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.

EN Uranium Product

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.

Celebrating National Engineers Week

Engineers are a vital part of the nuclear energy industry. So to commemorate EWeek, we asked a few of the engineers at Columbia Generating Station to answer this question:

Why did you become an engineer?


Denise Brandon, Columbia Generating Station Plant Support Engineering manager

Good question. I guess it started with my dad in his garage. I was by his side fixing things, denise-weblearning how they work. One of my favorite teachers in 5th grade got me excited about math and in college my math teacher was able to make it all click. I was in college during the dot.com boom and the electrical engineers were all on their way to great things. I jumped in. I worked at Ford Motor Company and Boeing during college and had the time of my life. That road led me to Energy Northwest and I feel very fortunate to be able to use my training as an engineer to solve issues daily.

So in a nutshell, I like solving problems and seeing how things work. It’s still exciting.


 

Orlando Bolet, Columbia Generating Station Engineer senior

It’s an interesting question. The word “Engineering” is derived from the Latin word “ingeniare,” which is a military term for constructor of engines or/and military war machines.

orlando-webEngineering is a career for a person with a technical aptitude able to analyze and see what others don’t see. An engineer is able to analyze a condition and come up with concrete creative solutions.

When I first started college, I started in the physics department of “Universidad de Puerto Rico” which is the public college. As I was studying physics and I wanted to align myself with a career of real world applications more than theoretical investigations. I changed to civil engineering after taking an aptitude test and switched colleges to Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. While in college, I discovered I had a better aptitude with electrical engineering concepts and the science behind electrical engineering fascinated me more than static physics and structural analyses. I also discovered an aptitude to jump from different electrical engineering classes and was able to learn from different topics.

If I had to summarize “why I became an engineer” it was through trial, error and the love of science in the field of electrical engineering.

Last year, I completed my master’s degree in engineering management in order to earn an understanding of business needs while maintaining the engineering aspect of data analysis.


 

Jamie Dunn, Columbia Generating Station Engineer seniorJamie-web

I became an engineer because I have always been interested in design; this evolved from graphic design to interior design to architecture to civil engineering. My strength in math and my consistent curiosity to understand how things work motivated me to pursue a career in engineering.

I now proudly work as an engineer in an industry that makes clean power for the world.

Visit our Careers page at http://www.Energy-Northwest.com to learn more about the opportunities at Energy Northwest.

To learn more about Engineers Week, click here.

From Navy to Nuclear – Ricky Mendoza’s Story

 

Ricky Mendoza CU

Ricky Mendoza

Ricky Mendoza is an equipment operator at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear energy facility. We asked Ricky to share his story of transitioning from the military to the utility sector.

 


 

I went to work for Uncle Sam right out of high school. After Boot camp, the remainder of my first two years in the Navy was spent in Charleston, S.C. and Ballston Spa, N.Y., as a student of the Navy’s Nuclear Power Training program. This was a rather intense/fast paced program, which has been compared to MIT regarding its level of difficulty and the dedication needed to graduate. After making it through the Nuclear power training pipeline, I went on to serve the next four years on the U.S.S. Alabama as a submarine electrician.

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The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama (SSBN 731) at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early/Released)

My training didn’t end once on board the Bama, but it did take on a new facet. The training now focused on combating engineering (equipment-related) casualties; firefighting; tracking and evading (and destroying) enemy submarines, and launching nuclear ballistic missiles. As a submarine electrician, I was responsible for maintaining the boat’s electrical distribution system and maintaining and repairing all electrical equipment on board, from washing machines to steam driven turbine generators. Quite often, I would be entrusted with the responsibility of controlling the boat’s speed, while standing watch as the “Throttleman.”

Transition

With my last duty station being Bremerton, Wash., I was fortunate enough to find Columbia Generating Station only a short four hour drive to the east. Luckily, I had former shipmates who had recently found their way into commercial nuclear power.  Their opinions of the industry, with an ability to advance within the company, persuaded me to seek out a career in commercial nuclear power.

My Navy experience paralleled my current position at Columbia in many ways. First, itRicky Mendoza 2 gave me the technical expertise needed to quickly become a contributing member of the Operations team. In addition to technical skills and knowledge, the most important attribute gained from my military service was the solid establishment of the “honesty and integrity” culture. This attitude and way of thinking is an absolute essential cornerstone of the nuclear power industry.

What I do

Ricky Mendoza

Ricky Mendoza on the Refueling Floor at Columbia.

Equipment operators are the “eyes and ears” of the main control room (and the licensed operators) in a commercial nuclear power plant. We fulfill this role by continuously monitoring plant parameters. At least once every 12 hours, equipment operators walk down nearly every piece of equipment in every building of the power plant, to verify equipment is operating as expected. That means the EOs must have a solid understanding of the many different systems’ functions to help us identify degraded equipment performance or abnormal conditions. Equipment operators also perform all equipment manipulations in the field necessary to support surveillance testing, system start-ups and shutdowns and the tagging process, which prevents work on certain equipment.  Additionally, EOs are members of the on-site fire brigade.

The most challenging aspect of the job for me is the never ending pursuit for system knowledge and experience. Every shift presents an opportunity to enhance our knowledge of plant systems and their safe operation.

Having said that, and despite my best efforts, I think my job is still a bit of a mystery to most of my non-Navy friends. But, I think if I had to sum up their feelings about my career choice I would use the word “proud.”

Career choices

I would highly recommend a career in commercial nuclear power to anyone with prior Navy nuclear experience.  A career in the Operations department of a commercial nuclear plant will provide years of fulfilling challenges. Once you master the skills of one position, there is always an opportunity to advance into new positions that provide new perspectives and new responsibilities.

Ricky Mendoza is an equipment operator at Energy Northwest and a member of IBEW Local 77.

Energy Northwest is designated a Military Friendly® Employer. To learn more about the Troops to Energy Jobs Initiative, visit: www.troopstoenergyjobs.com

To learn more about career opportunities at Energy Northwest, visit our website.

Energy Policy by Headline

The headline certainly draws attention:

“Switch to Clean Energy Can Be Fast and Cheap”

In energy resource development, “fast” and “cheap” are laudable goals, but are seldom realistic.

Before an energy project can be built, it goes through multiple “processes” (planning, permitting, licensing).

It is also subject to various “hearings” (public, legislative, regulatory, even judicial – see Jim Conca’s take on the recent Supreme Court action on the Clean Power Plan).

These things are not fast nor are they cheap.

In the push to show that an “all renewables” electric grid can be readily and affordably implemented, shortcuts (intellectual and other) should not be taken that overlook what is actually needed to develop real-life power generation projects, much less massively reconfigure the national power system.

To summarize the article reprinted in Scientific American:

Wind and sunshine could power most of the United States by 2030 without raising electricity prices, according to a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Even when optimizing to cut costs and limiting themselves to existing technology, scientists showed that renewables can meet energy demands and slash carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

In less than 14 years! Hey, what’s not to like about that?

The above assumes that a wide variety of technical, economic, and institutional challenges can be successfully overcome by 2030. For example:

MacDonald and Clack said the key enabler for their high renewable energy penetration scenarios is high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission. Photovoltaics and wind turbines often generate direct-current electricity, so transmitting in direct current removes a conversion step that costs money and saps power.

HVDC transmission lines also have fewer losses over long distances than alternating-current transmission. The authors envision an HVDC network across the United States akin to the interstate highway system, shunting power from where it’s produced to where it’s needed in a national electricity market.

In other words, for the U.S. to make a huge, rapid switch to renewables, the study recognizes that the national transmission grid would have to be significantly re-vamped as well. All in 14 years’ time.Pop Mchx Flying Car 1957

Recall the cover of the July 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics that predicted flying cars would be as cheap as automobiles by 1967.

Blowin’ in the wind

As an example, consider the Northwest’s existing wind generating resources. They are heavily concentrated in the Columbia Gorge, for good reason; that’s where the wind is.

But, there are still weeks when the 5,000+ megawatts of wind generation capacity on the Bonneville Power Administration system isn’t contributing much, if anything, to the grid. Without the availability of firm back-up from hydro and thermal (nuclear, coal and natural gas), there’s real trouble. The lights don’t come on.

The study purports to overcome this challenge by building huge new HVDC transmission facilities to link all regions of the U.S. into a single fantastically huge grid. Imagine the expense, and the technical hurdles, that would need to be overcome to make this work.

So back to the “fast and cheap” scenario and the questions that are not asked.

Question #1: Who will pay for it?

Utilities generally don’t build generation projects because they are fond of the technology; they build them because there is a need, i.e. predicted load growth or retirement and replacement of generating resources. But in either case, there is a planning period that typically spans years before the first permit application is even filed. There is also the matter of securing the many millions, or even billions, of dollars needed to build the renewable resources, transmission facilities, control systems, etc.

Question #2: How long would it actually take to design, reach consensus on and then build a massively different power system?

Different regions across the U.S. have diverse mixes of public and investor-owned utilities with different processes located in various states with different rules and regulations and different environmental, cultural and economic concerns. In California, it took seven years just to reach agreement on and start up its regulatory program for reducing CO2 emissions.

It’s not realistic to think that all of the issues and interests could be addressed and then the new power system completed in 14 years’ time.

Question #3: Why an all-renewable portfolio anyway?

If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, there are more alternatives than just wind and solar. There is hydro, there is nuclear, there is natural gas (which is less carbon-intensive than coal but way above the other two choices). The report does, thankfully, call for continuing existing hydro and nuclear resources, according to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights, who has delved deeper into it.

What some may not realize is that while the wind is free and the sun is free, the technology to convert wind and sun to electricity is not. It is a very mortal process with voices on all sides wanting a say. See the recent legislative episodes in Vermont.

A recent piece in the Spokane Journal of Business makes the case that in the Northwest, solar, not wind, will be the preferred new renewable going forward. A Bonneville Power Administration project engineer told the Journal:

“What we think we’re going to see is the development of solar energy take off. The cost to build is cheaper, and its power can be on a grid in a matter of months rather than years, as is the case with wind.”

But as long as there is a handful of people saying we can power the U.S. with wind and solar, the mantle will be picked up in the comment sections of energy related articles across the country. “So-and-so said we can do it, therefore we can!”

Question #4: How much new wind and solar generation do we even need in the Pacific Northwest?

When it comes to power resource planning, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council does as thorough a job as anyone of reading the landscape to see what’s on the horizon and beyond.

In the draft for their 7th Power Plan (the final plan is approved but not posted yet), the Council made clear that a non-generating resource is supreme:

“In more than 90 percent of future conditions, cost-effective efficiency met all electricity load growth through 2035. It’s not only the single largest contributor to meeting the region’s future electricity needs, it’s also the single largest source of new winter peaking capacity.”

What comes next? Demand response (we do that). And after that? Modest amounts of new natural gas-fired generation.

With just those three resources, load growth in the Northwest is covered through 2035, as projected, according to the draft plan.

As John Harrison of the NWPCC is quoted in the Spokane Journal article:

“It’s free fuel,” Harrison says. “But the bad news for wind power is that it doesn’t produce at capacity in high or low temperatures. We’ve probably maxed out on wind development.”

The Oregon experiment

That sentiment is also prominent in a recent Oregonian article by Ted Sickinger on the effort to move the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities out of the coal game.

The discussion in Oregon is to shift PGE and PacifiCorp to 50 percent renewables by 2040 (10 years later than the NOAA plan). Both would need to do away with a total of 2,400 megawatts of coal capacity, which means nearly tripling the current amount of wind capacity in the state (from 3,000 megawatts to 8,000 megawatts) if that is the chosen replacement resource. Cost: up to $13 billion.

Sickinger writes, “Yet there is a practical limit to the buildout in Oregon. The wind here doesn’t match Montana and Wyoming, and the windiest sites with nearby transmission on the Columbia Plateau are already taken. To maintain reliability, utilities will also avoid clustering all their wind turbines in one area.”

It’s a daunting task and ratepayers will ultimately decide if the environmental benefits of snipping the coal wire (the coal plants aren’t actually located in Oregon) are worth the estimated costs. But it is a shame that carbon-free nuclear energy is not part of the discussion, given NuScale’s development of homegrown small modular reactor technology. $13 billion buys a lot of NuScale modules. Just saying.

Smart energy strategy

More than aspirational dreaming, we need smart energy strategies – ones that take into account the economic, technical and environmental aspects of energy resource development. And what is possible. Also, one that values existing clean energy resources, such as nuclear.

In the real world the lights have to stay on. The heat pump has to work in the winter. The air conditioner in the summer. The margin for error is very small concerning people’s lives and livelihoods. “Fast” and “cheap” may not always cut it. Reliable and cost-effective will do just fine.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Talking Nuclear Energy from Washington State to Washington D.C.

This fall, two important meetings moved the Pacific Northwest and the nation closer to the eventuality of Small Modular Reactors on the grid, and to building those SMRs in new manufacturing facilities. One meeting took place in Washington state and the other in Washington D.C. The NuScale Power SMR, born of Oregon State University, was featured at both meetings.

Energy Northwest is part of the SMR initiative: The first commercial NuScale reactors are scheduled to be installed in Idaho with the power going to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (based in Salt Lake City), and Energy Northwest acting as the first operator. Hopefully, this will be the first of many SMRs to be installed throughout the country.

Now to the meetings…

The White House Summit on Nuclear Energy: Nov. 6, 2015

The White House organized the Washington D.C. meeting and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to nuclear energy. The fact sheet for the White House Summit is titled: Obama Administration Announces Actions to Ensure that Nuclear Energy Remains a Vibrant Component of the United States’ Clean Energy Strategy.

Why? The fact sheet makes clear what some are still reluctant to understand:

Nuclear power, which in 2014 generated about 60 percent of carbon-free electricity in the United States, continues to play a major role in efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.

As America leads the global transition to a low-carbon economy, the continued development of new and advanced nuclear technologies along with support for currently operating nuclear power plants is an important component of our clean energy strategy.

To summarize, nuclear provides clean air energy and jobs. We need both.

Of particular interest to Washington state, the Summit announced many new initiatives for bringing SMRs to market, and to the grid. One major initiative is…

Simulation Support:

The Department of Energy Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors is signing an agreement with NuScale to develop modeling and simulation tools. In this cost-shared venture, CASL will install simulation tools on NuScale systems, and NuScale will simulate performance using the CASL tools.

And after simulation comes…

Licensing Support:

The Department of Energy is investing $452 million dollars, over a six-year span, beginning in 2012. This money supports the engineering expenses at NRC that will be associated with first-of-a-kind licensing for SMRs. This is also another cost-share agreement with private industry. Without this type of industry-government cooperation, the cost of obtaining a first-of-a-kind license would be prohibitive. Estimates for a first-of-a-kind license run to over one billion dollars.

You can watch the entire White House Summit on Nuclear Energy at this link.

Dr. Jose Reyes of NuScale is a member of the Innovation Panel, which discusses new types of reactors. This panel begins at 3:05  (three hours and five minutes) into the program. During his portion, Dr. Reyes explains the worldwide potential demand for small nuclear reactors.

We’ve provided a video clip of a portion of his presentation below:

 

The Washington State Task Force

The Washington State Legislature’s Joint Select Task Force on Nuclear Energy focuses on encouraging the possible role of Washington state as a base for the manufacture of SMRs. As you can see in the Final Report from last year (issued in December) some of the members of the Task Force toured NuScale Power in November 2014.

NETF oct 29

Rep. Terry Nealey speaking during the Washington state Task Force meeting Oct. 29 in Kennewick, Wash.

The Washington State Task Force is an on-going effort, and far more focused than the Washington D.C. Summit Meeting, which seems to have been a one-time event.  The DC meeting was a very nice one-time event, because of the support shown for SMRs, but without the virtues of a task force.

In the document above, you can see that the Washington State Task Force reviews many aspects of developing SMRs, both technical aspects and the possible benefits of new manufacturing in Washington state.

The Washington D.C. meeting did not include any written presentations, viewgraphs or visual aids. In contrast, the Washington State Task force has an abundance of information in presentations.  The 2014 presentations are here. I especially recommend the DOE presentation on  SMR market perspective, and the presentation by Energy Northwest, and NuScale Power.

The meeting notes for 2015 are not yet posted, but they are even more informative. In 2015, NuScale shows a slide in which the components necessary for a NuScale reactor are shown in black type, while the components necessary for a full-scale reactor are shown in light-gray type.

 

Slide8


 

This is a very dramatic slide, despite being all words in black and white!  It shows that SMRs are not just shrunken versions of full-scale reactors: They are truly re-engineered and simplified. Passive safety design can actually be a simpler design.

D.C. and Washington State: Both playing their best roles

I would say that if you really want to know about how SMRs are going to be built and deployed, the ongoing task force of the Washington State legislature has solid information and readable documents. However, I hope that the Nuclear Energy Summit in Washington D.C. will also be helpful to the future of nuclear energy and the future of Washington state.  In that meeting, DOE in Washington D.C. announced it would also play its best role: helping nuclear entrepreneurs access the National Labs, and helping new reactors get licensed.

Washington D.C. and Washington state cooperating on Small Modular Reactors: that would be a win-win for everyone.

(Post by Meredith Angwin)

Continuing their service through Public Power

This week, Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs®, named Energy Northwest a 2016 Military Friendly® Employer for its efforts in recruiting veterans to work at the public power agency.

Criteria for the designation include a benchmark survey score across key programs and policies, such as the strength of company military recruiting efforts, percentage of new hires with prior military service, retention programs for veterans, and company policies on National Guard and Reserve service.

It is an honor for us, as Energy Northwest is committed to hiring military talent, knowing first-hand that recruiting from the military community is not only the “right thing to do,” but it makes good business sense.

“There is a strong relationship between the military, particularly the Navy, and commercial nuclear power,” said Brent Ridge, EN vice president for Corporate Services/chief financial & risk officer. “But we have found great team members from all branches of the service who have strengthened our organization.”

Energy Northwest employs nearly 300 military veterans in departments including Operations, Maintenance, Engineering, Health Physics, Security and Human Resources.

We asked several of our employees who are veterans to talk to us about how their military service prepared them for positions in the energy industry.

Their responses are below:

Amy D., Human Resources

First, I must say that joining the military was the first decision I made as an adult and the best decision I’ve made thus far. Without the military, I wouldn’t be where I am today so I’m truly grateful for all the values and skills I received during my experience. Vets---AmyThose values include integrity, respect for authority, teamwork and to always have a plan. By learning those values early on, I’ve been able to structure not only my career, but my personal life around those core values.

To me, working with integrity means having high standards not only in yourself, but your coworkers. The teamwork I see in other groups as well as my own, leads us to trusting each other and leaning on one another for help when needed. To me, that is the key to any organization achieving a favorable outcome no matter what the task may be.


Spain A., Operations

Teamwork. My experience in the Navy taught me the benefits of teamwork. Whether it was getting the USS Stennis ready for its first sea trial; maintaining the USS Lincoln Vets---Spainbattle ready in the Persian Gulf or helping keep submarines in top shape down at Pearl Harbor Shipyard; all could not be done successfully without teamwork.

I learned early on in my naval service how much great teamwork, within the department and across departmental lines, ensures mission success. I thrive in a teamwork environment and that is why I enjoy working at Energy Northwest. It takes teamwork to strive for excellence and the teamwork I’ve seen here is on par with my most successful Navy tours.


Blanca A., Energy Services & Development

I believe that working in today’s energy industry, individuals must have passion and be driven with a can-do attitude. You have to be flexible and open to the changing environments. One must provide excellent customer services to internal and external customers. Overall, you have to be successful at stakeholder management.

The Marine Corps empowered me with invaluable skills that I use on a day-to-day basis in my line of work. I have a strong pride in my performance that enables me to beVets---Blanca driven. In the Marine Corps you constantly have to shift gears and take a new approach on things, this has enabled me to embrace changes and be more open minded. I remember my gunnery sergeant always saying, “You are a Marine 24/7,” meaning we had to hold ourselves at higher standards and be more of a role model to the public. I think of this when I provide customer service and strive to represent EN in the best way possible.

Throughout my entire military career I worked in a unit, maintaining constructive relationships. This enabled me to be a strong team player focused on the overall success of the team versus individual success. My military experience has prepared me for work in today’s energy industry.


Bob Schuetz, Plant General Manager

Vets---BobThe military culture has many similarities to the culture found at successful plants in the nuclear industry. Whatever their service or specialty, military veterans all recognize the importance of teamwork and camaraderie to organizational success. Veterans understand the need for clear standards and expectations, and then rigorously uphold and reinforce them. On this Veterans Day, take the time to honor their service, and thank them for choosing to be part of our team.


Randy C., Energy Services & Development

Vets---RandyI served six years in the nuclear Navy as a submariner. I operated the electric plant on board the USS Thomas Jefferson. My work today at the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project directly correlates to the experience I gained in the military with starting and stopping generating units, operating backup emergency generators and synchronizing separate power sources to each other and to the power grid. It was a tremendous learning experience and has served me well in the energy industry for more than 30 years.


Thank you to all who have served.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Public Power Week: Why we have reason to celebrate

(Guest post by George Caan, executive director of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association)

George Caan - Portrait

George Caan, WPUDA Exec. Dir.

Sometime today you will use electricity.  It may be in your office, when you make your morning coffee, or when you login to your computer. Electricity is a staple of our lives and of our economy.  October 4-10 is National Public Power Week; a national, annual event sponsored in conjunction with the American Public Power Association recognizing the 2,000 public utilities across the nation that collectively provide electricity on a not-for-profit basis to 46 million Americans. While Public Power Week isn’t a holiday marked on your calendar and won’t likely be celebrated with family gatherings, special decorations, or a large sphere dropping in Times Square, that doesn’t mean it should go by without at least a little recognition – because here in Washington state, not-for-profit, consumer-owned utilities play an important role in meeting the daily electricity needs of communities.

Public Power’s contribution

Washington’s consumer-owned utilities serve more than half of all electric customers while delivering almost two-thirds of the electricity in the state. Public Utility Districts, part of the public power family, serve almost a third of the state’s electricity needs and about half the state geographically. As not-for-profit utilities owned by the communities they serve and governed by locally-elected boards of commissioners, PUDs not only strive to help residential customers maintain comfort in their homes but also work to support local, mainly rural economies. This Public Power Week is a good time focus on the contribution of public power as an economic driver in our state.

Rates and reliability are key factors in attracting new industry to Washington and helping existing businesses thrive. Washington’s PUDs offer the lowest electricity rates in the nation. Not-for-profit services along with local control and local accountability contributes to affordability and reliability in areas served by PUDs, providing a competitive advantage for existing businesses as well as those seeking to expand or to locate in Washington.

A source of clean energy

But affordability and reliability are just part of the picture. Washington’s consumer-owned utilities offer something else in demand by many businesses and industries: clean energy. Washington consumer-owned utilities are far out ahead of the curve nationally, serving customers with some of the cleanest energy in the nation, thanks to our vast hydropower resources complimented by other renewable energy resources and nuclear power. In fact, 95 percent of the resources that serve PUD customers produce zero greenhouse gases, an attractive feature not only for residents but for businesses and industries seeking to power their operations with clean energy.

Energy Northwest has 27 public power member utilities located throughout the state of Washington.

Energy Northwest has 27 public power member utilities located throughout the state of Washington.

Promoting conservation and efficiency

To maximize our existing clean energy resources and keep rates affordable, PUDs have a long history of promoting conservation and energy as a least-cost, environmentally friendly resource. In 2014 alone, PUDs helped customers save more than 350,000 megawatt-hours of electricity. That is enough to power more than 30,000 homes. Industrial and business customers have seen the financial advantage of working with their local PUDs on energy efficiency improvements with bottom line energy savings.

As Public Power Week gets underway, you don’t have to celebrate by carving a large orange gourd or sending out “Public Power Week” greeting cards; just take a moment when you flip on the light switch to remember there are consumer-owned utilities in Washington working hard for you, for our economy, and for our environment.

Seven Amazing Takeaways from the NuScale Expo

NuScale Power staged its first-ever NuScale Expo Thursday and Friday on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis, Ore. NuEx Event

The event, attended by more than 230 people, included a variety of knowledgeable speakers from government and the power industry, as well as tours of the local NuScale testing facilities.

If the intent was to create enthusiasm about how the NuScale small modular technology has the potential to change the energy world, it was a job well done.

To catch-up the uninitiated on NuScale’s plans, from their website:

NuScale Power has developed a small, scalable pressurized water reactor technology, engineered with passive safety features. The 50 MWe NuScale Power Module provides power in increments that can be scaled to 600 MWe (gross) in a single facility.
The small size and design simplicity allows the NuScale Power Module™ to be factory-built off-site. This makes NuScale plants faster to construct, and less expensive to build and operate. The NuScale Power SMR provides Clients with economical, reliable, and carbon-free generation source.

Here are my seven takeaways from the two-day event.

1. “It’s not a paper tiger.”

NuScale CEO John Hopkins made that statement in his opening remarks. And it resonated. Hopkins spent nearly 25 years with Fluor in a variety of posts before becoming chairman and CEO of NuScale in 2012. He also serves as vice-chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. One immediately gets the impression that this is a man interested in seeing things built and built right.

I mentioned creating enthusiasm earlier, but Mr. Hopkins’ main thrust seemed to be inevitability, which is equally important. The path to 2024, the date when the first NuScale facility could begin producing carbon-free power, is a difficult one, yes, but manageable with the tenacity and passion on display from the NuScale leadership. Look at any breakthrough technology or development of the past 150 years and you will find those two attributes in spades.

2. “NuScale has the potential to be larger than Fluor is today.”

Fluor CFO Biggs Porter delivered a big dose of inevitability with his presentation explaining why Fluor took a strong interest in NuScale in 2011 – and put its money where its interest was, to the tune of $170 million and counting. As Mr. Porter made clear, the market potential for NuScale is estimated at 1,500 deployed modules by 2035, leading to the statement quoted above. Fluor is #136 on the Fortune 500 with 43,000 employees and revenue of $21.5 billion.

The applications for the NuScale SMR are varied, from balancing renewables to powering desalination plants. In fact, eight NuScale modules could power a desalination plant providing enough drinking water for a city of 300,000 people. Hello, California?

3. Idaho is just fine with being known for potatoes – and nuclear energy.

This blog has a natural predilection for Washington-grown potatoes, but acknowledges that Idaho really put the potato on the map, as it were. And Idaho is ready to do the same for small modular reactors. With Washington state’s help.

Currently, the plan is to build a NuScale SMR in Idaho. Energy Northwest, based in Richland, Wash., has right of first refusal to be the operator. The power would go to member utilities of UAMPS, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, based in Salt Lake City.

Reddemann

Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann.

During NuEx, Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann explained EN’s role in developing the licensing and training programs for operation and maintenance of that first NuScale SMR. There are long lead times involved and work is beginning in earnest to ensure the licensing and operator training programs are in place well before initial criticality (consider procedures need to be drafted; the trainers who will train the operators need to be trained and so forth).

That’s why recent criticism that SMR activity in Washington state, such as siting work, is “premature” is simply misplaced. Why not be prepared?

The Idaho team at NuEx impressed me with the state’s desire to support the location of NuScale’s first SMR, targeted for the Idaho National Lab on Department of Energy land, near Idaho Falls.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeffery Sayer, who also spoke passionately about his state, played up the “nimble” and “collaborative” nature of Idaho (and its politics) when it comes to welcoming and developing business partnerships. In other words, they can make it happen.

“Idaho is ready to provide the leadership. This is leadership that NuScale needs, that nuclear needs. And we want to bring this project across the finish line,” Mayor Casper told the NuEx audience.

Mayor Casper is a big fan of nuclear energy and that’s why she’s on board. But also, as it should be with all mayors, her community comes first – and she sees a brighter future in partnering with NuScale so she’s creating the environment for hosting the SMR and perhaps the manufacturing plant to build them.

Could Washington state be home to the second NuScale SMR? As Mr. Reddemann pointed out in an interview, 63 percent of Washington residents support nuclear energy and that number jumps to more than 90 percent in the Richland-area, home to Columbia Generating Station.

“This is the exact opposite of NIMBY. When (electricity) demand recovers, we’d love to be able to build a set of NuScale small modular reactors right next to Columbia,” Reddemann said.

4. NuScale started with an empty room and a $4,000 grant.

Reyes

NuScale co-founder Dr. Jose Reyes in a NuScale test facility.

New technologies need evangelists and NuScale has a great one in Dr. Jose Reyes, co-founder of the company and its current chief technology officer. One is hard-pressed not to join in his excitement as he explains certain technical aspects of the project’s design, because it appears no matter how many times he relays the information (and it has to be a lot), it still sounds fresh, his eyes still gleam.

In this digital age, recent examples of evangelists are Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Imagine Apple without Jobs. Would there even be an Apple as we know it with its innovations in technology and design?

Dr. Reyes brings heart and soul to nuclear energy in a vital way for a new technology. When things get difficult, when there are setbacks (as is inevitable), who’s driving the team by reminding them that the heartaches and setbacks are worth it because, after all, we’re changing lives and the world? The evangelist. And the team pushes on and finds a way to succeed because they know it’s important that they do. They know their place in the world and what their success can mean for future generations. That’s what an evangelist can do for you.

From a $4,000 grant to potentially $21.5 billion in revenue? It takes more than a good idea to make that happen.

5. Nuclear energy is safer than Sunday brunch.

Yes, it’s true. Scientist and Forbes blogger Jim Conca was on hand to put the safety of nuclear energy into perspective – in the accessible way he always approaches complex scientific and technical issues.

One of the data points for increased deployment of nuclear energy is its awesome safety record. Mr. Conca utilizes a series of slides to demonstrate just how safe nuclear energy is compared to all the relatively normal activities out there that are actually harming us. The leading category for trouble is iatrogenic illness, what Mr. Conca calls “medicine gone wrong.” You go in for treatment and end up dying. That’s number one. Others include smoking, alcohol, car accidents. There are many things that can do us harm – nuclear energy just isn’t one of them.

Nuclear energy is at the bottom of this list, with a relative danger index of 0.0000001. Eating, or food poisoning, has an index of 0.00008. In the U.S., 25,000 people a year are still killed by food poisoning. None by nuclear energy.

Which is one reason, among forms of energy generation, nuclear, on a per trillion kilowatt-hour basis, is better than all other forms of energy. That’s a fact.

6. “When people are scared, facts don’t matter.”

Dr. Scott Tinker’s presentation laid out the world energy picture now and into the future (with the appropriate caveats about predictions, of course). (Find out more about his documentary “Switch”).

But while all signs pointed to nuclear energy as a necessary, vital part of our energy future, there was also the cautionary statement about the “big lift.” What is it? Public education and acceptance, or as Dr. Tinker put it, “the social right to operate” a nuclear power plant.

Take this exchange recently on social media. Nuclear Comment

With some people, no rational argument will work. Still, engagement is necessary because there are many others for whom it will work, we just haven’t reached them yet.

Going beyond facts is an ongoing and necessary discussion in the nuclear energy universe, because, as Jim Conca explained, during the Cold War we were very good at scaring people about nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy suffered (undeserved) collateral damage.

Just recognizing this communication deficiency is the first step to change, and there are many efforts underway, through blogs, through social media (the team at the Nuclear Energy Institute has been superb), to begin to show the human-side of nuclear energy and that while nuclear weapons are about taking lives, nuclear energy is about improving and saving lives.

Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute.

This is the point where Michael Shellenberger and The Breakthrough Institute have been invaluable in beginning to help people understand the true power of nuclear energy to save the environment. Yes, nuclear energy can save the environment!

How?

Shellenberger explained during his talk that nuclear energy uses the smallest amount of resources to produce the largest amount of energy with little environmental impact and leaves the smallest amount of waste. As the planet grows more energy intensive – and it will – nuclear needs to be front and center to lift millions and millions of people out of poverty. More energy means less poverty and more productive lives. Oh, and cleaner air if we get that energy from nuclear.

7. This is the right thing to do.

On so many levels, this is an endeavor that legions of people can embrace. The caliber of people joining the mission is impressive. For instance, NuScale has 17 PhD’s from Oregon State University working for them now. You don’t think they want to play a role in changing the world?

Jobs. Clean air energy. Reliable and affordable electricity. Abundant water through desalination. More renewables through firming. And the safest form of electricity generation made safer.

For those attending the NuEx conference, 2024 can’t come soon enough.

(Posted by John Dobken)