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

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

Dominion, SCE
 A Continent Apart
 On Distributed Energy

Dominion’s 2016 integrated resource plan is on the docket at Virginia’s State Corporation Commission this week: The hearings would be a perfect time to explore the utility’s plan for addressing the massive changes sweeping across the electricity industry, but it’s not going to happen. Instead, Dominion will defend a document seemingly developed in a time warp, when there were no options other than central station, utility-generated power and the term distributed energy resources was still a twinkle in Amory Lovins’ eye.

Here’s all you really need to know: In the Richmond, Va.-based company’s 307-page IRP (which can be found here), the term distributed energy resources only shows up once, on page 112, when the company references the federal Department of Energy’s definition of a microgrid: “…a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid…”

Now, to be fair to Dominion, the utility does talk about distributed generation, but generally in terms designed to underscore its potential risks while downplaying any possible benefits. Its discussion of future energy resources, for example, which begins on page 88, includes a number of standard beefs about renewable resources—they aren’t dispatchable, they are intermittent and they add uncertainty to system operations. The topper, though, appears on pages 95-96 when the company talks about distributed photovoltaics: “While the grid may not be adversely impacted by the small degree of variability resulting from a few distributed PV systems, larger levels of penetration across the network or high concentrations of PV in a small geographic area may make it difficult to maintain frequency and voltage within acceptable bands. On a multi-state level, it is possible that the resulting sudden power loss from disconnection of distributed PV generation could be sufficient to destabilize the system frequency of the entire Eastern Interconnection.” [Emphasis added]

Continue reading Dominion, SCE
 A Continent Apart
 On Distributed Energy

‘Just The Tip
 Of The Iceberg’–
 DOE LED Update

The LED revolution is in full swing: DOE’s latest market data show that the number of installed light emitting diodes almost doubled in just a year, climbing from 215 million at the end of 2014 to 424 million by the end of 2015, while cutting energy consumption by 280 trillion British thermal units (compared to 143 trillion Btu a year ago). This is still a relatively small amount—overall the U.S. consumed 97.8 quadrillion Btus in 2015, of which about 5.8 quads were for lighting—but DOE says it “is just the tip of the iceberg.”

That has got to strike terror in the hearts of electric utility executives everywhere. Already starved for growth—overall retail sales of electricity in the U.S. in 2015 totaled just over 3.7 trillion kilowatt-hours (kwh), essentially unchanged from 2007—utilities are now seeing real erosion in lighting-related demand, erosion that could turn into a landslide in the next 5-10 years and beyond.

Continue reading ‘Just The Tip
 Of The Iceberg’–
 DOE LED Update

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