Category Archives: Nuclear

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

Do You Hear That?
 It’s The Fat Lady Singing;
 Nuclear Revival Ends
 Almost Before It Starts

Five years ago almost to the day (Feb. 9, 2012, actually), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 to issue a construction and operating license to Southern Company for the 2,234 megawatt Vogtle 3&4 project—the first of the new generation of reactors that was touted as the beginning of the industry’s long climb back from 30 years of dormancy.

At the time, Marvin Fertel, then president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association, sounded almost euphoric: “This is a historic day. [The NRC decision] sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy….” Fertel’s optimism was hardly unique: A year earlier, Jim Miller, CEO of Southern Nuclear, the company’s operating subsidiary, told Scientific American: “The nuclear revival is under way in Georgia.”

My, how much has changed in just five years. Today, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop in the Westinghouse-Toshiba fiasco, which is expected later this month. When that happens it will serve as the end point of the revival that never really took place—five years from start to finish, not quite the long-running blockbuster the industry had hoped for.

Continue reading Do You Hear That?
 It’s The Fat Lady Singing;
 Nuclear Revival Ends
 Almost Before It Starts

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

Trump Administration
 May Be A Nightmare
 For Nuclear Power

The instant analysis following Donald Trump’s surprising defeat of Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election was that renewable energy would take a hit and fossil fuels would prosper. I think that is a vast over-simplification, but that is a topic for a later post. The question of the day is what will happen to the nation’s nuclear sector.

For the past several years, the Nuclear Energy Institute has worked tirelessly to broaden support for the industry by touting the technology’s importance in providing carbon-free electricity. And the industry has a valid point; the U.S.’ roughly 100 operating plants accounted for more than 60 percent of the nation’s emissions-free electric generation in 2015. According to NEI, nuclear generation avoided 564 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year, which it said is roughly equivalent to taking all the automobiles in the U.S. off the road.

Continue reading Trump Administration
 May Be A Nightmare
 For Nuclear Power

Time For A Reality Check:
 More Delays Are Coming
 For Georgia Power’s
 New Vogtle Reactors

Georgia Power executives certainly won’t say it and Georgia’s utility regulators certainly won’t acknowledge it, but the reality is there are going to be additional delays at Vogtle 3&4—the already delayed and over budget new nuclear project being built by Westinghouse for the Southern Company subsidiary and a consortium of Georgia municipal utilities south of Augusta.

In a process that resembles a Kabuki dance, every six months Georgia Power is required to file a construction monitoring report with the Georgia Public Service Commission detailing its progress and justifying its expenditures in the last reporting period. (Georgia Power filed its 14th such report, covering the six months from June-December of 2015, in February 2016; it is now pending before the PSC.) Intervenors get to comment during this process, but once that is done, like clockwork, the commission signs off on the report, the utility gets to charge ratepayers for the approved expenses and the whole process starts anew. However, when you look closely it is clear that all is not well with the long-running Vogtle production.

In particular, it is worth taking a long look at the testimony presented by Dr. William Jacobs and Steven Roetger, who represent the Georgia PSC’s public interest advocacy staff in overseeing construction activities at Vogtle. Jacobs is the project’s independent construction monitor and has raised questions about the plant’s construction schedule virtually since the first dirt was turned (see this story). Roetger is the leader of the staff’s oversight team and has been involved with the project since the beginning. We will get into the details of their testimony below, but their conclusion is striking:

“We conclude that the company has not demonstrated to staff that the current CODs [commercial operation dates] have a reasonable chance of being met.  It is our opinion that there exists a strong likelihood of further delayed operation dates for both units.”

Continue reading Time For A Reality Check:
 More Delays Are Coming
 For Georgia Power’s
 New Vogtle Reactors