move forward in our energy policy, everyone is entitled to their own convictions, but not their own math and not their own science and engineering.

BACKGROUND ON U.S. NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CLOSINGS
This perspective is focused on the state of Georgia and issues currently being discussed about the expansion of nuclear power in the state. However, some background on the broader issues threatening nuclear power in the U.S. is included as context for Georgia citizens and decision-makers as they deliberate the future of power generation for the state.

The U.S. has announced the closing of 11 nuclear power plants totaling 11,993 MW of power and 100,882,068…

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Important piece by Nicholas Thompson on what happens when nuclear energy plants close.

What replaced San Onofre?

It sounds like a pretty simple question, and the answer is actually pretty simple. To the first order, San Onofre, a low carbon nuclear facility in California that stopped operating in early 2012, was replaced with natural gas generation. Here’s a graph (Figure 1) of the change in electricity […]

via When nuclear is closed in California, what takes its place? — Nicholas Thompson

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.

EV Nationwide

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)

Shameless in Seattle

If the committee entertains such a resolution, Energy Northwest will be invited to participate in the discussion, (committee staffer Ted) Virdone said. At that point, “it will be essential for both sides to get a fair hearing.”  –Clearing Up, 2014

The Seattle City Council is set to vote today on a resolution that challenges the city’s reputation to be both progressive and environmentally friendly.

The resolution restricts the use of new nuclear energy by the city’s utility, should new nuclear become available (see below for more on that). The city currently receives more than 4 percent of its power (carbon-free) from Columbia Generating Station (which is more than it gets directly from wind power). Two years ago, a version of the resolution that called for shutting down Columbia would not fly so the council’s Energy and Environment Committee encouraged anti-nuclear groups to go back to the drawing board and focus on the future.

What was staged last week was another lesson in a strangely anti-democratic (and anti-science) process that grips this committee every time nuclear energy is the topic. The committee invited representatives from anti-nuclear energy groups to the table – but did not want to hear from any opposing views. Yet, like daisies growing through cracks in a cement sidewalk, several pro-nuclear voices were heard during the legally required public comment period (thank goodness for the law).

What the supporters said was informative and truthful – and the snickering heard in the background during one such statement spoke volumes.

So, sitting around a table with no opposing voices, committee members laughed and joked while discussing the prospect of nearly 1,000 Washington residents losing their jobs (including hundreds of union members and veterans).

Those jobs aren’t in Seattle, after all. Even State Rep. Gerry Pollett joined in, though making clear he was wearing his “other” hat, as head of anti-nuke Heart of America Northwest, and seemed to have no issues participating in such a one-sided hearing.

Where the power comes from

The resolution doesn’t mention Columbia by name, but Columbia was the focus of the entire meeting regardless. No one from Energy Northwest received an invitation to present any facts, unfortunately, because facts were sorely needed especially surrounding the clean air benefits of nuclear power.

Would it have mattered?

One councilwoman summed it up thusly when talking about moving the climate change discussion in a more “progressive” manner:

“…which is a hard thing to do given who we’re dealing with in terms of folks out in Central Washington…”

Well.

Had the Seattle form of “progressive” not been so exclusionary, she might have heard about the growing number of world organizations, governments and environmentalists embracing nuclear energy. Even from some of us here in the hinterlands. Yes, we consider ourselves environmentalists and walk the walk to boot.

All reputable organizations involved in the global climate discussion have come to the same conclusion. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency and Energy Information Administration, as well as many individual scientists and environmental advocates, have said that the U.S. and world cannot achieve meaningful reduction in carbon emissions without nuclear energy.

In President Barack Obama’s 2011 Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future he writes, “…beyond our efforts to reduce our dependence on oil, we must focus on expanding cleaner sources of electricity, including renewables like wind and solar, as well as clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power – keeping America on the cutting edge of clean energy technology so that we can build a 21st century clean energy economy and win the future.”

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation during Nuclear Science Week in Washington. The proclamation reads in part, “…nuclear energy in our state and nation is helping to reduce carbon emissions and plays a vital part in the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible energy generating resources…”

Last month Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., weighed in during a Department of Energy summit in Washington, D.C. on the need to keep our existing nuclear fleet going. “Nuclear energy provides critical baseload power [and] more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electric generation. Most Americans don’t realize that and I was one of them. When it comes to carbon-free, baseload power, nuclear is it,” Booker said.

Our own Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., understands the issue as well. “It is vital that the United States continue to lead the world in clean energy, and nuclear may prove to be a key a component in this effort,” Cantwell said during a hearing of the Senate’s Energy committee on advanced nuclear technology in Washington, D.C.

Eco-warrior Stewart Brand, author of 2009’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, in 2010 said, “I surprised myself. I used to be, you know, pretty much a knee-jerk environmentalist on this particular subject. And then because of climate change I re-investigated the matter and discovered that I’d been misled in many of the details on how nuclear works.”

How about Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and Time Magazine’s 2008 “Hero of the Environment.” He is one of the contributors to The Ecomodernist Manifesto, which was written last year in collaboration with Brand and 17 other notable scholars, scientists and environmentalists. (One of those was Robert Stone, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director of the “fiercely independent” documentary, Pandora’s Promise, which tells the anti- to pro-nuclear conversion stories of leading environmentalists.) While acknowledging the cultural barriers to nuclear power, the authors assert that nuclear “represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy.”


Think about this. World-renown climate scientist James Hansen would not be able to get a seat at the table of the Seattle City Council Energy and Environment committee because of his pro-nuclear energy position. And he’s not even from Central Washington!


At a time when the world’s leading scientific institutions and many here at home are telling us climate change is a real and immediate threat – and that humans are a significant cause of that threat – Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club et al. are asking the Seattle City Council to denounce the technology that currently provides more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity (20 percent of total U.S. generation). Is that the national leadership role Seattle – the city that championed the Kyoto Protocols – is seeking to establish?

Leading from behind?

Seattle wants to dramatically reduce city sources of greenhouse gases to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The city hired experts from the Stockholm Environmental Institute to see if it could be done. They said it could, so the city is aggressively going after that goal. One of those experts at SEI is Karl Hallding, a co-author of Beyond Paris: Using Climate Change Scenarios to Manage Risk. In 2014 Hallding, an expert on China’s oppressive energy pollution problem, said “an interesting sign in the sky is that … the share of thermal power, most of which comes from coal … that came on line in China in 2013 fell to around half for the first time thanks to the growth in alternative energy sources – hydro, wind, solar and nuclear.” Perhaps an SEI business card is still lying on someone’s desk at Seattle City Hall. Now would be a good time, prior to today’s full council vote, to give SEI a call for a brief education on nuclear energy’s important role in achieving a clean energy future.

It’s always refreshing to see city governments do right by their citizens. In this case, Seattle, make some phone calls to people who have higher-education degrees and have published on this topic – a proper balance of pro and con – and ask them to come speak to you. Include them in the public dialogue. Then decide.

Energy Northwest has a vision for nuclear power in our region, but this vision does not include new nuclear generation in Washington during the foreseeable future. Our state simply doesn’t need the power, let alone the massive amounts of power that would come from a new single nuclear reactor (the Columbia Generating Station reactor is the third largest producer of electricity in Washington, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams).

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, however, is looking for clean, baseload (think “always on”) power to replace coal plants in their service territory, and that power may come from a small modular nuclear facility in Idaho. Their only other option for baseload power is natural gas, but “clean” natural gas emits 60 percent as much carbon as coal, so not nearly as attractive as carbon-free nuclear. We’d like to see the manufacturing portion of this project (a first-of-its-kind facility with global orders to follow) – and the thousands of associated jobs – end up here in Washington.

Fairness is fine

We are very happy to be contributing to Seattle’s boast as “The Nation’s Greenest Utility” and truly do not want any special favors from the committee or anyone else. The power from Columbia Generating Station goes to 92 utilities in six states. Seattle is one of them.

We are proud to be part of a Northwest energy mix that is among the cleanest in the world. Nuclear energy, as a safe, reliable and cost-effective generation resource, fits nicely with this mix. But that’s a common sense view, not an ideological one.

(Posted by Mike Paoli and John Dobken)

It’s about value (and the future)

Matt Wald at the Nuclear Energy Institute wrote an important piece this week about energy policy and the current state of electricity markets. (He gets added points for working in a Joni Mitchell reference). The post is anchored around a Department of Energy summit on nuclear energy economics taking place today.

His gist:

Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no special credit for being carbon-free. In fact, they have not even been included when states establish minimum quotas for clean electricity (although New York and Illinois are considering changing this). As a result, they provide a benefit of global importance, carbon emissions reduction, as well as a reduction in the pollutants that cause smog and other problems. But while the climate benefit is shared globally, other well-intended programs to conserve electricity or to promote renewable energy have skewed local electricity prices. The programs were supposed to cut carbon emissions but they have created the unintended consequence of threatening existing reactors, which produce 62 percent of all U.S. carbon-free electricity.

Two news items this week made Wald’s point and then some. They have to do with how this nation views subsidies for energy generation – and also how we value our energy generation resources.

(Note: this is not about wind versus nuclear as generation resources. We need both and companies that invest in such resources should be applauded for helping us all breathe easier).

First, details came out on a proposed 600-megawatt wind farm in Colorado at a cost of $1 billion. Platts reported the project will be eligible for the federal Production Tax Credit ($23/megawatt-hour) which pencils out to $55-65 million a year for 10 years. That’s as much as $650 million in taxpayer subsidies for the project.

According to the Denver Post, the project will create “…350 construction jobs, and then six to 10 permanent jobs.”

Now let’s go to Illinois where many people are working hard to save existing nuclear energy facilities.

The Environmental Progress organization (via Crane’s) says a plan to subsidize two nuclear plants (Clinton and Quad-Cities, owned by Exelon) would cost $250 million a year. Sounds like a lot of money and it is.

But…

The plan to save the nuclear plants pencils out to $10/megawatt-hour, or less than half the federal wind subsidy. The reason is the plants produce so much clean energy. And in terms of employment, 1,455 high-paying jobs would be saved.

Ill Subsidies

From a carbon standpoint, the Colorado wind farm is firmed by natural gas, a carbon-emitter. Nuclear is carbon-free. An earlier Platts article said, “Clinton’s shutdown also would … raise carbon emissions in Illinois by almost 8 million mt/year, the company said.”

Hearings and summits

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had a hearing on advanced nuclear energy technology where the subject of wind energy subsidies came up.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (an opponent of the subsidy and a proponent of nuclear) used the occasion to continue his call for an end to the subsidy. From E&E:

The senator, citing Congressional Budget Office reports, complained that the government spent $9 billion in 2015 and 2016 to subsidize wind energy, and only $5 billion on energy research.

Alexander called for scrapping the tax incentives and doubling expenditures on energy research to $10 billion to spur the development of new reactor designs, as well as carbon capture and sequestration from coal-fired power plants.

At the DOE summit today the subject of challenges to the economic sustainability of nuclear plants brought about the question: “Is that a flaw in the market or a flaw in subsidies?”

The answer from a panelist: “yes.”

Which means there is a lot of work to be done on both fronts to maintain (and expand) the energy resource that now provides more than 60 percent of our clean energy.

As Matt Wald concluded:

Nuclear reactors provide carbon abatement, a hedge against future changes in the price of natural gas or other fuels, “always on” reliability, electric grid stability and other benefits.

In a word, nuclear energy provides value. The time has come to recognize that value.

(Posted by John Dobken)

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Earth Day Q & A with Dr. Jim Conca

As an environmentalist and a keen watcher of the global energy picture, we asked Dr. Jim Conca to talk to us about energy and the environment as we mark Earth Day 2016.

Dr Jim Conca edit

Dr. Jim Conca

Over the last 30 years, Conca has been Director of the Center for Laboratory Sciences, Director of the New Mexico State University Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, Team Leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory, faculty at Washington State University, a scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Coordinator of Shuttle Activities over the Poles at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Conca obtained a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1985; a Masters in Planetary Science in 1981; and a Bachelors in Geology and Biochemistry from Brown University in 1979.


Earth Day 2016 is upon us, what is the most pressing environmental issue facing the U.S.?

I have to say the continued use of oil and coal in America, because they affect so much of the environment. The release of carbon is the most voluminous, but the adverse environmental effects of drilling and mining, oil spills and pipeline leaks, strip and mountain top mining, coal impoundment failures, the non-carbon emissions such as sulfur and nitrogen compounds and particulates that pollute not just the environment, but contribute to the unnecessary deaths of about 15,000 Americans every year, these are huge issues that dwarf almost all others.

When did you realize you were an environmentalist?

When I was growing up during the advent of the environmental movement in the 1960s and 70s in New England. The creation of the EPA when I was in high school was dramatic, and there were many ads on TV about air pollution, especially in Los Angeles.

As an environmentalist, what would you most like to change about that movement/community?

It seems to have adopted a rather strong ideological tone, as opposed to a grassroots tone based on science that it used to have. There does not seem to be any room for discussion of options. And, of course, the vehement anti-nuclear stand, even in the face of all scientific and historic data, plus (the criticism of) a few key people like James Hansen, who understand that our environmental goals will not be met without significant nuclear and hydroelectric power.

When did you first realize nuclear energy is a good thing?

When I started working at NASA in 1985, seeing its use in the space program, and especially after I started working on nuclear waste in the next few years. I had always been told that nuclear had problems and was dangerous, and kept looking for the reasons behind those claims. After a while I saw they were incorrect, and then kept working within the nuclear field and accumulated so much direct experience, and came to know so many lifelong nuclear colleagues that it became clear the myths that arose from the Cold War years were just that – myths.

Jim Conca

Jim Conca featured in a public service announcement about the need for carbon-free nuclear energy. The spots can be viewed here and here.

What is the biggest obstacle, as you see it, to wider acceptance of nuclear energy?

Political and ideological anti-nuclear stands that prevent media from pursuing objective reporting and that prevent public schools and normal outlets for information from providing the scientific truth about nuclear energy, especially in perspective with other energy sources. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and people need to know all the issues surrounding energy in order for us, as a nation, to pursue a reasonable and environmentally safe energy future.

Much is made about nuclear waste, or spent nuclear fuel. What should people know about nuclear waste?

First, there just isn’t much of it. All of the nuclear waste from all sources would fit in one good-sized landfill, although that landfill should be a deep geologic repository in the correct rock. We know what that rock is and how to do it. We just aren’t allowed to do it.

Second, most of the waste is old bomb waste from the Cold War, completely different from used fuel from power reactors. The former really is waste and should be disposed of as soon as possible. The latter is not really waste at all, but can be burned in future reactors that can get 10 times as much energy out of it as present ones. One of Bill Gates’ projects, TerraPower, is actually designing just such a reactor, called a fast reactor. So put used fuel aside in dry cask storage for decades until we burn it all. Then that waste would go into a deep geologic repository like the bomb waste. In fact, since there still won’t be much volume to it all, it could go into the same repository decades later.

Used Fuel Casks ART

Dry cask storage containers at Columbia Generating Station. Each cask weighs 180 tons and can safely store used nuclear fuel for 100 years.

From a global perspective, how important is it that nuclear energy technology continues to advance?

Absolutely critical! We cannot provide the 30-plus trillion kilowatt hours per year to eradicate global poverty and handle the environmental effects of past fossil fuel use without expanding nuclear. Almost all the present reactors in the world will be retired by mid-century or so and need to be replaced with new designs, which we already have and are building. Even with as much renewables as we can produce over the next 50 years, if nuclear fails to double or triple, then coal use will continue to grow in the world. Coal is still the fastest-growing energy source in the world, contrary to public opinion in America.

China is firmly committed to nuclear energy. Bill Gates is supporting a company that is looking to operate a new type of reactor in China. Can the U.S. hold on to its nuclear technology leadership? What will it mean if we lose it?

Yes, China is the country with the fastest growing nuclear energy program. They break ground on a new reactor almost every three weeks. And yes, while Bill Gates and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked on in Seattle, TerraPower signed an agreement with the China National Nuclear Corporation allowing the two companies to collaborate on advanced nuclear technologies that address safety, environmental and cost issues, just this fast reactor technology we need. Of course, it’s sad this didn’t happen in America, but the ideological anti-nuke sentiment is preventing our government from maintaining our lead in nuclear power. We still do lead, but if we don’t get moving again quickly, China will overtake us in as little as 15 years, both in number and technology.

NuScale and its small modular reactor design have a real opportunity to become an American success story. If that happens, what does it mean for the U.S. economy and the environment?

It will be wonderful, because NuScale is firmly on track to build the first SMR in America, and it is truly a revolutionary design. All of the environmental issues we worry about have been solved and it is truly walk-away safe – can’t melt down. Since the cost is about the same as coal plants, and the design is modular, able to be sized for any application and location, together with larger new designs, it could replace coal by mid-century.

Many states have renewable portfolio standards. Should states reconsider and switch to clean energy standards?

Indeed! The most foolish decision in the recent history of energy legislation was to exclude nuclear from low-carbon energy sources able to meet the new portfolio standards. Making the standards clean energy, or low carbon, instead of just renewable, would actually make headway in our attempts to decrease fossil fuel use in America. Switching from coal to natural gas will only get you so far. Also, since we’ll be getting uranium out of seawater soon, nuclear will even become renewable, since uranium will be replaced in seawater as long as the winds will blow on Earth.

Thank you and happy Earth Day to you.

And to all of us.


You can read more of Jim Conca’s analysis and thoughts on energy and the environment at Forbes, where he blogs.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Curiosity and Carbon – Discussing Nuclear Energy with CASEnergy’s Ron Kirk

Ron Kirk was curious.

As Co-Chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, Kirk had visited a half-dozen states to talk about the benefits of nuclear energy and everywhere he went people enthusiastically asked him about these things called small modular reactors.

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Ambassador Ron Kirk

Which is why when the opportunity to visit Oregon presented itself Kirk was eager to make the trip. “I have been wanting to come out here to learn about SMRs. I had to come see it for myself,” Kirk told me.

Oregon is home to NuScale Power, the leading player in the U.S. small modular reactor arena. NuScale, with offices in Corvallis and Portland, employs about 600 people and anticipates submitting its SMR design certification to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this year.

NuScale’s Dr. Jose Reyes and Mike McGough led Kirk on a tour of NuScale research facilities on Oregon State University’s campus, including the Integral System Test facility, a working prototype of the NuScale reactor design.

But with Kirk, President Obama’s former trade ambassador and past mayor of Dallas, the discussion inevitably makes its way from technology to policy, specifically policies that govern how this country will generate low-carbon energy into the future.

IMG_5770

Ron Kirk, left, speaks with NuScale’s Dr. Jose Reyes at the NuScale facilities on the OSU campus.

Kirk was surprised to learn about Oregon’s moratorium (as it were) on new nuclear energy projects. Passed by voters in 1980 (the year after Three Mile Island), Measure 7 basically says there can be no new nuclear energy plants in the state until there is a permanent federal repository for used nuclear fuel storage. Any new nuclear plant proposed would also have to be approved by a majority of Oregon voters.

Kirk says that was then and this is now.

“Literally, you have the world coming here because of this incredible, potentially game-changing technology that came out of Oregon State,” Kirk said. “It’s going to be built elsewhere and deployed elsewhere and I’m just stunned that Oregon provided all the intellectual fuel and capital in what could be a game-changer in the war on carbon emissions and it’s not going to be deployed in the state.

“This is the equivalent of saying we produced the scientists who discovered penicillin and the state saying, ‘sorry, we passed a law that says you can’t use it here.’”

Addressing the mythology

Ambassador Kirk quickly discovered after joining CASEnergy that when it comes to nuclear, one spends a lot of time dispelling the myths and misconceptions before the conversation can progress to the benefits of nuclear as a generation resource.

One of the myths most in need of dispelling, in Kirk’s view, is that nuclear energy can’t help with climate change.

Indeed, a recent poll by the Nuclear Energy Institute found that 70 percent of respondents did not know that nuclear energy is the largest source of clean air energy in the U.S.

“Nuclear energy is the workhorse of clean energy,” Kirk explains. “You just can’t get around the fact that two-thirds of our carbon-free energy in this country comes from nuclear energy. That doesn’t make you anti-wind or anti-solar, we love those. But you simply cannot build enough wind and solar to replace the benefit that nuclear contributes to our carbon reduction strategy, both existing and going forward.”

Which is one reason he questions why a state like Oregon would essentially turn its back on a resource that has so much potential for providing carbon-free, full-time electricity.

“For Oregon to justifiably pride itself on its commitment to the environment, I just find it a little incongruous that they can’t find a way to square with that, the humility to say ‘maybe we had very legitimate reasons for the moratorium that went into place years ago. But today, knowing what we know now, let’s have an intelligent debate about that and revisit that,’” Kirk said.

Ron Kirk and Student

Ron Kirk speaks to a student at Portland State University.

As in Oregon and elsewhere, Kirk also tackles head-on the myth that nuclear waste, or used nuclear fuel, is an issue that would prevent more nuclear energy facilities from coming online. Kirk says the real issue with nuclear waste is the poor political discussion about it that has taken place for decades.

“We don’t have a (technical) challenge with nuclear waste because we know how to store nuclear fuel. We could recycle it. But the truth is nuclear fuel can be stored safely on site for 100 years. That’s not a reason to not deploy nuclear going forward,” Kirk said.

“If you had the fullness of the debate, people would see the nuclear waste issue is more of a red herring than it is a reason to not go forward with embracing nuclear energy.

“Our message is our nation is richly blessed to have a diversity of energy resources, and a non-carbon diversity of energy resources. Where we’ve gotten into trouble is when we try to arbitrarily pick winners and losers.”

Looking to the future

As the former U.S. trade representative, Kirk has seen the world. He has seen parts of the world that aren’t so abundantly equipped with rich energy resources. And it’s made an impression on him.

“When you travel around the world and you see what it’s like to grow an economy, operate a medical system, without the benefits of a reliable energy system, you come to realize we’re so blessed in America,” Kirk said. “In Dallas, we had the only person die of Ebola in the U.S. The real tragedy of that story, if you’ve been to the Ivory Coast and Africa, that’s not a story of infectious disease, that’s the story of the tragedy of living in the 21st century in a society that doesn’t have access to clean water and power. If they had those two things you don’t have an Ebola crisis. You can’t run research in hospitals if you don’t have those two elements.”

Kirk mentioned that on his visits to developing countries the Secret Service wouldn’t let him take the elevator for fear the power could go out at any minute, potentially stranding the group.

“When we were in office, India had a brownout that affected a third of the country. I had to remind my daughters that a third of India is almost all of North America. The mayhem and anger across the U.S. if we didn’t have power for 10 days? Our kids think it’s a birthright to wake up and plug in their smart phones and iPads and laptops. Our kids’ rooms suck more energy than our entire homes did growing up!”

It’s for all those reasons that Kirk says choices and decisions about where we get our electricity in the future need to be made now and made rationally.

“The time to start thinking about energy isn’t going to be 10 years from now when Vermont says maybe we shouldn’t have shut that plant down. You can’t call Wal-Mart and say we need a 1,000 megawatt electricity facility. These are decisions that require years of planning and design and billions of dollars in investment. America has been fueled, our growth has been fueled, by decisions that were made about clean water and energy 30, 40, 50 years ago. It’s up to our generation now to make sure we’re going to have the power, the infrastructure, to continue to drive our economy in the future.”

Optimistic about nuclear energy

Kirk sees reason for optimism concerning nuclear energy. The current energy debate is closely linked to reducing carbon-emissions, and that plays right into the need for more nuclear. He also sees younger generations making that linkage. Couple that with an embracing of technology and a growth of employment opportunities in nuclear energy, that bodes well for changing opinions among Millennials.

He also sees a change at the highest levels of government around the world.

“That diversity of hydro, wind, solar and nuclear is what our global leaders embraced in Paris (at the climate talks). They wanted to give nations the flexibility and very much over weighted it to not just renewables, but non-carbon sources. If it makes sense for India and it makes sense for China, which are two of the largest carbon-emitting nations, then it makes sense for the United States.

“Our president and our Energy secretary have embraced nuclear and amended the federal rules to say we are getting our energy from non-carbon emitting sources and I would hope Oregon would see the wisdom of that and soon follow suit.”

(Posted by John Dobken)

Analysis finds EN has lowest nuclear fuel costs

An analysis published this week in Platts’ Nuclear Fuel found Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station had the lowest nuclear fuel cost of 28 plants surveyed across the country. Columbia’s fuel cost for fiscal year 2013 was 5.99 mills per kilowatt-hour of generation. A mill is a 10th of a cent. The average for the 28 plants surveyed is 8.16 mills per kwh, according to Platts.

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New nuclear fuel assemblies are inspected as they arrive at Columbia Generating Station.

“The plants reported their fuel costs either on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Form 1 or to Platts. These costs take into account such fuel-related expenses as the cost of uranium, conversion, enrichment services and the fabricated cost of the fuel, as well as the amortized value of all fuel in the reactor core that year and payments to the Nuclear Waste Fund,” Platts wrote in the article.

Energy Northwest financial data shows even lower nuclear fuel costs for Columbia in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015, 5.45 mills and 3.39 mills per kwh, respectively.

Columbia Generating Station, an 1,190-megawatt boiling water reactor, produces enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle and is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. All of Columbia’s electricity is sold at-cost to Bonneville Power Administration. Ninety-two Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.

Energy Northwest’s historic low fuel costs can be directly attributed to the management of the nuclear fuels program, which looks for innovative ways to reduce costs.

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Brent Ridge, EN chief financial officer.

“The Platts analysis confirms that the strategic moves we have made as an organization regarding our fuel management program are paying off for Northwest ratepayers,” Energy Northwest chief financial officer Brent Ridge said. “The uranium tails transaction completed in 2012 will only serve to continue this industry-leading trend in low fuel costs for Columbia.”

Energy Northwest began looking at the pursuit of recycling depleted uranium contained in the Department of Energy’s stockpiles in 2003 and the initial efforts led to the Uranium Tails Pilot Program, a demonstration program designed to determine if the DOE stockpiles could be successfully reused. The pilot program ran from May 2005 through December of 2006 and was successful in every aspect. Energy Northwest received 1,940 metric tons of natural uranium from the pilot, which was placed into inventory allowing the agency to avoid purchasing uranium during the historic price run up in that period.

The 2012 tails program was a larger follow-on program that again will help Energy Northwest control costs for the region’s ratepayers. The benefits of that program – less financial risk due to future fuel cost uncertainty, and lower fuel costs on an expected-value basis – are being achieved.The transaction increased rate stability by removing eight years of cost risk from Columbia’s fuel budget, and the transaction continues to have positive value, resulting in lower rates.

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EN uranium tails product when it was stored at Paducah, Ky.

Prior to the recent uranium tails program, Energy Northwest had enough fuel in inventory or under contract to meet its fuel reloading requirements through 2019. With the additional fuel, Columbia’s fuel costs will be reduced and predictable through 2028.

Platts, a division of McGraw Hill Financial, is an independent provider of information and benchmark prices for the commodities and energy markets. More information can be found at their website: http://www.platts.com.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Deep Dive: What is Resource Adequacy?

Electricity is something many take for granted, except in those rare instances when the power goes out. It’s not an overstatement to say that electricity is an invisible, ubiquitous and essential part of modern life; it keeps our homes and businesses well-lit, comfortable and safe, and it powers the various devices we use for work and leisure.

Whenever we flip a switch, adjust the thermostat, go online, recharge our smartphone, or drive through an intersection with a traffic light, we are counting on the power system to always be ready and able to reliably meet our needs.

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Courtesy BPA

Highly dependable utility service is no accident – instead, it is provided by complex and sophisticated power grids that are the largest machines in the world. These electric utility systems consist of multiple parts, including power plants, transmission lines, local distribution facilities, and associated control and communication systems.

As our consumption of electricity fluctuates from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, and month to month, an equal amount of power needs to be produced and delivered to match the load. If at any given point in time not enough juice is being produced, the stuff we’re using starts to shut down. Conversely, if there’s too much juice, things start to overheat. So a continuous re-balancing of loads and resources takes place, like an intricately-choreographed, ongoing dance that enables modern life.

What is resource adequacy?

Simply defined, resource adequacy means having sufficient power resources available when needed to reliably serve electricity demands across a range of reasonably foreseeable conditions.

Electricity consumption is measured using two metrics – peak demand and energy load. Peak demand is the maximum amount of power used at a specific point in time, such as in the evening during very cold or very hot weather after people have arrived home and are using multiple power-consuming devices. The second metric, energy load, is the amount of power consumed over a period of time, such as the monthly energy amount shown on your electric bill.

To keep the lights on, the utility system has to do three things. First, it needs to have enough generating capacity available to meet the peak demands when they occur. Second, it needs generating resources that can produce energy to serve loads across time, from day-to-day, month-to-month, and season-to-season. Third, the utility system needs to have enough operating flexibility to follow upward and downward fluctuations in electricity demands. If the system has sufficient resources to do all of these things reliably, then it is deemed to have resource adequacy (including additional resources to protect against sudden unplanned outages).

What types of resources contribute to resource adequacy?

Traditionally, utilities have used three basic types of generating resources to perform the load-resource balancing act described above. The three types of power plants are known as baseload, peaking and midrange generators. All three types are needed to achieve resource adequacy.

Baseload generators can produce power at a constant rate for extended periods of time, and usually have a relatively low variable cost of production. Examples of baseload generation include nuclear power plants, as well as coal-fired plants. Baseload generators are the workhorses that produce large amounts of energy, along with steady, dependable capacity.

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Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Wash.

At the other end of the spectrum are peaking generators, which can quickly provide capacity to help meet peak loads and to follow short-term fluctuations in loads. Peaking generators also tend to have higher variable operating costs. A common type of peaking generation is single-cycle combustion turbines. These are basically large jet engines that can burn either natural gas or liquid fuels. Peaking generators are good sources of capacity and flexibility, but due to their relatively high operating costs, they are not used to produce large amounts of energy.

Midrange generators have more operating flexibility than baseload generators but less than peaking generators. Midrange generators also have variable operating costs that are higher than baseload generators but lower than peaking generators. The most prominent example of midrange generation is combined-cycle combustion turbines, which produce power in two stages. In the first stage, natural gas is burned in a combustion turbine and used to turn a generator. In the second stage, exhaust heat from the combustion turbine is used to make steam and turn a steam turbine-generator. Typically, midrange generators are used to help supply moderate amounts of capacity, energy and flexibility.

Okay, by now you are probably wondering: What about all the hydroelectric power we have in the Northwest? Traditionally, hydro generation has helped meet the region’s needs for all three types of power. It is a particularly effective, low-cost resource for meeting peak demands and following fluctuations in demand. As a result, the Northwest has historically not needed as much fossil-fueled peaking and midrange generation as other regions of the U.S. Our Northwest hydro power also produces significant amounts of annual energy, but not as much as could be produced from an equal amount of baseload generating capacity.

How do utilities decide which resources to use?

When deciding how to operate their resources to meet consumers’ demands for electricity, utilities seek to provide reliable service at the lowest possible cost.

The resources that a utility normally decides to use, or “dispatch,” first are its resources that have the lowest variable operating cost. These include baseload resources such as Columbia Generating Station. Next, the utility dispatches its resources that have the next highest variable operating cost; often these are midrange generators. Finally, if its loads are relatively high or may be subject to rapid fluctuations, the utility will dispatch its more expensive peaking resources.

Columbia Generating Station is one of the key resources that BPA uses to deliver clean, reliable power to public power utilities across the Northwest. Columbia produces 1,190 gross megawatts of baseload power, including both firm energy and capacity.

For wind power to produce the same amount of energy on an annual basis, more than 3,500 megawatts of wind turbines would be needed. Also, Columbia is not subject to the fluctuations that affect generation from wind and solar-PV. As a result, Columbia provides capacity that is much more firm, and does not require other forms of generating capacity to be held to provide incremental and decremental reserves to integrate wind and other intermittent forms of generation.

How do renewables and other alternative forms of resources fit In?

During the last 15 years, large amounts of new renewable resources have been developed in the Northwest. To date, the predominant share of renewable resource additions in the region have been wind power, totaling over 8,000 megawatts of installed capacity. In more recent years, falling costs and government incentives have also begun to make solar photovoltaic power more attractive.

Nine Canyon Wind Farm

Nine Canyon Wind Farm, located south of Kennewick, Wash.

Wind and solar-PV differ from other existing power resources. In particular, wind and solar-PV produce power intermittently. This limits their ability to contribute to resource adequacy. However, both also have very low variable operating costs. This means that to the extent they can be integrated into the system, it is economically desirable to dispatch them early in the utility’s stack of resources.

To date, the Bonneville Power Administration has integrated over 5,000 megawatts of wind power onto its system. To do so, BPA has dedicated significant hydro resources to mirror changes in production from the wind fleet. BPA maintains 900 megawatts of generating reserves that can be rapidly increased or decreased to offset wind resource fluctuations. This illustrates how a portion of BPA’s hydro generating resources that could be used for other resource adequacy purposes are diverted and used to integrate wind power.

Other steps are being taken to deal with the greater variability created by renewable resources. These include implementing shorter, intra-hour scheduling and dispatching practices, as well as developing new energy imbalance markets.

Demand response is another type of resource that has potential to contribute to resource adequacy. Demand response is not a generating resource; instead it works by adjusting customer use of electricity to help maintain the overall supply-demand balance on the power system. For example, if overall electric loads are increasing rapidly toward peak levels, a demand response can be used to reduce certain loads of customers who have volunteered to participate, typically in exchange for compensation.

Energy Northwest partnered with the City of Richland, Cowlitz County Public Utility District, Pend Oreille County PUD and BPA on the Aggregated Demand Response Pilot Project. This project is using 35 megawatts of aggregated fast-response demand-side resources to test their use to help meet capacity needs as well as flexibility needs on the BPA grid.

Tools – We need them all

Maintaining resource adequacy requires responsible energy policy decisions, at the local, state and federal levels, policy not driven by whims and fads. For instance, having a resource like Columbia Generating Station during the Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001 saved the region approximately $1.4 billion according to the Public Power Council. That could not have been anticipated in 1999.

(Post by Charlie Black)

Columbia in NRC’s highest performance category

(From Nuclear Regulatory Commission news releases)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued letters to the nation’s 99 commercial operating nuclear plants about their performance in 2015. All but three plants were in the two highest performance categories.

“These assessment letters are the result of a holistic review of operating performance at each domestic power reactor facility,” said Bill Dean, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “In addition to ensuring that the nation’s nuclear power plants are safe by inspecting them, the NRC continuously assesses performance. The purpose of these assessment letters is to ensure that all of our stakeholders clearly understand the basis for our assessments of plant performance and the actions we are taking to address any identified performance deficiencies.”

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Columbia Generating Station.

NRC assesses plant performance through the use of inspection findings and other indicators that can trigger additional oversight if needed. Overall, (Columbia Generating Station) operated safely in 2015 and the plant is currently under the NRC’s normal level of oversight.

“By assessing each plant’s performance in a comprehensive manner, we are able to focus our inspection resources on those areas most in need of attention,” NRC Region IV Administrator Marc Dapas said. “Because Columbia Generating Station did not have any safety or security issues above very low significance in 2015, we are not currently planning any inspections above and beyond our normal reviews.”

The NRC’s normal level of oversight at each U.S. nuclear power plant involves thousands of hours of inspection. In 2015, the agency devoted about 6,000 hours of inspection and review at Columbia.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public open house on March 17, in Richland, Wash., to discuss the agency’s annual review of safety performance at the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant. The plant is operated by Energy Northwest.

NRC staff will be on hand from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Richland Public Library, Conference Room B, 955 Northgate Drive in Richland. While there are no formal presentations during the open house, the public will have an opportunity to ask about NRC’s assessment of the plant’s performance in 2015 and the agency’s oversight plans for 2016. Among the NRC staff in attendance will be the Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant on a full-time basis.

Of the 96 highest-performing reactors, 85 fully met all safety and security performance objectives. These reactors were inspected by the NRC using the normal “baseline” inspection program.