Posts Tagged costs
The US Department of Energy issued a press release today announcing a new $102 Million loan guarantee for a 50.6 MW wind farm near Roxbury, Maine and an 8 mile transmission line to connect it to the grid. Before we join hands in carbon-free jubilation let’s do the math:
$102 Million for 50.6 MW that will operate (best case) at 30% capacity = $6.72 million per megawatt (MW) of delivered electricity
I’ve been reading a lot about the Toyota gas pedal recall because I own a Camry that is a few years old. Several people have been killed in accidents resulting from sudden acceleration caused by a faulty accelerator design. So far my car is not in the group of affected vehicles, but I’m keeping my eye on it.
I’m sure you’ve noticed the press is having a feeding frenzy and many are demonizing Toyota. Congress has decided to get involved – they’ve scheduled a hearing to oversee the government’s response. Overall it’s been much like when an airplane crashes or a contaminated food product gets recalled – some people die, government agencies demand action to fix the immediate problem, and politicians act concerned until the media moves on to the next high profile news story.
Then the hypocrisy dawned on me – how differently we treat problems in the nuclear industry! For example, in Vermont where a minute, a barely measurable quantity of slightly radioactive liquid in test wells has politicians demanding action from Federal regulators, the state government and Public Service Board are delaying important decisions that threaten the plant’s long term financial viability, and many newspapers are regurgitating unsubstantiated claims of environmental harm made by sworn enemies of the plant. Keep in mind that the tritium that has leaked from Vermont Yankee has not broken any laws, not exceeded any environmental limits, nor harmed even the smallest field mouse.
Consider that in the entire history of the US nuclear industry (about 40 years) not a single person has died from a reactor mishap at any commercial nuclear reactor in the United States. However, in this single instance of a gas pedal design defect a number of people have died (the exact number is not available) , many more have been injured, and these types of problems occur almost every year! If the government response to the Toyota acceleration issue, a problem that has actually killed people, used the same rules that we apply to the operation of commercial nuclear plants (where no deaths have occurred) we would have
- Placed a federal ban on driving all Toyotas until the problem was thoroughly analyzed, the root cause determined, and repairs completed.
- There would be an extent of condition analysis by a team of engineers to determine what other vehicles have similar gas pedals, and to recommend a course of action.
- We would have added two full time government (NTSB) inspectors to every automobile manufacturing plant and every licensed automobile repair shop. The auto makers and repair shops would have to pay the salaries of the inspectors, plus a mark-up for administrative costs. They would raise prices to pass along the cost to car buyers and owners.
- Every car in America would be retrofit with two redundant emergency braking systems and battery backup power. Car owners would be forced to pay for the upgrades even if the cost was more than the car was worth. Violators would be subject to fines and prosecution.
- We’d require special training for all drivers on how to respond to stuck accelerators, and what to do even if both emergency braking systems failed while driving at 120 mph hour going into a sharp turn – after all, that’s the worst case scenario, right?
- Don’t forget we’d have to place a tax on every mile driven so we could pay for the environmental impact of waste oil and exhaust fumes, and for the eventual scrapping and decommissioning of the vehicles.
I am suggesting none of this. I’m merely pointing out the inequity in the amount and cost of Nuclear regulation considering the low risks posed by nuclear plants and the great benefits they provide: low cost, clean, reliable energy.
There are many risks in life that we as a society choose to ignore. Sometimes we’re willing to accept what is actually a very high risk (for example, riding a bicycle, driving a car, smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and playing sports) because we believe those activities add to our quality of life. We also tend to perceive the risk to be less when we feel we have some control over the outcome.
There are many people who stand to gain financially and politically if Vermont Yankee shuts down or is denied a license renewal. The big financial winners would be companies and individuals who sell competing energy from gas and coal because that’s where the replacement power would come from. The political winners would be anti-nuclear activists and politicians who have aligned themselves with the antis. The rest of us would be the losers: we’d suffer from higher energy prices, greater amounts of air pollution, and the loss of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
If this scenario were to evolve in part from this ridiculous focus on an inconsequential tritium leak it would be an immense travesty of justice.
This past week the Florida Public Service Commission voted to deny requests by the state’s two largest utilities to upgrade the state’s electrical systems by adding renewable energy, new gas turbines, a new gas pipeline, new reactors, and transmission lines. This politically motivated decision is mind-numbing in a state with an over-taxed grid and an electricity supply that has not kept up with population increases.
In this podcast Rod Adams of The Atomic Show and the Atomic Insights blog joins me for a chat about this terribly near-sighted decision, some possible motivations, and what it means for the people of Florida.
Some other links related to this story:
Renewable Energy plans will be scuttled by the FL PSC Decision.
Duke Energy is one of the largest power producers in the Western Hemisphere. They produce 35,000 MW of electricity in the USA, plus 4,000 in Latin America. They have virtually every type of power plant: nuclear, coal, gas, hydro, wind, and solar. They also run natural gas distribution systems in two states.
Duke knows energy, and Jim Rogers, their CEO, knows Duke. When Jim Rogers speaks about energy people listen. Last week Mr. Rogers was talking energy and jobs. Jim says Duke’s experience has shown that nuclear energy provides more jobs and higher paying jobs than wind or solar power plants.
“In an operation of a nuclear plant, there [are] .64 jobs per megawatt. The wind business–and we have a very large wind business – is .3 jobs per megawatt. In the solar business – and we’re installing solar panels – it’s about .1. But the difference in the jobs is quite different, because if you’re wiping off a solar panel, it’s sort of a minimum wage type of job, [with] much higher compensation for nuclear engineers and nuclear operators. If our goal is to rebuild the middle class, nuclear plays a key role there, particularly if coal is out of the equation.”
Mr. Roger’s comments made me wonder how many jobs might be created if we were to build new power plants of each type to meet our energy demands. I started with the most recent Energy Outlook provided by the US Government at the Energy Information Administration web site. This report states that 259 GW of new plants will be needed by 2030. The number includes 30 GW to replace aging plants and the rest is for modest energy demand growth.
Multiplying that 259,000 MW times the Duke estimates for the number of people per MW, we get the result (rounded to the nearest 1000):
- New Nuclear: 166,000 jobs
- New Wind: 78,000 jobs
- New Solar: 26,000 jobs
These numbers ignore the 2,000 to 3,000 jobs created building each new nuclear plant during the four year construction process. Building wind and soar would also provide temporary construction jobs. I also did not adjust for the lower capacity factors associated with wind and solar generation. We’ll assume smart grid technologies will enable improvements in wind and solar energy capacity and existing reserve capacity will back up wind and solar. After all, these are the kinds of assumptions that wind and solar proponents make all the time.
In Episode 60 of “This Week in Nuclear” I discussed how every dollar spent building new nuclear plants provides far more energy than either wind or solar. Now we’re discovering that nuclear plants also produce more jobs per MW. Combining these two findings we gain an important insight: every dollar spent on new nuclear plants provides not only more energy, but also more jobs.
It’s not often that we find one solution for two very tough problems, but that’s exactly what we have done: Investing in nuclear energy can provide much needed high paying jobs that can’t be sent overseas, in addition to reliable, clean energy to power our economy.
This story will come as no big surprise for my pro-nuclear blogger friends, but for those of you who are not quite as engaged with the online energy debate, you really need to know about this.
Since I was a teenager I’ve enjoyed the magazine Scientific American. I’ve viewed them as informative and a good source of credible, accurate information about emerging trends in many fields of science and technology. The periodical began in 1845 and over the years its contributors have included, according to their website, more than 120 Nobel laureates and such amazing thinkers as Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk.
This it way it pains me so much that this magazine has deteriorated to the level of utter trash and garbage. I will think long and hard before I ever again purchase a copy of the magazine. In this podcast I discuss why.
When I first read the Scientific American article I was outraged and angry, but now I’m just sad. Sad that a respected journal and a source of information for more than 100 years has deteriorated to the point that it is willfully being used as a platform to push a political agenda with total disregard to fundamentals of research and sound science.
- A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi at the Scientific American
- Critique of ‘A path to sustainable energy by 2030′ by Barry Brooks at BraveNewClimate.com
I recently invited listeners of my podcasts and readers of my blog to leave voice mail using the “call me” button at http://thisweekinnuclear.com . Thank you Patrick Park from California who called in with a question about the Rancho Seco nuclear plant that was shut down by voters about 20 years ago. Patrick wanted my opinion regarding whether or not the plant was safe and if electricity rates would be lower today if the plant was still in operation. He also mentioned the difficulty California is having keeping the lights on during peak electrical demands (like hot summer days).
That’s a great question! Sacramento Municipal Utility District (or SMUD) was the owner of the Rancho Seco nuclear plant. Fortunately there is a lot of information on the SMUD web site. By looking at the utility’s current energy mix and by comparing the relative costs and environmental impacts, it is fairly easy to hypothesize what would be happening if the plant were running today.
The current energy mix at SMUD is 60% natural gas, 20% hydro, 8% biomass, 8% wind, 1% coal, and the remaining 3% is geothermal, solar, and small hydro.
If Rancho Seco was in operation today, it would displace all of the coal and a large portion of the natural gas SMUD burns now. If the plant was running today it is safe to predict
- Energy rates would be lower because the nuclear energy would off-set a large portion of the high cost natural gas they presently burn.
- Greenhouse gas emissions would be lower because nuclear energy would eliminate all the coal they burn, and a big piece of the natural gas.
- By now the plant would be paid off and with a license extension it would be running for another 20 years. This would help keep energy costs low for another two decades.
The plant was a 913 MW Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactor. It entered commercial operation in 1974. While anti-nuclear activists will disagree, the plant was safe and there was nothing inherently bad about that design. In fact, there are very well run B&W plants in service today. For example, the Arkansas Nuclear One, Unit 1 is a 846 MW reactor that also came online in 1974. ANO Unit 1 has a very high capacity factor, has a top performance rating by the Institute if Nuclear Power Operations and is recognized around the industry as a consistently good performing nuclear plant.
Whether or not shutting down Rancho Seco was a good idea depends on your point of view. If you sell coal or natural gas then shutting down the plant was great! If you are an anti-nuclear activist, then you probably feel like shutting down Rancho Seco was one of your movement’s biggest victories. However, if you are a rate payer, or if you believe that burning fossil fuels is harming our environment, then shutting down the unit was a huge, costly mistake.
It’s 9:00 at night and I’m on an Amtrak train heading north out of Washington DC where I attended an awe inspiring inaugural Thorium Energy Alliance Conference. What a great event! I learned a lot about thorium as an energy source and about the various kinds of reactors that might take advantage of thorium’s unique properties: its amazing energy density, proliferation resistance, safety, and suitability for low cost reactors that could be assembly line produced and deployed around the world. So I’m sitting on the train scanning the news coming across Twitter when a story from the NY Times almost made me scream out loud! I am NOT KIDDING! If I was at home not in a train car full of sleeping passengers I’d be screaming at my Blackberry in frustration!
Here’s the deal: the United Nations recently formed a new agency called the International Renewable Energy Agency whose goal is to encourage deployment of renewable energy around the world, and foster sharing of technology between developed and undeveloped nations. Essentially, it is an international trade association promoting mostly wind and solar energy. So you might say, “No big deal, let them do their thing!” right?