At Energy Northwest we are proud of what we do. Our job is to make a difference in the lives of the communities we serve by providing safe, reliable, affordable and 100% carbon-free electricity. We are proud to power this region, because the Pacific Northwest is our home too. #PublicPower #cleanenergy #carbonfree
There’s quite a bit of quibbling going on over several carbon-related bills in the Washington state legislature that dare to count nuclear energy as a clean, or carbon-free, electricity generating resource. In a world not tainted by ideology and entrenched environmentalism, this would not be an issue. Basic science tells us that nuclear energy generates no carbon in the fission process. But basic science never had to fundraise as these groups do.
(3) “Carbon-free resource” includes: (a) A resource that emits no greenhouse gas pollution as part of its generation activity; or (b) a renewable resource.
That appears to be both logical and plain-spoken. The enemy is carbon. Reducing carbon is what the whole climate change/global warming thing is about.
Or should be.
But Washington state “environmental” groups have other agendas, including eliminating nuclear energy from the planet. The old saying is, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. These anti-nuclear energy groups prefer to dig us deeper before we begin climbing back out. That adds time we don’t have and money we don’t have. So why pursue that path?
Denial of facts
The reason is obvious. These groups have a deep anti-nuclear energy strain running through them, one that runs deeper than the consequences of climate change. These same groups will tell us that not acting now on climate change will lead to rising oceans, forest fires, deadly droughts and more. But in the next breath they will say nuclear isn’t “clean” because it produces used nuclear fuel. There is no link between used nuclear fuel and rising oceans, forest fires, deadly droughts nor any human nor environmental calamity. None. And there never will be. That’s why it’s important for these groups to confuse the public and mention “Hanford” when talking about nuclear energy. The Hanford Site is a defense waste clean-up effort. (See our video series on the issue.)
Nuclear energy is carbon-free. Its lifecycle emissions, which include uranium mining and fuel processing, are on par with wind and better than hydro, solar and all the rest. Don’t take our word for it, that’s what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded.
The leading climate change scientists all have come to support nuclear energy because of its low-carbon lifecycle (and grid resilience).
President Obama supported nuclear as being part of a clean energy mix.
And currently, politicians from both sides of the aisle support nuclear energy because it is both reliable and carbon-free.
What is important is the ability to have as many carbon-free electricity resources at our disposal as we can. We need to maintain existing nuclear energy resources (currently 60 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity) while continuing to develop new nuclear technology that improves on reliability and makes already world-class safe nuclear even safer.
But what one heard at a recent senate hearing on SB 6253 is a denial of reality for ideological purposes. See for yourself:
Moderate, reasonable, environmental voices understand this. While they don’t wave the nuclear banner they aren’t willing to burn it, either. That’s important. It allows for discussion and to seek consensus based on reality and facts, not time-worn ideology. Nuclear energy is not the solution to every problem, but utilities need to be able to make the best decisions for their customers and the environment. They shouldn’t be hamstrung by ideology masquerading as environmental concern.
Decarbonizing is hard
The Northwest is blessed with abundant hydro resources which get us a long way in our effort to rid the electricity sector (and then the transportation sector) of carbon. But getting the rest of the way is, um, tricky. We have the water in the Northwest. The Midwest has the wind. The Southwest has the sun. It would be silly, as Stanford’s Mark Jacobson suggested, trying to power the Northwest with things it doesn’t have in abundance.
For instance, there are entire weeks here when the wind doesn’t blow. Seven days!
What’s the back-up plan? Unless there is a back-up plan that means burning a lot of fossil fuels. The thermal line in the graph above includes nuclear, but is mostly coal and natural gas with some biomass. Except for nuclear, the rest add carbon to the atmosphere.
Of course, there’s always a solution, and the word “easy” is often added by those who advocate for renewable everything. David Roberts at Vox put the lie to that in his latest piece:
“So if you take nuclear and CCS [carbon capture and storage] off the table, you’re cutting out a big chunk of dispatchable capacity. That means other dispatchable resources have to dramatically scale up to compensate — we’d need a lot of new transmission, a lot of new storage, a lot of demand management, and a lot of new hydro, biogas, geothermal, and whatever else we can think of…”
But it seems clear that the groups mentioned earlier don’t fully grasp what it takes to power communities and states. Sean O’Leary, who does communications for the Northwest Energy Coalition, asked on Twitter what need could be met by new nuclear energy that couldn’t be handled by new renewables at less cost. The simple answer we provided: capacity.
In this scenario from last summer (see graphic below) when the temperatures reached triple digits across the Northwest, one sees the wind disappearing. How do utilities make up for that loss? Through dispatchable resources that provide system capacity. For the Northwest, that means cranking up the hydro (if the water is available), and ramping up the fossils. This situation is helped by having 1,200 megawatts of carbon-free nuclear working for the grid around the clock.
When the wind comes back up, the fossils are reduced. California deals with this every day as part of the “duck curve,” with late afternoon solar giving way to natural gas and other dispatchable forms of generation.
The recent study by San Francisco-based Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) found that relying on renewables alone won’t get us to the deep decarbonization the state is looking for. But an approach that values all low-carbon resources, while including some natural gas, is the lowest cost path.
The E3 study found the most cost-effective strategy is one that involves eliminating all coal generation (coal accounts for 80 percent of electricity sector emissions for Washington and Oregon) and replacing it with a combination of energy efficiency, renewables (about 11,000 megawatts) and natural gas generation (about 7,000 megawatts). (Note: These numbers are for the Pacific Northwest region, not just Washington state). This scenario uses market-based policies to achieve 21 million metric tons of emission reductions, an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels. The cost? About $1 billion per year, or 6 percent more than a base scenario which does not include any new policy initiatives.
Compare that to the 50 percent renewable portfolio standard scenario which would cost more than twice as much, $2.1 billion per year, but yield only about half the carbon reduction results, just 11 million metric tons of emissions reductions. The study shows that new wind and solar tend to reduce gas generation instead of coal, and more than 60 percent of the renewable energy is either exported or curtailed. As states such as California race to increase their RPS mandates, the study’s results are a reason to pause and re-evaluate the path forward.
Prohibiting the construction of new natural gas plants is even less effective. This scenario adds $1.2 billion per year of costs, but carbon emissions are largely unchanged because older, less efficient gas plants simply run more. Some amount of new gas generation is needed to ensure that power is available when we need it most, and can be accommodated without increasing overall emissions.
Equally important to sound carbon reduction policy is maintaining existing zero-carbon generation resources. The study found these resources, such as the Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility and large hydro dams, provide significant benefits under a carbon cap scenario. Replacing only 2,000 MW of these resources with carbon-free electricity would require 5,500 MW of renewable energy capacity along with “2,000 MW of new natural gas capacity to meet peak load needs,” the study said, at an additional cost of $1.6 billion per year.
Going forward we need sensible approaches to reducing carbon in the electricity sector. It would be a shame to have that effort derailed by groups beholden to old ideologies and special interests. If they succeed in their efforts to deny basic science and reality, we all lose. We don’t have to. We can build a better clean energy future working together. We’re ready.
(Posted by John Dobken)
A survey (Columbia 2017 Plant Neighbor Survey 12-17) by Bisconti Research found 87 percent of residents near Columbia Generating Station have a favorable impression of the nuclear energy plant and the way it is operated, which is slightly higher than the national benchmark for nuclear plants. The poll of 300 residents living within a 10-mile radius of the plant was conducted in October and November. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent.
One of the key survey findings is that support for Columbia, located 10 miles north of Richland, comes from safe plant operations and favorable views of owner Energy Northwest regarding safety, the economy, jobs, the environment, and community outreach.
“If you look at similar surveys across the county, the people closest to us, who know us the best, give us the strongest support,” said CEO Mark Reddemann. “They understand but look beyond the energy piece of providing reliable, carbon-free electricity. They see the tangible impact of a thousand good-paying jobs and people who volunteer their time to strengthen our community.”
Columbia plant neighbors also show a deep favorability to nuclear energy in general. A full 94 percent favor its use in the U.S. That’s 13 points higher than the national plant neighbor average (Final-National-Plant-Neighbor-Survey-(2017)-REPORT), which includes a total of 59 plant sites. Ninety-two percent of Columbia neighbors believe nuclear energy will be important to meeting the nation’s electricity needs in the future.
When it comes to the benefits associated with nuclear energy, job creation, clean air, reliability and advanced technology led the survey results. All results were higher locally than the national plant neighbor average, as were affordability, energy security and nuclear energy as a solution for climate change.
“The views on climate change are important,” Reddemann said. “If we’re to solve this problem responsibly, we have to know which source provides most of our carbon-free electricity and many people simply don’t. It’s good to see a majority in our community grasp the value nuclear provides there.”
Opinions about Energy Northwest were also favorable, exceeding the national average for operators. Ninety percent said they were confident in the agency’s ability to operate the plant safely and that Columbia is prepared to withstand severe natural events that may occur in the region.
In terms of protecting the environment, 88 percent feel EN is doing a good job in that area.
That support could be one reason 86 percent of plant neighbors would like to see another nuclear energy facility located near Columbia Generating Station. Nationally, 68 percent of plant neighbors support another nuclear plant being located near them.
Columbia Generating Station, with 1,207 megawatts of gross capacity, is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. All of its electricity is sold at-cost to the Bonneville Power Administration, and 92 Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.
(Posted by EN staff)
So false solutions like divestment or “Oh, it’s easy to do” hurt our ability to fix the problems. Distinguishing a real solution from a false solution is actually very complicated. – Bill Gates, from the Atlantic, Nov. 2015
No. This post isn’t about the game of Jeopardy. That’s not the question. The question is about roll-out of renewables. And how reality factors into that.
Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University has written a document about renewables. In The Solutions Project, Jacobson describes how each of the 50 states can switch to 100 percent renewables for all energy use by 2050. If you go to the project website and look at the team section, you will see Professor Jacobson (who is a professor of engineering), with a board of directors filled by solar company executives, lawyers and filmmakers.
Well, that’s the board, and boards don’t need have to have technical expertise in the company’s technology. Let’s look at the staff leadership section, instead. In a renewable-energy not-for-profit, I would expect to see an executive director, an engineering group leader, and a communication group leader. There might be more groups, too, such as HR and fundraising. However, this project has four leaders: an executive director (of course), a creative director (huh?), an executive producer (huh?) and a state program director.
This organization sounds more like a film making company than an engineering organization. I don’t think a “creative director” and a “producer” are the most useful titles, if the goal is changing the energy mix in the United States.
I can’t call the Jacobson document a plan. It’s not a plan. (Maybe it’s a film.) Anyhow, I am going to call the Jacobson scenario “the untested vision.” Let’s look at this “vision” for Washington state, and compare it with the real world of that state.
The untested vision for Washington state
When you visit the Solutions Project and click on Washington state, the infographic shows the state relying on 100 percent Wind Water and Solar (WWS) for all energy purposes in 2050. Yes, WWS is supposed to provide energy for electricity, and transportation, and heating/cooling, and industry.
For 2050, the infographic shows the energy mix as approximately 35 percent hydro, 35 percent electricity from on-shore wind, 13 percent from offshore wind, 15 percent photovoltaic electricity, and a smattering of geothermal, tidal and wave devices. Since there is no biomass and no solar-hot-water or anything like that, it looks as if everything (heating, transportation, industry) will be based on generating electricity.
In another section, Jacobson describes the “ramp-up” to renewables for the state. In this document, he keeps the current level of hydro power for Washington, but phases out nuclear and fossil electricity with an array of wind turbines etc. Then he adds renewables for everything else.
Except for phasing out the clean-air nuclear plant and a small amount of fossil electricity, all the new renewables will go to substituting for gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating fuels, and fuels used in industrial processes. Also, by not including biomass in his plan, Jacobson basically excludes burning any fuel to make power or heat a home. He does imagine a hydrogen-based workaround, starting by making hydrogen with electricity, for some of the transportation sector. However, his transportation sector is mainly electric vehicles, as far as I can tell.
Wow. How to start reviewing this? Okay. Instead of trying to review the whole Untested Vision, I will just look at the wind turbines. (Some critiques of the entire scenario are at the bottom of this blog post.)
In the infographics for the Untested Vision for Washington state, onshore wind will equal current hydropower (35 percent of energy use), and offshore wind will add another 13 percent of the energy. Current hydropower makes about 80,000 GWh per year in Washington state. (For the calculations, see the note at the end of the article). A 3 MW wind turbine with a 33 percent capacity factor can be expected to make 8.7 GWh per year. Therefore, 80,000 GWh from on-shore wind would require something close to 10,000 turbines, 3 MW each, in Washington state. Please note that these are huge turbines (in contrast, the largest turbines at Energy Northwest’s Nine Canyon Wind Project are 2.3 MW), and I have also assumed a healthy capacity factor.
I think it is time to turn away from the Untested Vision and look at the real world.
The real-world thing
In the real world, a small nuclear plant (600 MW, 90 percent capacity factor) can make 4,700 GWh per year with no pollution and very little effect on the landscape. This is one of the reasons that Energy Northwest believes in the technology behind small modular reactors, and has first right of refusal to operate a planned NuScale SMR. The reactor will be built in Idaho.
However, Jacobson rejects nuclear as part of his Utopian Untested Vision, so let’s get back to those wind turbines.
First of all, as I have written in other blog posts, the intermittency of wind means that it must be backed up with other sources of electricity. Hydro is the most common back up, because it can ramp up and down quickly, to balance the wind. Hydro can come up quickly when the wind dies down. However, if there is enough wind, it will not be possible to manage the river as a wind-turbine backup. There are many other constraints on managing a river. Studies are showing the Columbia River as close to topped-out for wind-turbine backup.
Adding a great deal of wind to the Northwest grid probably can not be accommodated without adding fast-ramping gas turbines, also.
Nevertheless, Jacobson imagines more wind turbines on the grid than total hydropower. And the wind back-up will be what kind of energy? I have no idea under what balancing scenario Jacobson expects this to work.
What about current reality, though? Is wind being added to the local grid right now? Yes and no. Basically, it isn’t easy.
In the real world, in Washington state, there is an excellent wind turbine site at Whistling Ridge, and some people want a set of wind turbines at the site. A project with just 35 wind turbines has been planned since 2007, but it has always been blocked. Two years ago, in federal circuit court, the wind project won the right to connect to the grid. However, right now, the project is facing another challenge in federal appeals court.
This is not an assessment about this particular project. I am just showing that, in the real world, wind projects can be very hard to site and to permit. I don’t think that thousands of wind turbines are likely to be placed in Washington state over the next few years – or even decades.
If wind is the answer, what was the question?
Why is anyone proposing so many renewables? That is a question, and it has a clear answer. We hope to use renewables instead of fossil to achieve clean air and a low carbon footprint. However, Washington state’s electricity sector is already a leader in clean air power production, with hydro, nuclear and some wind. Only about 14 percent of Washington’s electricity comes from combustion sources: the rest is clean-air.
In Washington, the “dirty-fossil” part of the state energy mix is largely in the transportation sector.
However, despite Tesla’s fast-recharge stations (which are still much slower than filing a tank with gas), the transportation sector has not changed substantially. Moving the transportation sector away from fossil fuels would be a victory for clean air. But this victory would have nothing to do with wind turbines. It wouldn’t even have very much to do with adding Small Modular Reactors, which would be far more environmentally friendly than thousands of wind turbines.
The problem with changing the transportation sector away from fossil isn’t the availability of electricity: the problem (basically the “question”) is the price and range of the cars.
So, Jacobson has an unrealistic answer. However, worse than that, it is the answer to the wrong question.
When someone describes an answer, it is worth being certain that they have asked the right question. Thousands of wind turbines are the wrong answer to the wrong question.
(Post by Meredith Angwin)
Notes and links
Hydro calculation: Hydro calculation: The EIA shows Washington as generating 89,000 GWh of hydro in 2012, but only 78,000 in 2013. I have used 80,000 GWh as my rough estimate. EIA also shows Washington as generating a total of 114,000 GWh in 2013. In 2013, hydro generated 68 percent of Washington’s electricity
Two reviews of Jacobson’s Untested Vision:
1) Critical Review of Global Decarbonization Scenarios: What Do They Tell Us about Feasibility? Loftus et al, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, November 2014. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wcc.324/full
Of the various studies reviewed in the document, the Jacobson studies were among the least feasible. The Jacobson studies required very rapid growth of energy efficiency and renewable energy installations. These growth rates were far above anything that has been experienced in the world of energy technology change.
2) Andrew Revkin of the New York Times on how to tell an Energy Thought Experiment from a Roadmap, January 2015:
A Climate Hawk Separates Energy Thought Experiments from Road Maps.
(Guest post by George Caan, executive director of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association)
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.
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.
Energy Northwest is a clean air pioneer, and the potential development of modular reactors in Washington state will be a part of that clean air tradition. I recently wrote a blog post about this. However, just like a character in a movie doing a double-take, I realized that Washington’s clean air history was only part of the story. It’s not just a clean-air tradition: there’s an aircraft tradition, too!
What do most people think of when they hear the words “industry in Washington state”? They think of Boeing and Microsoft. But when it comes to regular nuts-and-bolts manufacturing, not software, but manufacturing that is world-class and competitive and makes big impressive machines… they think of Boeing.
Well, okay. I personally think of Boeing first because our son worked there for several years. I took the tour of Boeing and was incredibly impressed at the complex airplanes, huge machines with miles of wiring and extremely high safety requirements, that came off the assembly line. An assembly line! It completely amazed me (as it should amaze anyone) to see something so complicated made in such a routine way, to such high standards of quality and safety.
Just recently, Evan Twarog, a guest blogger at Atomic Insights, wrote a guest post at Rod Adams’ blog. This post reminded me of the aircraft side of Washington state history, and how that part of Washington’s heritage can affect the nuclear industry. Twarog’s post is titled: What Aircraft Manufacturers Can Teach the Nuclear Industry .
Twarog compares airplane manufacturing to the nuclear industry in terms of regulation, complexity of product, and safety requirements. He points out some painful differences, such as the fact that Boeing and Airbus can afford their license applications. Boeing has a market value around $90 billion, and Airbus is valued at $40 billion. For these two companies, it’s small change to spend $100 million (mere millions) on a license application for a new type of airplane. In contrast, for the start-up companies that want to build new types of nuclear plants, such high expenditures for licensing pose a serious problem which slows innovation. The airplane industry is definitely in better shape than the nuclear industry!
However, the nuclear industry can learn a great deal from the aircraft industry in many ways other than financing. Twarog reviews Boeing’s “9-Step Plan” which has increased the quality of manufacturing while decreasing the cost. He admires the Boeing “culture of innovation.” And of course, aircraft are built in modules: they are not the equivalent of conventional home construction. They are modular, and newer reactors (SMR- Small Modular Reactors) will also be modular in construction. As Twarog writes: Modularity has the potential to remake the nuclear industry, but it must be executed in a way that will live up to its true potential. The nuclear industry must learn the things the aircraft industry already knows.
And where better to learn these skills than Washington state, the exact state where the aircraft industry already practices these skills. I know that the legislature is considering various ways of encouraging SMRs in the state, and I personally hope the legislature succeeds in encouraging them. Building SMRs in Washington, recruiting some people who work at or who advise Boeing, could be the best place in the United States for this industry. That’s my opinion, anyway!
A word about Evan Twarog. He is a remarkable young man, graduating high school this year and heading off to the Coast Guard Academy. Twarog also was offered a significant scholarship to Renssellear Polytechnic Institute, after being nominated by his high school science teachers. However, he has chosen to go to the Coast Guard Academy. He also wrote an essay that won a global Rotary contest.
Evan is the son of John and Cheryl Twarog. John is a shift supervisor at Vermont Yankee. Even early in his high school career, the younger Twarog was a very well spoken advocate for Vermont Yankee. I am the director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont, and I was lucky enough to have Twarog as our intern one summer. To give you some idea of his background, I am linking to some posts at my Yes Vermont Yankee blog. Enjoy!
(Post by Meredith Angwin)