Recognizing the whole value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Columbia Generating Station.

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

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

(Posted by Energy Northwest)

Nuclear energy after Fukushima

At 2:46 in the afternoon of March 11, 2011, Reid Tanaka was at home in Yokosuka, Japan, putting the final touches on his retirement speech. Tanaka had served the U.S. Navy his whole career, including stints aboard four submarines and a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. His last position before retirement was Chief-of-Staff, Task Force 70, aboard the U.S.S. George Washington, a carrier, then permanently forward deployed to Yokosuka.

Reid Tanaka Portrait

Reid Tanaka

“Growing up in California, I was accustomed to the occasional earthquake which would shake us for several seconds,” Tanaka said. “After which, we would conduct some cursory checks of our surroundings and resume our normal routine.”

Not this day. The shaking from the first quake lasted five minutes, followed by a series of intense aftershocks. But the real destructive force was yet to come.

“I didn’t really think about tsunamis until we turned on the TV and saw the tsunami warnings up and down the coast. My thinking had been backwards. There was not a lot of earthquake damage but as we were soon to find out, the tsunami was terribly destructive and massive,” Tanaka recounts.

Indeed. The tsunami, which killed more than 16,000 people, struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant about an hour after the earthquake. The 45-foot tall wall of Map of Fukushimawater destroyed back-up diesel generators that had been cooling Daiichi’s reactor cores after the earthquake knocked-out offsite power to the plant. With no way to cool the reactor cores, three melted down, releasing hydrogen that exploded in the days that followed, demolishing two of the reactor buildings’ secondary containment structures.

For Tanaka, retirement would have to wait.

“The U.S. Navy is well organized for natural disasters, as we often deploy in response to such disasters. After the earthquake, we manned up command centers to take care of the people who might be affected on the base, and get our ships and aircraft ready to deploy to assist the government of Japan. My role was to serve in the latter,” Tanaka said.

Reid Tanaka will be telling his story of being on the ground in the aftermath of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, as well as the response to Fukushima, at Ada’s Technical Books and Café on July 26. The event is sponsored by Friends of Fission, a grassroots group of nuclear energy advocates in the Seattle-area.

Adas Event

We asked Tanaka about his experiences and how seeing the events of Fukushima up close impacted his thoughts and feelings about nuclear energy.

As a nuclear adviser to the U.S. Military Commander, what was your role in the weeks and months after the disaster as events unfolded at Fukushima?

The role was ad hoc and not clearly defined. I was given quite free rein and engaged in many different aspects over the course of the ensuing year.

While the military was focused on relief efforts, the Fukushima reactor accident became a focus of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy – Nuclear Energy, and the National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as capturing the interest of the nuclear power utilities and industry in the U.S. The U.S. technical response was fortified by U.S. utilities and industry which were led by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators. The U.S. nuclear team was headed by the NRC which set up headquarters in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

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Relief operations following the Tohuko earthquake and tsunami aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.

A response task force pulls active duty people from all over the Navy who have other “day jobs” and reservists who get “called up” for weeks at a time. Since I was about to retire and had no permanent position, I was an available nuclear trained senior officer and was assigned to replace one of the (joint task force’s) nuclear advisers. The primary role was to help the coordination between the JTF and the U.S. Embassy in the best way I could. Over the next year, I found myself in many roles as the nature of the crisis changed.

Reflecting back, I spent nearly all my time (when not in meetings) poring over technical briefs and reports by the various ministries and agencies from the Japanese government and by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Some people point to the events at Fukushima as a reason not to have nuclear power, but you seem to have come away with a different perspective?

The Fukushima crisis made me look hard at energy. The loss of the 10 reactors at Fukushima Daiichi (6) and Daiini (4) put a major hole in supply as the warm season began. Further exacerbating the shortage, Japan reacted by shutting down all nuclear power plants over the course of a year. In the meantime, the elevators, escalators, lighting and air conditioners were shut down as the citizens in north central Japan aggressively reduced energy consumption. It was a miserable, sweltering summer in Tokyo. In the meantime, to make up for the loss of nuclear capacity, Japan began to resurrect decommissioned fossil fuel plants and imports of oil began to swell.

Any look at energy naturally leads to discussions on global warming and fossil fuels. In examining alternatives, other than nuclear, we are primarily left with a combination of conservation, solar and wind.

If industrialized people were satisfied with intermittent and inconsistent electrical power as experienced in many parts of the third world, then I can perhaps see being satisfied in leaving nuclear power off the table. If people want to reduce our carbon footprint and have reliable energy then I see no other viable way without nuclear power.

“Concerns over global warming demands low or no carbon emitting electrical generation; and I conclude nuclear must play a role.
“Since nuclear is required, then Fukushima provides us a strong reason to improve, not abandon, nuclear power plants.”

 

Since nuclear energy is vital to our energy future, what do people need to know about it to feel more comfortable with it as an energy choice?

Life is full of trade-offs and we are best served in finding the right balance. The world is full of uninformed opinions which unfortunately tip the scales in the wrong direction. With respect to energy, perhaps the biggest trade-off we make today is gaining the near-term tangible economic benefits from burning fossil fuels. The payment comes later: in the long-term, intangible consequence of global warming and climate change; the soot in the air and ash in our water; the damage to our ecology from drilling and mining; and the eventual spike in energy prices as fossil fuels deplete in this finite earth. Some, like me, would consider our trade-offs are out-of-balance.

Similarly, some would say the trade-off in nuclear also has unacceptable costs. If we were to gain the advantages of long-term low carbon, plentiful, baseload electrical energy from nuclear we would have to accept the payment of long-term waste concerns and potential reactor accidents. In my opinion, the advantages are underappreciated and the fear of radiation (which drives the payment concerns) is overblown. In consequence, the scales, here too, are out-of-balance.

Today’s nuclear power cannot compete given that cheap energy is taken for granted in the U.S. When was the last time you worried that your refrigerator wasn’t running, or your lights wouldn’t come on, or your hot water wasn’t hot? When was the last time your car ran out of gas because you couldn’t find a place to refuel? When was the last time you had to adjust your Netflix binge-watching schedule because of the brown-out from a lack of wind or from a cloudy day? I believe once we start having to worry about on-demand, ubiquitous power, we might change our minds.

Today’s nuclear power cannot compete with the low prices of natural gas (in the U.S.) and coal (in India and China) as long as we aren’t concerned about our carbon dioxide and methane emissions. If we are serious about the latter, we must find a way to pay the higher cost today. As hinted in the previous paragraph, wind or solar cannot provide the complete solution.

Today’s nuclear power cannot compete given our unfounded concerns about the long-term disposition of spent fuel. Today’s storage systems are quite acceptable for decades if not centuries. The amount of spent fuel assemblies in the U.S. is relatively small and the land use footprint can be measured in terms of a football field.

Today’s nuclear power cannot compete if we fail to renew with modern designs. I advocate investigating advanced reactor designs which reflect the technology of this millennium and not the last. Passive safety is a key design requirement of all designs since Fukushima. Passive safety essentially means the reactor will shut down and cool down without the need for external power or human intervention during an accident. (Editor’s note: NuScale’s small modular reactor is one such design).

You looked at the renewables industry after retiring from the Navy, but came back to nuclear energy. Why was that?

I like solar and wind power. I think they have a place. But I think they will only provide a fraction of what we want (and only in localized areas). They certainly do not appear to be able to provide the continuity of base-load power demanded by a modern industrialized society.

Energy storage systems would certainly help smooth the production (supply) ripples, but to date, no large capacity system which can be efficiently scaled and is economical has been identified.

I’ve also read about a number of different contrarian issues such as the land use demand, the cost and supply limitation of exotic materials, the long-term maintenance costs, and the amount of (energy intensive) concrete which would be needed (to build out large amounts of wind and solar). All told, solar and wind are not as “green” as one would first believe.

Until we get the di-lithium crystal warp engines of the Starship Enterprise or the Mr. Fusion DeLorean of Doc Brown we will need fission.

How do you see advanced reactor technology changing perceptions about nuclear energy?

If our government decides to make America a great technology leader again, where we take an aggressive role in education, research and development; where we use our vast talent in our citizenry; where we take advantage of our national laboratories and universities; and where we develop and demonstrate new reactor technologies, then perhaps we can celebrate the nuclear renaissance for which we were known in the 1940s through 1970s.

A second, more likely scenario, less desirable, but better than nothing, is to rely upon other countries. China and India are determined to build advanced reactors. If they are successful in demonstrating a reduction of accident risk (and public evacuation), reduction of long-term waste concerns, and lower costs, then I believe we might be able to convince a skeptical U.S. citizenry to get on board.

Finally, there are a few voices in the nuclear frontier that have resources and clout and have a chance of achieving that break through. One being Bill Gates.

(Posted by John Dobken)

 

Young voices lifting up the pro-nuclear movement

The audience was surprised.

The young man who came to talk to them about advocacy for nuclear energy was standing before them belting out an operatic version of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man from La Mancha.” As far as utility conferences go, one could call this a departure from the norm.

Eric Meyer

Eric Meyer of Generation Atomic speaking at the Northwest Public Power Association annual meeting.

But Eric Meyer is a man of many talents, opera being but one (B.A. in Vocal Music). Grassroots advocacy is another, hence his founding of Generation Atomic. His talk to the Northwest Public Power Association in Sunriver, Ore., this spring showed how direct outreach to people is helping build support for nuclear energy in the places it is needed most – currently Ohio. There, two nuclear energy plants are facing difficult times due to deregulated energy markets that don’t adequately value reliable and carbon-free electricity.

“We deregulated the energy markets thinking the only thing that mattered was price to consumers,” Meyer told me. “Then we realized that wasn’t the whole story. We care about clean energy. We care about reliable energy.”

Getting started

Meyer hadn’t thought much about nuclear energy growing up and admits he probably had a vague disrespect for it because of watching The Simpsons. But in 2009, a friend sent Meyer a video on molten salt reactors.

“(I)n that video they talked about other reactor designs and how with nuclear you can do things that you can’t do with other energy sources, like make carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, desalinate water and, just in general, have reliable electricity that doesn’t harm the environment.”

That opened his mind to the concept of nuclear energy being a good thing. So he changed his education focus to public policy and advocacy and a year ago jumped into nuclear advocacy with both feet.

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Courtesy: March for Environmental Hope

“(Pro-nuclear environmentalist) Michael Shellenberger invited me to come out to Berkeley and help organize a pro-nuclear climate march, the March for Environmental Hope. We had three big events and were able to build some momentum,” Meyer said.

Meyer felt more could be done on a grassroots level – and that more should be done to begin building the base of nuclear energy support. So Meyer started Generation Atomic with Tay Stevenson using campaign-style tactics that had worked for them before, such as in Minnesota building support for gay marriage legislation.

“There’s always been a small contingent of pro-nuclear people, people who work at the plants, or your enthusiasts, who haven’t had an opportunity to go into communities before,” Meyer explained. “There’s never been a door-to-door operation for nuclear. There’s been these efforts for clean water, renewables. You go back 30 years and the public wasn’t calling their legislators demanding renewables standards or subsidies. That took a grassroots effort.”

Generation Atomic is so grassroots that for the Ohio campaign, six people shared a Sandusky duplex and slept on air mattresses. “I don’t think we could have made it more clear how grassroots we were.”

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While the accommodations weren’t fancy, Generation Atomic is running a sophisticated operation. Volunteers go door-to-door with a smart phone app that allows potential supporters to find their own path to why favoring nuclear energy is a good thing. And it works. Nearly 60 percent of residents they speak with sign on to the cause, according to Generation Atomic, and nearly 54 percent will take action.

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Screen shots from the smartphone app Generation Atomic developed for volunteers.

“The plant workers get it. The enthusiasts get it. The climate scientists get it. But the public at-large is either not thinking about it or has their perception colored by the media in general,” Meyer said. “The general message (for canvassers) is, ‘nuclear is good for your community in these different ways.’ What’s most important to you?”

Those ways may be jobs, school funding or environmental benefits. “People don’t understand they like nuclear until they understand the implications of losing it.”

Generation Atomic is benefiting from, well, a generation of Americans who see nuclear through a different lens. It’s not about a missile crisis, fall-out shelters or doomsday clocks. They understand technology and how it can help society; it’s comfortable. The only doomsday clock they worry about relates to the climate. For them, nuclear energy is a solution. A good one.

Students4Nuclear
Good examples of that mindset can be found in Emma Redfoot and Kelley Verner, the University of Idaho graduate students behind Students For Nuclear, a group for students “who have decided that developing and supporting nuclear energy is an important and meaningful way to spend their lives.”

Each came to nuclear energy along different paths. We had a chance to speak to Emma and Kelley during a recent visit to Columbia Generating Station. Watch these short videos to learn more about how they decided to support nuclear energy.

 

 

Learn more about Students for Nuclear by visiting their website.

Unrelenting advocacy
After earning a bachelor’s in nuclear engineering at Texas A&M, Jean Lim found himself in Seattle, not exactly a hotbed of nuclear advocacy. Not yet.

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Jean Lim, Friends of Fission

“People outside the field of study don’t get many opportunities to be in positive conversations about nuclear,” Lim says. “They don’t get a chance to understand what nuclear energy can do for the environment, and really, themselves.”

Lim began his nuclear energy journey while still in high school, wondering what he would choose as a major. Nuclear’s carbon-free generation caught his attention and that’s the direction he ultimately chose. Now he’s working toward a Master’s degree and one day he hopes to work on Generation IV nuclear technology.

“The people I encountered within school and industry were driven and passionate individuals that believed in a science that can better mankind, and I still want to be a part of that. It may have been less romantic in their minds, but that was what I saw,” Lim said.

Lim’s passion for nuclear energy brought him closer to a fledgling group of nuclear energy advocates in the Seattle area, now known as the Friends of Fission.

“After moving here, I took some classes at a local community college to keep up with my technical skills and studies. I also started working with a work counselor and she urged me to continue creating nuclear Industry connections,” Lim said.

One of her suggestions was checking out Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe, as they were hosting a radiation talk that week. The talk happened to be organized by the founders of Friends of Fission, and affiliated with Cascadia Climate Action. Lim found out they wanted to do more talks focused on nuclear energy. “At that point I felt I had a way to continue advocating for nuclear power at a new place, so I started to work with them.”

Lim has helped the group with organizing events and designing graphics to promote them. The positive message of nuclear energy helping the planet with reliable electricity and clean air motivates him.

“We break away from the doom and gloom other environmentalists preach, and try to showcase a piece of the puzzle that can drastically improve our fight against climate change,” Lim told me.

With clear eyes

What I take away from these conversations is that this generation is more fact-based in its focus on solving the big issues, such as climate change, almost linear, in fact. If climate change is devastating to people and the planet, and low-carbon electricity helps reduce climate change, then nuclear energy is a good thing and we should have more of it. They look at arguments such as “what about the waste?” and see answers based in science and opportunities for new technology, not roadblocks or fear. In short, it’s hope shining through.

Yes, there’s something happening here. Make sure you take time to stop and look around.

Then join in. After all, this is the Summer of Nuclear.

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(Posted by John Dobken)

Make this the Summer of Nuclear

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Nukes

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

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

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

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

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

Well, nuclear energy is also carbon-free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The planet will thank you.

(Posted by John Dobken)

A real nuclear (energy) family

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

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

On Turbine

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

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

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

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

Directing

James Raila directs a suspended piece of equipment.

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

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

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

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

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

(Posted by John Dobken; photos by Olivia Weakley)

Analysis confirms nuclear’s value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing with numbers

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

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

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

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

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

Doing the math

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

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

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

McCullough Chart new

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

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

Other report issues

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

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

The Public Power Council report catches this mistake.

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

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

Here’s why:

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

Reports, reports

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

As another regional energy expert said about this McCullough report:

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

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

(Posted by John Dobken)

 

Of Marches and More

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

That statement does not contain a lot of wriggle room.

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

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


PowerPoint Presentation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor, heal thyself.

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

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

Yeah, science did that.

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

(Posted by John Dobken)

Making the Case for Nuclear Energy: 5 Questions

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

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

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

Speakers


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Conca Salt I0001

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

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

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

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

 

Scott M Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2040

Kristin Zaitz with children Oliver and Kate.

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

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

lab_dinner

Dr. Nick Touran of TerraPower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Posted by John Dobken)

Reader Beware: apples and oranges alert

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

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

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

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

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

mr-lcoe

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

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

This is not a small point.

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

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

And one could add water.

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

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

BPA Source Graph.png

Is that value worth something? We think so.

Diversity is key

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

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

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

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

(Posted by John Dobken)

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

(From the Nuclear Energy Institute/Environmental Progress)

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

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

NY_CESvs3

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

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

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

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


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

EP photo.jpg

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

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

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

Read more at their blog here.

(Post by John Dobken)