Category Archives: Environment

Looking At The Brackets:
 New Nuclear Plants
 Are Odds-On Favorite
 To Lose In First Round

I just finished filling out my March Madness brackets (for recreational purposes only, I assure you), so I think we also should start a pool on when the next utility will ask its state regulators for permission to build a new, large-scale nuclear power plant? If we did, should ‘never’ be one of the options?

Anyone willing to put their money on Georgia Power? The company actually had gotten state approval to do some preliminary work at a possible site for two new reactors In Stewart County on the border with Alabama. But earlier this month the utility told regulators it was suspending work on the expansion plans at least until its 2019 integrated resource plan is filed.

How about Florida Power & Light? The company’s planned two-unit expansion at Turkey Point has been on the books since 2008, when FPL was optimistically forecasting the new reactors would be up and running by 2018 and 2020, before subsequently pushing the start-up back first to 2022 and 2023 and now to 2027 and 2028. But last year the company told Florida regulators that while it still intended to secure its NRC license for the facility (which is expected sometime this year), it didn’t intend to do anything else until 2020.

Finally, how about Dominion Resources, which has been pushing for years to add a third unit to its North Anna site in Louisa County, Va. The proposed reactor, a 1,470 MW design developed by GE and Hitachi known as the ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor), is a first-of-its-kind unit with an estimated capital cost of almost $15 billion and an all-in cost of about $20 billion. Despite its enthusiasm for the project, even Dominion acknowledged in its 2016 IRP that the reactor was only economic in one scenario—full implementation of the former Obama administration’s soon-to-be defunct Clean Power Plan.

The problems for these companies, and any others considering such a step, go well beyond the well-documented, and still far-from-over cost overruns and delays that have plagued the four new reactors currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina. The real issue is that the technology—one with high capital costs requiring a long time of steady state operation to get into the black—doesn’t mesh with the nation’s rapidly evolving electric power system. Committing to a nuclear plant constrains you for at least 40 years, and perhaps for as long as 80 years; and while you are still committed, everything else is changing.

Continue reading Looking At The Brackets:
 New Nuclear Plants
 Are Odds-On Favorite
 To Lose In First Round

Utility Experience
 Blows Away Concerns
 About Windpower

The Southwest Power Pool said last week that it met 52.1 percent of the electricity demand in the sprawling transmission organization’s service territory with windpower during a portion of the overnight period on Feb. 13, marking the first time SPP had topped the 50 percent mark. What’s even bigger news is that hardly anyone noticed—these records have been falling consistently for the past several years with the steady increase in wind farm construction across the Midwest; SPP set its prior record of 49.2 percent just last year.

The real news, however, wasn’t the percentage itself, but what Bruce Rew, SPP’s vice president of operations, said later in the same press release concerning the changes that have occurred in the past 10 years. Then, the SPP release noted, a goal of 25 percent would have been deemed unrealistic.

Clearly, not anymore.

“Since then,” Rew said, “we’ve gained experience and implemented new policies and procedures. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It’s not even our ceiling. We continue to study even higher levels of renewable, variable generation as part of our plans to maintain a reliable and economic grid of the future.”

Continue reading Utility Experience
 Blows Away Concerns
 About Windpower


 Green Power Revolution
 Grinds Forward,
 An Unstoppable Glacier

Webster’s defines revolution as “a sudden, radical or complete change.”  The ongoing revolution in the United States electric utility industry fits that definition to a T. The changes have been unbelievably quick (at least by company standards, if not by activists’ desires), and the long-term impacts are going to be both radical and complete. Importantly, particularly in today’s political climate, I would add that the transition is unstoppable—like the inexorable forward advance of a glacier.

What got me thinking about this were two short news releases from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association earlier this week regarding shipments of LEDs during the third quarter of 2016 (the latest data it has available). In one, NEMA said that shipments of A-type LEDs (the most commonly used bulb for residential applications) topped 30 percent of the total for the first time, continuing a surge that has seen its market share climb from essentially zero just two years ago.

In the second, NEMA pointed out that it had added so-called T-LEDs to its statistics tracking shipments of the linear fluorescent tubes (marketed largely as T5, T8 and T12, which denote their diameter in eighths of an inch) that dominate the commercial and big box retail markets.  In the third quarter, NEMA said, T-LEDs accounted from 12.8 percent of all shipments in this category—almost double the 1st quarter results, the first time NEMA even included the segment in its quarterly report. As with the A-line LEDs, sales of T-LEDs were essentially nonexistent in 2014.

Continue reading
 Green Power Revolution
 Grinds Forward,
 An Unstoppable Glacier

EIA 2017 Outlook
 Shows Energy Transition
 Will Trump Trump

The Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook is always chock full of interesting data, and the 2017 version, released uncommonly early last week, is certainly no exception. For its part, EIA highlighted the prospect of the U.S. becoming a net energy exporter in the near future, a far cry from the import-dependent years that drove policymakers crazy in the late 1900s and early 2000s. But from my perspective, the key takeaways can be found in EIA’s analysis of electric sector market shares in a reference case including the outgoing Obama administration’s climate change-fighting Clean Power Plan and a second case assuming the CPP is withdrawn, as the incoming president and his team have said they intend to do.

For starters, regardless of its assumptions, EIA sees no growth going forward for the nuclear power industry. In both its reference case, which incorporates the CPP and should, as a result, favor the construction of non-carbon emitting generation resources, and its no-CPP case, EIA comes up with the same results. Nuclear generation is expected to decline slowly from now through 2040—falling from 797 billion kilowatt-hours in 2016 to 701 billion kwh in 2040 as units are retired (either due to economic or age-related reasons) and no new reactors (save the four currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina) are brought online.  [Charts showing the generation outlook in both cases are included below; the complete EIA Outlook can be found here.]

Continue reading EIA 2017 Outlook
 Shows Energy Transition
 Will Trump Trump

New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

The bright shiny package the coal industry unwrapped Christmas morning—the one it hoped was filled with rising and lasting demand for the black rock—is actually little more than a pretty box filled with empty promises delivered by the country’s new cheerleader in chief.

Just 10 years ago, coal was the clear top dog, accounting for just under 50 percent of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. (Coal’s total in 2006 was 48.9 percent, the last year it actually topped the 50 percent level was 2003.) This year, coal is likely to play second fiddle to the surging natural gas sector; the Energy Information Administration’s latest Short Term Energy Outlook (released Dec. 8) estimates that coal will account for 30.4 percent of the nation’s electric generation this year, below the 34.1 percent stake controlled by natural gas. And no amount of industry wishful thinking or presidential conceit is going to change that—the markets have changed.

Continue reading New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables