Our Carbon – Nuclear Conundrum

[Diablo Canyon NPS – courtesy of JimZim … http://www.jimzim.net/DiabloCanyon.html%5D

As I have written here, the US electric generation, transmission and distribution system is complex.  Our transition to a lower carbon intensity is equally as complex with arguably no simple solutions, and this is only intensified as we largely lack a comprehensive national energy policy, where the “race to the bottom” appears to be our primary driving factor.  There are definite asymmetries at play; economic, technical, corporate, physical, regulatory, etc., to which I don’t suggest I have an answer to.

However, I know, regardless how much new renewable (wind & solar) energy we bring online, the transition will not be without bumps.  We’ve made deals with the devil; natural gas as a bridge fuel and our insistence that low costs are maintained.

This will result in the closure of more nuclear plants, at the expense of not only increased carbon dioxide emissions, but more concerning, that of fugitive methane & flaring, as our natural gas bonanza only increases.  I would also argue, new low carbon capacity deployments, specifically solar & wind, without a coherent strategy & transparent regulatory policy, will largely result in a further increase of natural gas electricity production.

We’ve let this genie out of the bottle, and across all metrics, Natural Gas (NG) will “win” whether we like it or not…. 27 Trillion Cubic Feet (TCF) per year and a hybrid generation fleet of 500,000 MW installed capacity, both experiencing continued growth, are proof enough and largely nullify any “cheerleading” that exponential growth of solar [& wind] will catch up.

As a general note, the vast majority of our 106 nuclear reactors are east of the Mississippi River, coinciding with where our major population & load centers exist.

The Great Plains are home to a disproportionate amount of our installed wind capacity with limited demand, while offshore wind & logistics to meet the 140m hub height standards have yet to take off.

The eastern half of the country also corresponds to lower solar irradiance and is afflicted with Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) come our winter months.  Matching prime generation to high demand will be complicated at best, as with countless hurdles; i.e., patchwork regulatory jurisdictions & ever present NIMBY concerns, limit any national imperative for an Apollo Program scale transmission network.

In general, the US fleet is old.  New builds have been exercises in futility, often over budget and over schedule.  In fact, TVA’s Watts Bar #2 took close to 40 years from initial ground breaking to first fission last year.

There’s no easy way to say it, but our nuclear builds have come in onsie-twosies, where only Palo Verde, our largest NPS, has more than two units (3) of the same design.

The Lovering/Yip/Nordhaus study, recounts in mind numbing detail, how our nuclear builds became such one-off mega-projects with prices to match.  Using US reactors’ exorbitant build costs as the basis for comparisons of future NPS builds around the world should raise an eyebrow of any informed reader.

The following is a running live list of Nuclear Power Stations (NPS) currently on the “chopping block” in the US.  Other than the specifics of the NPS itself, I’ve decided to include the following contextual elements;

  1. Market Particulars,
  2. Generation Resources within 50 & 100 mile radii,
  3. Pertinent Quote[s] &
  4. My Thoughts.

Current – 106 Reactors @ 62 NPS, 106.9 GW 

2015 Production – 791,619 Gigawatt-Hours

Potential Closures & Losses – 9,634 GW & 70,126 GWH

Fort Calhoun NPS – Omaha Public Power District

  1. Reactors: 1 at 501 MW, 2015 – 95.15% CF & 4,185 GWH produced
  2. First Fission: August 1973, Closure: December 2016
  3. ISO/RTO: SwPP & TBD (border), Market Reg:  TBD
  4. Major Markets: Omaha, Nebraska
  5. 50 Mile: Coal –  2,554 MW, NG – 722 MW, Oil – 130 MW, Wind – 153 MW

Pertinent Quote –What you’re seeing here is non (carbon) emitting base load power being replace[d] by fossil fuel generated electricity that has carbon emissions that goes along with it,” Crozat said. “As the country looks at its longer-term carbon reduction goals, and as states look toward things like compliance with the Clean Power Plan, losing nuclear is going to make those all the more difficult to achieve.”  ~ Lincoln Journal Star

My Thoughts –This is top heavy, single reactor economics at play.  Even though it is operated by Entergy, the closure is a financial & capacity decision where OPPD’s 645 MW coal plant requires fewer operators per MW capacity and in addition to NG peakers, better meets peak capacity needs. There may be a MidAmerican Energy asymmetric component with their 1,779 MW (69% CF) coal station & 153 MW (35% CF) wind farm nearby in the wholesale markets.  Low carbon nuclear will be replaced in the short & mid-term with higher carbon intensity production.  Stockpiled spent fuel also speaks volumes to our inability to agree upon a course of action to finalize long-term storage policy & practice.

James Fitzpatrick NPS – Entergy

  1. Reactors: 1 at 882 MW, 2015 – 75.44% CF & 5,829 GWH produced
  2. First Fission: July 1975, Closure: TBD – 1 of 6 reactors in NY currently under debate to keep open or close.
  3. ISO/RTO: NYISO, Market: Deregulated, no in-state vertical integration permitted (generator –> transmission –> distribution)
  4. Major Markets: Upstate New York & NYC, Ontario IESO exports to NY
  5. 50 Mile: Hydro – xxx MW, NG – 1,134 MW, Nuclear – 2,515 MW, Oil – 1,804 MW, Wind – 352 MW, Other (Waste Recovery) – xxx MW

Pertinent Quotes – “Given the financial challenges our merchant power plants face from sustained wholesale power price declines and other unfavorable market conditions, we have been assessing each asset,” Chief Executive Officer [Entergy] Leo Denault said in the statement. “Market conditions require us to also close the Fitzpatrick nuclear plant.” ~ Bloomberg

[Gov] Cuomo directed regulators to devise a “clean energy standard” by June that would enhance the profitability of three upstate nuclear plants – FitzPatrick, Ginna and Nine Mile Point – by making them eligible for “zero emission credits” if they can show financial distress.” ~ The Connecticut Mirror

My Thoughts – “NY is a tricky wicket, that is historically divided between upstate & ‘The City’, Rustbelt decline against The Big Apple.  Entergy, owner of controversial downstate Indian Point, is leveraging itself as a low carbon generator of scale in a regulatory system grappling with the question, ‘What exactly is low carbon generation, and aren’t all low carbon watts created & consumed equally?’  Technology, general, but under-informed perceptions, politics, NIMBY and legacy mindsets are all at play.  Upstate will again harbor resentment for feeling used [regardless the decision made], while NYC will act like it can do it alone [regardless it continues to import energy].

Ginna NPS – Exelon

  1. Reactors: 1 at 614 MW, 2015 – 86.69% CF & 4,663 GWH produced
  2. First Fission: June 1970, Closure: TBD – 1 of 6 reactors in NY currently under debate to keep open or close.  Exelon said it would shutter, NYS offered a temporary assistance package.
  3. ISO/RTO: NYISOMarket: Deregulated, no in-state vertical integration permitted (generator –> transmission –> distribution)
  4. Major Markets: Rochester, New York. Ontario IESO exports to NY & ISO-New England via NY
  5. 50 Mile: Coal – 130 MW, NG – 1,086 MW, Nuclear – 2,783 MW, Oil – 1,804 MW, Wind – xxx MW, Other (Waste Recovery) – xxx MW

Pertinent Quote – “Nuclear power reactors may not emit carbon dioxide or methane, but that doesn’t make them clean or safe,” said a statement from the Alliance for a Green Economy, based in Syracuse. “Instead of ensuring better energy affordability and a clean environment for … customers, the Public Service Commission is writing a blank check from electricity consumers to Exelon and Entergy corporations, owners of the aging upstate nuclear plants.” ~ Democrat & Chronicle

My Thoughts – “NY is a tricky wicket, that is historically divided between upstate & ‘The City’, Rustbelt decline against The Big Apple.  I grew up near here, benefited from the tax base of a new coal station in my school district as a kid, and like many NYS residents, had no idea this reactor exists.  The same is generally true of our awareness of our northern neighbor, Ontario’s nuclear fleet, and how this low carbon generation interplays with NYISO.  Most eyes turn towards the Niagara Power Project, a wonder of the modern electrified world, and the controversy at Indian Point.  Ontario ratepayers, who may in fact support ‘renewable energy’ are often left picking up the tab of our indecisions, as excess RE capacity, fetching a high FiT price, is sold at wholesale prices to NYISO.  There is generally a ‘ban’ on new natural gas generation, pipelines or development in the state, which also extends largely to upgrading or new electric transmission.

Pilgrim NPS – Entergy

  1. Reactors: 1 at 670 MW, 2015 – 98.30% CF & 5,769 GWH produced
  2. First Fission: December 1972, Closure: May 31, 2019
  3. ISO/RTO:  ISO-New EnglandMarket: TBD
  4. Major Markets: SE Massachusetts, Cape Cod, New Bedford, Providence
  5. 50 Mile: Coal – 1,6000 MW, NG – 7,000+ MW, Oil – 1,165 MW, Wind – <50 MW, Other (Waste Recovery) – ~100 MW

Pertinent Quotes – “This is an old plant, and Entergy is unwilling to spend the money to fix the problems, and the NRC is allowing them to do that. That means we’re in a heightened period of risk.” – Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch

Company officials have said they decided to close the plant because of the plummeting price of a competing fuel, natural gas, and the reluctance of federal and regional officials to provide financial incentives for nuclear power plants.” ~ Boston Globe

My Thoughts – ”    ”



Reactors currently Operating With Uncertain Futures…

  • Diablo Canyon (2 & 16,986 GWH),
  • Quad Cities (2 & 15,386 GWH),
  • Indian Point (2 & 17,309),
  • Davis Besse (1 & 5,829 GWH),
  • Beaver Valley


Recent Closures (past 10 years)…

  • Vermont Yankee – 2015,
  • San Onfre 2 & 3 – 2014,
  • Kewaunee – TBD,
  • Crystal River – TBD, …

Under Construction/Near Operational…

  • Vogtle 3 & 4,
  • VC Summers – Cancelled Mid-Construction

Proposed New & Partial Builds With Uncertain Futures…

  • South Texas Project #3,
  • TVA Bellefonte 1 & 2,

Note:  Where otherwise not linked, unattributed data is sourced from Synapse Energy Economics, Inc.  & Google Earth.  I do not receive any compensation for these efforts & any thoughts contained within do not constitute endorsements for any technology or company.  Shares and attributions are greatly appreciated.

This post has not been updated since 5/14/2016.

Featured Image – Diablo Canyon NPS – courtesy of JimZim

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