Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Micro and Macro: What is the Energy Future?

Solar panel on a house roof near Boston
Wikipedia, Gray Watson 
Everybody knows?

Milt Caplan wrote an excellent blog post on the future of energy.   He describes attending an event where

a number of speakers prefaced their comments with statements like “everybody knows the future will be based on distributed generation – primarily with small scale renewables and storage to provide reliability”.  
(Bold in the original)

Is this indeed what everybody knows?  Is there no dissent?

Maybe Microgrids?

As Caplan wrote:
 We have this romantic fantasy that we can live off-grid with a combination of solar power and battery backup.  Of course, with a bit of thought .....we accept that we cannot go it completely alone.  The conclusion being that maybe we need to collaborate with our neighbours and build a small system (or microgrid) to achieve the reliability that we need to power our lives.
As it turns out, I have also been thinking about microgrids. A few days ago,  I heard an excellent talk on smart microgrids by Andy Haun, Chief Technology Officer, Schneider Electric Microgrids Business. These advanced microgrids can be controlled "in parallel" with the grid.  When used in this manner, the smart microgrid systems can avoid costs by shaving peak demand and by using cheaper, off-peak power. The microgrids can be also controlled in an "intentional islanded mode," which is especially useful for storm readiness.

It seemed to me that while these microgrids could be used stand-alone in remote locations, they were mostly going to be used in conjunction with the larger grid.  Or why develop all these "peak shaving" features, and so forth?

It doesn't look to me as if advanced microgrids are going to make the bigger grid obsolete, or at least, not anytime soon.

Maybe Macrogrids? 

Maybe instead of microgrids, we should be looking at really big macro grids?

Many of the renewables advocates who hope for a proliferation of microgrids also hope for long-distance DC lines, to bring bulk power from sunny or windy places to places where more people are living.  Maybe, the answer is long-DC lines to bring energy across the continent, moving energy from sunny and windy areas to big cities.  In other words, really big grids.

Earlier this year, Power Engineering featured an article, Enabling Large Scale Renewables in the Western U.S. This article proposed new, lengthy High Voltage DC lines. These lines had names such as Power from the Prairie, and Centennial West.  The lines seemed primarily designed to move wind energy from the west to the east.  Similarly, in early June, an Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece titled  Upgrade America's 19th Century Electric Grid.   This article called for a $500 billion dollar infrastructure project to build DC power lines to "transfer energy between power-abundant and power-hungry regions. "

Could this work? Probably not.

Donn Dears wrote a blog post DC Transmission for Cutting CO2 Emissions.  As Dears explains,  HVDC transmission lines are best for moving great quantities of power for long distances; current examples carry hydro power from dams to cities. There are HVDC transmission lines carrying hydro power in the American West (Pacific DC Intertie), and similar lines in China and Brazil.  These lines are fully utilized almost all the time,  because they come from huge hydro systems with more than one power plant.

Such utilization would not be the case for the new DC lines proposed for the US.  They would carry wind and perhaps solar energy, which are not steadily available.  Low utilization rates would lead to higher costs, and DC lines are only cost-effective in limited circumstances to start with. An HVDC build-out would not work.  It would not be cost-effective.

Pursuit of the the Unsuitable

Somehow, in pursuit of renewable energy, microgrids (connected to the main grid) or a huge buildout of continent-spanning DC power lines (connected to the main grid) are considered to be options.  The main grid doesn't go away, but these new features get added.

Now, there are uses for both microgrids and DC lines. Even their proponents, however, are not proposing microgrids and DC lines as a complete substitute for the current grid. At best, they would solve some problems on the grid.  At worst, they would be high-cost, duplicative add-ons to the grid that exists now.

In short, if we want to decarbonize our grid without romantic fantasy and without too much costly duplication,  we need the following:
  • Keep our current fleet of nuclear plants running
  • Build more nuclear plants
  • Build more grid infrastructure, as appropriate.  
  • Don't duplicate infrastructure because "microgrid" or "HVDC" sounds cool.  Add them as needed. 
In other words, for a reasonable future, we must pursue suitable technologies. Technologies such as nuclear energy.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rolling Blackouts for New England? Angwin Op-Ed

Mystic Power Station

Rolling blackouts

Rolling blackouts are probably coming to New England sooner than expected.

When there’s not enough supply of electricity to meet demand, an electric grid operator cuts power to one section of the grid to keep the rest of the grid from failing.  After a while, the operator restores the power to the blacked-out area and moves the blackout on to another section. The New England grid operator (ISO-NE) recently completed a major study of various scenarios for the near-term future (2024-2025) of the grid, including the possibilities of rolling blackouts.

In New England, blackouts are expected to occur during the coldest weather, because that is when the grid is most stressed. Rolling blackouts add painful uncertainty – and danger – to everyday life.  You aren’t likely to know when a blackout will happen, because most grid operators have a policy that announcing a blackout would attract crime to the area.

Exelon announces plan to close Mystic Station

In early April, Exelon said that it would close two large natural-gas fired units at Mystic Station, Massachusetts. In its report about possibilities for the winter of 2024-25, ISO-NE had included the loss of these two plants as one of its scenarios. The ISO-NE report concluded that Mystic’s possible closure would lead to 20 to 50 hours of load shedding (rolling blackouts) and hundreds of hours of grid operation under emergency protocols.

When Exelon made its closure announcement, ISO-NE realized that the danger of rolling blackouts was suddenly more immediate than 2024.  ISO-NE now hopes to grant “out of market cost recovery” (that is, subsidies) to persuade Exelon to keep the Mystic plants operating. If ISO-NE gets FERC permission for the subsidies, some of the threat of blackouts will retreat a few years into the future.

Winter scenarios and natural gas

The foremost challenge to grid reliability is the inability of power plants to get fuel in winter.  So ISO-NE  modeled various scenarios, such as winter-long outages at key energy facilities, and difficulty or ease of delivering Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to existing plants.

Ominously, 19 of the 23 of the ISO-NE scenarios led to rolling blackouts. The worst scenarios, with the longest blackouts, included a long outage at a nuclear plant or a long-lasting failure of a gas pipeline compressor.

A major cause of these grid problems is that the New England grid is heavily dependent on natural gas. Power plants using natural gas supply about 50% of New England’s electricity on a year-round basis. Pipelines give priority to delivering gas for home heating over delivering gas to power plants. In the winter, some power plants cannot get enough gas to operate. Other fuels have to take up the slack. But coal and nuclear generators are retiring, and with them goes needed capacity. In general, the competing-for-natural-gas problem will get steadily worse over time.

All the ISO-NE scenarios assumed that no new oil, coal, or nuclear plants are built, some existing plants will close, and no new pipelines are constructed. Their scenarios included renewable buildouts, transmission line construction, increased delivery of LNG, plant outages and compressor outages.

Natural gas and LNG

The one “no-problem” scenario (no load shedding, no emergency procedures) is one where everything goes right. It assumed no major pipeline or power plant outages. It included a large renewable buildout plus greatly increased LNG delivery, despite difficult winter weather. This no-problem scenario also assumes a minimum number of retirements of coal, oil and nuclear plants.

This positive scenario is dependent on increased LNG deliveries from abroad. Thanks to the Jones Act, New England cannot obtain domestic LNG. There are no LNG carriers flying an American flag, and the Jones Act prevents foreign carriers from delivering American goods to American ports.

We can plan to import more electricity, but ISO-NE  notes that such imports are also problematic.  Canada has extreme winter weather (and curtails electricity exports) at the same time that New England has extreme weather and a stressed grid.

New England needs a diverse grid

To avoid blackouts, we need to diversify our energy supply beyond renewables and natural gas to have a grid that can reliably deliver power in all sorts of weather.  When we close nuclear and coal plants and don’t build gas pipelines, we increase our weather-vulnerable dependency on imported LNG.

We need to keep existing nuclear, hydro, coal and oil plants available to meet peak demands, even if it takes subsidies.  Coal is a problem fuel, but running a coal plant for a comparatively short time in bad weather is a better choice than rolling blackouts.

This can’t happen overnight. It has to be planned for. If we don’t diversify our electricity supply, we will have to get used to enduring rolling blackouts.
-----
Meredith Angwin is a retired physical chemist and a member of the ISO-NE consumer advisory group. She headed the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project and her latest book is Campaigning for Clean Air.

______

This op-ed has now appeared in several websites and news outlets. Links below to the post in other publications, some of which have comment streams.
This post at Ethan Allen Institute, The Caledonian Record, Vermont Business Magazine, VTDigger, True North Reports,  The CommonsNew England Diary   Providence JournalRhode Island and New England May Get Hit with Rolling Blackouts in the Future, including an interview with me, appeared in GoLocalProv.com

Special note: My op-ed has now appeared in my local paper, the Valley News, on the front page of the Sunday "Perspectives" section.  It is always a thrill to see my work in my local paper!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Vermont Yankee Sale: Local groups happy, CLF objects again

Almost Everyone Agrees

Entergy plans to sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar for decommissioning.  As you can imagine, this plan has led to lots of discussions and hearings, and I have even written a few blog posts about it.

The last time I wrote about this proposed sale was right before the April 12 hearing before the Vermont PUC. (Thursday Meeting on Sale of Vermont Yankee)  In March, all parties (state agencies, Native American tribes, intervenors) signed off on the agreement between Entergy and NorthStar, as detailed by Mike Faher at Vermont Digger. (State, NorthStar strike deal for sale of Vermont Yankee).  At the April 12 hearing, supporters of the sale were clearly in the majority.  Supporters dominate meeting on sale of Vermont Yankee. (Article by Faher)

Oh, did I say "all parties" had signed off on the agreement?  Wrong. My bad. The Conservation Law Foundation refused to sign the agreement. In March, I predicted that CLF would do everything in their power to make the sale fall through.  I was right.

Sleeping Beauty

This reminds me of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, where fairies are giving their gifts to a newborn princess, but one fairy feels slighted.  That fairy's gift is a curse: the young princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. Another fairy partially reverses the curse. The girl will fall asleep for 100 years instead of dying.  Thus begins the story of Sleeping Beauty.

CLF is planning something similar. I don't know if they actually feel slighted, but I think they sure plan to kill the deal. If they succeed, like the girl in Sleeping Beauty, the VY power plant will be in SafStor for many many years. Sixty years. The economic development of the town will sleep for more than a generation.

The people of southern Vermont and the people of Vernon want a clean site and a new employer in Vermont. They are hoping this change will happen soon, not sixty years from now.  But when a powerful creature like CLF feels slighted, what are you going to do? A creature like that can stop time.

She pricked her finger on the spindle
Art by Anne Anderson
Lawyers and Ventures

Okay, all that was just a metaphor.  CLF is not a magical evil creature.  And it is not unstoppable.  Basically, CLF is a not-for-profit law firm (Conservation Law Foundation) and an associated "Ventures" group.

 CLF claims that the companies involved in the VY sale have not released "even a page of their contract to the public."  CLF also admits that they could have read the contract by signing a non-disclosure form, but they claim that such an agreement would be onerous and unnecessary. ( Mike Faher article in Vermont Digger Conservation Law Foundation details Vermont Yankee concerns.)

Transparency and soap

Guy Page, a frequent guest blogger at this blog, has been following the sale closely. Like me, Page cannot understand why CLF (a bunch of lawyers, after all) won't sign a non-disclosure in order to obtain more information about the sale. I will not attempt to equal Page's excellent commentary in Vermont Digger: Where most see opportunity, CLF sees only problems with VY sale.   However, I will quote him.
CLF’s knowledge of NorthStar’s plan is limited, due to its choice not to sign a non-disclosure statement protecting certain contract information. If CLF was truly concerned about transparency, it shouldn’t have soaped its side of the window.
-----
A side note about CLF Ventures

 Aside: I have never understood the relationship between the main CLF and their Ventures.  CLF is a not-for-profit 501c3, and they make their form 990 readily available. 501c3 organizations generally have educational or charitable purposes, which can include advocacy under the "educational" purpose.  

CLF Ventures seems to be a part of the main CLF, and it is described under the Our Focus section of the CLF website. Still, the work CLF does as "Ventures" seems pretty much like the work other law firms do for for-profit companies. For example, here is a quote from the CLF website: "CLF Ventures helps early stage companies gain access to the market through our unique blend of experience. We use private and public networks, our knowledge of the business, market, and regulatory arenas, and our understanding of key gatekeepers to help early stage companies access markets and generate revenues."

Helping companies "generate revenues"? Is this service also a part of the not-for-profit CLF 501c3?  I can't tell from their website: such services may be part of the main CLF, or not. The website doesn't make it easy to understand the relationship between the two (or maybe just one) entities, CLF and CLF Ventures. It is not transparent. End Aside. 




Thursday, April 5, 2018

PUC meeting on decomm April 12


sign from Wikimedia
Vermont PUC hearing on NorthStar sale set for April 12 in Brattleboro

As I described in a previous blog post, Entergy plans to sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar for decommissioning. Most (but not all) of the intervenors are now supporting this sale. 

The sale must be approved by the Vermont Public Utilities Commission, and the Commission is holding a public hearing on April 12 in Brattleboro. 

Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership has a recent op-ed in the Brattleboro Reformer:  Settlement builds foundation for hope at Vermont Yankee.  In this article, he describes how the terms of the settlement will help the Windham County region, and the entire state. My favorite quote from his op-ed:
"For its part, Entergy will contribute an estimated $30 million for site restoration, and also will contribute another $40 million, if needed. 
To its credit, the state did not use the settlement as an ATM machine to fund state programs, as was the practice of some recent administrations."
Supporters, please come!
Guy wrote an email about the meeting to some plant supporters. Here is a partial quote:
The next - and final - Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 12 from 7-9:00 PM at Brattleboro Union High School in the multipurpose room. An informational session will be held prior to the meeting at 6:00 PM.

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending this public hearing. Even though a settlement has been reached, many longtime critics of Vermont Yankee did not participate in the negotiations, and it is likely that they will make their voices heard. The PUC needs to hear from Vernon, Windham County and the rest of Vermont why they support the settlement and why sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar is of economic and environmental benefit.
Please attend if you possibly can.

For more information, contact page at vtep.org  
----
Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.

(Note: the Vermont Public Service Board has been renamed as the Vermont Public Utility Commission.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Nuclear Communications, Tribalism, and Kurt Weill

Chatham House
Wikipedia
Nuclear Communications
I just participated in a meeting on nuclear communications: the meeting ran on "Chatham House Rule." According to the Rule, I cannot say who participated in the meeting, or what individuals said.  I agreed to participate  under this Rule, and I am abiding by that agreement.  Chatham House Rule allows to me use the "information received" but without attribution. I received a lot of information.

Luckily for me, "who was there" and "who said what" was the least interesting part of the meeting.

Tribalism
A major point of discussion was what I will call "tribalism."  People are far more invested in remaining in good standing in their group than in careful evaluation of data. Not being "in" with your group can get you in big trouble.  Humans can only survive in groups. Throughout evolutionary history, a single human, without any group, will soon be a dead human.

Since tribalism is a deep human trait, it is true on the right and on the left.  It turns out that most people who claim that there is no significant issue about man-made climate change are aware of the evidence and science of climate change. Similarly, most people who say that nuclear will not help ameliorate climate change are aware of the evidence that nuclear plants are major sources of low-emission electricity.  (Various presenters at the meeting showed evidence for these statements.)

In other words, right or left, people are not uninformed. They are not stupid.  But, as humans, they are far more serious about group membership than about scientific controversies.

Can we solve the problems of tribalism?
So what do we communicators do about this tribalism?  That was a major discussion point at the meeting.  It did not end with a clearly defined answer.

The answer that I derived for myself was that
we should invite people to accept nuclear, without imposing any kind of loyalty oath.  

Not "accept nuclear because of climate change" for the people who don't publicly accept man-made climate change, and not "accept nuclear because renewables are bunk" for people who are invested in renewables as the way to stop climate change.

Many people, many reasons
There are many reasons to accept nuclear. In contrast, it is unreasonable and even arrogant for communicators to expect people to throw away their group loyalty in order to be pro-nuclear. Different pro-nuclear arguments are compatible with different kinds of group loyalties.  To a large extent, this is why my husband and I put together the book Voices for Vermont Yankee.  In that book, we captured the statements that ordinary people made in favor of Vermont Yankee.  We would never have thought about many of the things that other people said.

As communicators, I believe that we have to open our hearts to the fact we are all human, and everyone needs to be included in some kind of a group.  When we open our hearts to people and do our best not to threaten their group membership, they may open their hearts and minds to nuclear energy.

The role of professionals, and a lesson from Kurt Weill
This wasn't my first rodeo. While I learned more about tribalism at this meeting, I knew about it when I walked into the meeting.

What was new to me was meeting people who had a strong anti-grassroots-advocacy stance. These were pro-nuclear people who felt that most grass-roots advocacy backfired and made things worse. They felt that advocacy should be left to trained professional advocates.

Wow.  Well, first of all, as I wrote a friend after the meeting---advocacy by trained professional advocates hasn't worked, has it? Here's an edited version of what I wrote to some friends who had also been at the meeting:
We should leave nuclear communications to the professional communicators because us free-lance communicators will screw it up?  NO!  The nuclear industry has had professional communicators, with carefully crafted “messages” and brand-recognizable color schemes—had this stuff forever!  Has it worked?  NO! What nuclear needs is people who will step up and communicate their own personal  pro-nuclear message in their own communities. We need all the voices, even if they are not in perfect agreement with each other.

Sort of Worked, Actually
Well.  I have to acknowledge something here.  "Has it worked? NO!" is  too harsh.  The nuclear industry would be much worse off without the professional public relations it has sponsored and continues to sponsor. We have some excellent PR people working for us.  However, these professionals are not enough.  We need grass-roots advocacy. We need ordinary people to communicate their pro-nuclear opinions in their own way.   We need people to communicate at their local meetings and to their own neighbors.  To write letters to the editor at their local newspapers.  And perhaps, even to make their own mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It's not like the professionals have never made a mistake!

Free Speech, Democracy, Kurt Weill
Pro-nuclear people should feel empowered to speak out.  It's about free speech, democracy, and our fundamental values as a society.

In Kurt Weill's song, "Caesar's Death," Weill makes a strong and universal statement.  Hiding behind the professionals is "hiring clever men to do our thinking for us."  This leads to disaster.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Thursday Meeting on Sale of VY to NorthStar

Sign from Wikipedia
The Plan for the Sale

On Thursday, March 22, the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP)  will meet to discuss the sale of Vermont Yankee from Entergy to NorthStar. On March 2, all the parties to the sale (and all but one of the intervenors) signed off on a Memorandum of Understanding.
This Vermont Digger article by Mike Faher covers the memorandum and  is a little easier to read than the legal document.  State, NorthStar strike deal for sale of Vermont Yankee.

Why is the proposed sale a big deal?  I will attempt to answer that question by answering three subsidiary questions and providing some links.

1) What is this deal about?

Choices After Entergy closed Vermont Yankee, the next step was decommissioning.  Entergy looked at the available funding for decomm, and it proposed that the plant be put in SAFSTOR while the funding grew and the radioactivity of the plant diminished. (SAFSTOR can last for up to 60 years.)  Nobody really liked this idea, but it was financially practical and legal.  Entergy didn't like the plan because Entergy has expertise in running plants, but not in decommissioning them.  The state didn't like it because the plant would be just sitting there, for decades.

Decomm Companies Many other nuclear plant owners have faced this issue, and most have hired a decomm company to do the actual decomm.  This is a little complicated, due to nuclear regulations.  For example, when Exelon planned to decommission the Zion units, it hired the specialist firm EnergySolutions to do the actual work.  However, "hired" is not quite the way it happens.  Exelon transferred the Zion license to EnergySolutions, and EnergySolutions will transfer the license back to Exelon when the decomm is complete. The accumulated decomm funds were transferred with the license.  In effect, EnergySolutions owns Zion temporarily, and is directly responsible to the regulatory agencies during decomm.

The proposed Entergy/ NorthStar deal took this type of deal a step further:  Entergy will sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, permanently.

A Sale The sale plan led to a lot of excitement among the local nuclear opponents. A first-of-a-kind transfer (direct sale, not temporary ownership), and happening in Vermont? Oh my! The list of intervenors grew and grew. I felt sorry for both of the companies (Entergy and NorthStar) that had stepped into the morass of Vermont anti-nuclear organizations. These organizations saw this transfer as their last chance to show the world how deeply anti-nuclear they are.  I think they also saw it as their last chance to wring concessions of various types from the companies involved.

Signatures The big deal is that on March 2, all but one of the intervenors signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the terms for the transfer. Basically, Entergy and NorthStar added more bonds and more insurance and more money to the pot, and everyone signed off.  It was not just a win for the intervenors though: the decomm is allowed to use rubbilization, which means using clean debris from building demolition to fill basements.  This had been a huge issue. My blog post from last year contains facts and links, Rubble at Vermont Yankee: Framing the Discussion

Well, everyone signed off on the MOU except Conservation Law Foundation, who felt there wasn't enough money or enough guarantees. CLF predicts that the decomm will run out of money and leave Vermonters on the hook, etc.  My own prediction is that CLF will do everything in their power, including lawsuits, to try to make their prediction come true.  

2) What are  the next steps?

There are quite a few. Vermont State agencies, NorthStar and intervenors have agreed on the MOU, but the state Public Utilities Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must still rule on it.  Once again, Faher at Vermont Digger has a good article on this: Vermont Yankee sale case will extend into summer.  Within that article, note that Guy Page urges plant supporters to come to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission hearing on April 12.  (Guy Page  of Vermont Energy Partnership is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.)

Guy Page's suggestion about the April meeting leads to an easy segueway into the next question:

3) Should I go to the Thursday NDCAP meeting?

Probably.  NDCAP is an advisory committee, and its meetings are often very informative.  This one will include presentations from Entergy, NorthStar and state officials. The meeting is going to be held at a bigger venue (Brattleboro High School) than usual,  because they expect quite a crowd.  In Brattleboro, "quite a crowd" can be unpleasant, as legions of nuclear opponents come in (sometimes by buses) from Massachusetts and all over Vermont and New Hampshire.  On the other hand, the NDCAP meetings are usually fairly orderly.

As I said in my book, meetings are more civilized when the groups are more even. So I do suggest that you go.

On the other hand, I am not sure I will go. I may have a family visit that interferes.  I may be there, or I may not be there.  That makes it harder for me to write: "Absolutely, go!"

If I possibly can, I will be there.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

(Escu) Five things I like about nuclear power


Five Best Things about Nuclear Energy

Suzanne Jaworowski recently asked for input on nuclear communications, specifically for ideas on the best things to communicate about nuclear energy. Jaworowski is Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy.

Dan Yurman posted her request at his blog, and I posted my Five Best and Howard Shaffer's Five Best at this blog. Today, Nick Escu (his pen name) contributes to the conversation.  Escu is a frequent guest blogger at this blog, often writing about natural gas prices.

Nick Escu: Five Things I Like About Nuclear Power

1) Baseload power.

Baseload power is the foundation that the grid depends upon. Nuclear, natural gas, and coal are the  three baseload power sources for the US grid.

2) Reliability.

Reliability is the function of being able to continually produce power. Factors include: fuel, fuel supplies, sustainability during severe weather.

Nuclear plants reliably out rank both natural gas and coal. Nuclear plants produce power over 92% of the time. Coal approximately 57% of the time, and natural gas only 53% of the time. As a baseload, nuclear power is more reliable.

3) Resilience

There are several factors involving resilience for grid operation. How much fuel does a plant have on hand? Do fuel supplies become unavailable? How does severe weather affect the plant itself?

Nuclear plants receive fuel either once every 18 months or once every 24 months. Nuclear plants strive to run breaker to breaker, 24 hours/day, 365 days a year, up to 2 years continuously. The nuclear equipment is extremely safety conscious, with redundancy built in, to order to continue running.

Both natural gas and coal have severe limitations on availability of fuel.

Homes receive natural gas ahead of natural gas power generators. When pipeline restrictions begin to be affected, such as in a severe cold period, like the 2014 polar vortex, or the recent winter blast, most natural gas plants don't have reserves. Some natural gas plants are now building oil storage tanks, and burning oil during severe weather.

Coal supplies in the open, FREEZE. So just because a coal plant has 90 days worth of reserves, doesn't mean those reserves are able to be used, because they're frozen. Many coal plants are now installing ice breaking equipment to break up the frozen coal, and transport it into their plants.

At present, nuclear power plants are much more resilient, and in fact, they care for the grid's needs during severe weather. For example, when hurricanes hit Texas, the nuclear power plant's twin units kept supplying power, when all other power sources had shut down.

4) Low Cost

Nuclear power plants are very expensive to build initially, due to the additional safety built into these plants. But the normal pay-off of the initial costs, is completed between 15 and 18 years. But then these nuclear plants run efficiently for the next 40 to 60 years.

The average life span of a natural gas plant is 19 years, before an entire re-build is necessary. Natural gas plants are smaller, power wise, than a nuclear plant. Natural gas plants are able to be licensed quicker than nuclear plants, so a 450 MWe natural gas plant, which costs $2.5 billion is able to be licensed and approved within a year, and constructed with 3 years, as compared to licensing and building for a nuclear plant within 10 years.

So where exactly are the lower costs?

  • First, natural gas is a polluter of the air, and eventually, assessments will be required for the pollutants natural gas spews out every day. 
  • Next, natural gas prices swing from as high as $14/MMBTU to as low as $1.72/MMBTU. Since the recent $1.73 in March, 2016, the steady natural gas prices have risen to $3.65/MMBTU, over a 100% climb in 2 years. That steady climb is partially due to the export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to foreign countries willing to buy nat gas at $17.00/MMBTU. Prices are rising. When natural gas reaches $4.75/MMBTU, nuclear power becomes cheaper than natural gas. 
  • But for now, nuclear plants are less expensive, for several reasons. Fuel for nuclear plants have risen less than 7%/year since the 1990s. Additionally, power is continually produced by nuclear plants: their reliability and resilience far outdistances both natural gas and coal. Natural gas prices spike during severe weather to sometimes more than $500/MMBTU. Nuclear remains steady. 

Nuclear plants are operational for 60 to 80 years, at the same location. Natural gas plants effectively have to replace everything every 19 years. So megawatt vs. megawatt, nuclear power is built much stronger initially. It out lasts and out performs natural gas in a less expensive manner.

5) Community Friendly

Nuclear plants contribute massive amounts in taxes, in community involvement, in family and community building, because of so many exceptionally talented and experienced people, contributing to their local communities for their working and retirement lifetimes. When a nuclear plant is closed ahead of time, communities and people of those communities suffer tremendously.