Category Archives: Nuclear

New Analysis
 Begs The Question:
 Is Vogtle Project
 Too Costly To Complete?

Last week’s headlines focused on Georgia Power’s newly signed agreement with Toshiba committing (recommitting?) the Japanese parent of bankrupt Westinghouse to pony up $3.68 billion to fund the completion of the long-delayed Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear power plants. While that is clearly good news (at least for the moment) for Georgia ratepayers, who could otherwise have been stuck with the bill, it has obscured the real news—that no one knows how much it is going to cost or how long it is going to take to complete the two reactors.

The day before Georgia Power’s headline stealing news, staff and the independent construction monitor filed testimony at the Georgia Public Service Commission covering the latest six months of activity at the site (from July 2016-December 2016, with rollover analysis through April 2017). Their conclusion? The project has been a mess since the beginning, and there are still no signs of improvement (although admittedly couched in far more diplomatic/technical language, to which we now turn).

At the macro level, much of the problem can be traced to the absence of a credible integrated project schedule or IPS, an absolute must in a project as complex as this, William Jacobs, Jr., and Steven Roetger told the commission. Jacobs has served as the project’s independent construction monitor since 2009; Roetger is the commission’s lead analyst for the project. They have been highly critical of the Southern/Westinghouse work at Vogtle for years and have warned consistently that the stated completion dates bore no relationship to reality; see my stories here and here.

Continue reading New Analysis
 Begs The Question:
 Is Vogtle Project
 Too Costly To Complete?

Trump Paris About-Face Likely To Hurt, Not Help Nuclear, Coal Sectors

President Trump, with his fossil fuel fantasists in tow, made it official Thursday, announcing that he would pull the United States from the Paris climate change accord in order to “make America great again.” The administration’s inability, as well as that of most of the Republican Party in general, to come to grips with climate change is sad, but that will have to wait for a future post. The issue at hand is the decision’s likely negative impact on the U.S.’ already-battered nuclear and coal industries.

For years the nuclear industry has been making the case that it was vital to the country’s climate change mitigation efforts because of its emissions-free generation profile. While accounting for just 20 percent of the nation’s annual electric generation, the industry noted ad infinitum, it was responsible for 60 percent of the carbon dioxide-free emissions (see chart below). In a carbon-constrained world, that would be a valuable attribute. But the Trump administration has now made it clear that it places no value on CO2-free generation sources.

That, in turn, could be a major problem for the industry, as the effort to secure nuclear subsidies—successful so far in Illinois and New York (although now tied up in court), still pending in Ohio, Connecticut and now Pennsylvania—has relied in large part on the sector’s glowing greenhouse gas attributes. In an interesting twist, just before the administration’s head-in-the-sand announcement, Chicago-based Exelon said it would close the 837-megawatt Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in late 2019 because the facility couldn’t compete in the PJM electricity market, which sprawls across 13 states and the District of Columbia. The company largely blamed the market’s structure, including its failure to reward the plant for its emissions-free generation, for its decision to shutter the plant.

Continue reading Trump Paris About-Face Likely To Hurt, Not Help Nuclear, Coal Sectors

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