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
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
It is increasingly clear that the economics of nuclear power don’t add up. Just in the past two and a half years, for example, seven plants at six sites have been shut down due to uneconomic performance or massive equipment repair costs—and other plants are on the chopping block. Similarly, the two ballyhooed active construction projects, in Georgia and South Carolina, are seriously behind schedule and way over budget. Nonetheless, utility executives and regulators in a number of states still have not gotten the message, notably in Florida and Virginia where executives at Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light and Richmond-based Dominion soldier on, pushing new reactor proposals whose economics, simply put, just don’t add up and could leave ratepayers holding the bag for billions of dollars in nuclear construction costs.
The charade is particularly obvious in Florida, where FPL, a unit of NextEra Energy, annually goes through a process with state regulators to show the feasibility of a proposed two-unit, 2,200 megawatt addition to its existing facility at Turkey Point south of Miami. The yearly dance was completed last month with regulators signing off on FPL’s feasibility analysis as “reasonable” and approving the utility’s ability to recover from ratepayers the roughly $25 million it will spend this year on the reactor proposal.
A closer look at FPL’s analysis, however, shows that, at best, it stretches the boundaries of what can be considered reasonable. In particular, there is the little matter of whether the plant will be built and operated for 40 years, or 60.
Continue reading Nuclear Power Economics
In `Impossible Things’
What is the difference between LEDs and residential solar panels? Plenty, clearly, but for a utility executive worried about slow or no load growth they amount to exactly the same thing—trouble.
I have written extensively about the broad utility-led campaign to quash state net metering programs (see these posts here and here). In general, this effort is based on the premise that net metering unfairly benefits residential solar users (by overpaying them for their generation) and shifts costs onto non-solar customers (by forcing companies to charge them for the fixed costs no longer being paid for by the solar customers through their electricity purchases). But that premise is also true of LEDs if you think it through.
This week I decided to replace a bank of six aging incandescent lightbulbs in my home’s master bathroom with new LEDs—something homeowners are doing with increasing frequency around the country. In years past, this would have been a non-event, but with LEDs’ vastly improved efficiency and lengthy lifespan the equation has changed significantly.
I did a little back of the envelope calculating about the switch: The six bulbs I pulled out consumed 260 watts of electricity when turned on (for reasons unclear to me I had five 40W bulbs and one 60W bulb installed in the bathroom), the new ones just 66W total (and they are brighter to boot, but that is another story). So, every time I turn on the bathroom light switch I am saving 194 watts. That’s an admittedly small amount of power, but if you figure the lights are on for three hours daily that adds up to 582 watt-hours per day. That’s still not much, but over the course of a month, these six lights could save me on the order of 17.5 kilowatt-hours (30×582=17,460 watt-hours or 17.46 kwh).
Continue reading LEDs Pose Same Threat
As Solar & Net Metering
For Utility Ratemaking