Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The New Fire (movie) and the New Nuclear (people)

The New Fire movie
The New Fire and Me

Sometimes, various facets of my life come together in unexpected ways.  For example, the movie The New Fire brought two threads of my life together.

The New Fire follows four young nuclear engineers who have started companies and are designing new types of reactors. However, some of the movie is about why we need these new reactors: avoiding climate change while lifting people out of energy poverty.  Our son-in-law, Vijay Modi, is a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University.  He is also leader of the Sustainable Engineering Lab at Columbia. 

So, I'm watching the movie about nuclear, and there's Vijay, in the movie, describing the need for energy in developing areas. Okay, I admit it. I knew Vijay would would be in the movie. I wasn't surprised.  But it was still fun to be watching a pro-nuclear movie that included a member of my own family.  I strongly recommend the movie, but not just because Vijay is in it.

The New Fire an  Nuclear People

David Schumacher's film describes the promise of new forms of nuclear energy, specifically to mitigate climate change. He focuses on the young people who are starting companies and bringing that promise to life. The film features two companies designing new types of reactors:
  • Jacob DeWitte and Caroline Cochran have founded Oklo Inc.  Located in the San Francisco Bay Area,  Oklo keeps a relatively low profile, and emphasizes the use of small nuclear reactors in remote locations and developing countries.  Update: This is a solid fuel reactor.  An earlier version of my post described it as a molten salt reactor.
  • Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie founded Transatomic Power. Located in Cambridge Massachusetts, the company is proceeding with reactor design, materials testing and simulation. 
The film follows these two companies through crucial years of development: you will be rooting for these smart, dedicated and idealistic young people. 

Speaking of smart, dedicated and idealistic young people, Eric Meyer of Generation Atomic is also in the film.  He adds nuclear advocacy and opera singing to uplifting mix of New Nuclear people.

The New Fire and You

There are several more screenings in the near future: perhaps one near you.  The Screenings page of The New Fire website lists upcoming screenings.  At this writing, The New Fire will be shown
  • November 3, 4, 5 in Denver
  • November 4-8 in Ojai California
  • November 6 in St Louis (free)
  • November 12 at DOC NYC (New York City)
  • November 16 in Berkeley (free)
On November 12, in New York City, David Schumacher, Caroline Cochran, and Jacob DeWitte are expected to attend the showing.  Here's a link to the ticket purchase page  for that showing. 

Above and Beyond

Generation Atomic is running a Generosity Campaign to provide funds for their upcoming trip to COP23 in Bonn.  If you have significant money (over $1500) to contribute to this campaign, you will be rewarded with a private screening of The New Fire.  Yes, this is Above and Beyond.  But think about it.  Perhaps some of the people reading this blog can afford this type of contribution.  A private screening would be a lot of fun for your money, as well as helping a good cause.

Of course, you can contribute smaller amounts to the Generosity Campaign, and receive t-shirts, audio books and so forth.  It's not all-or-nothing.  Send some money!

And find a place where The New Fire is being shown, and watch it!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Update: FERC Acts to Support Reliability

Secretary Rick Perry
The Energy Study 

In April, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that he was requesting a study about whether today's electricity markets are doing an adequate job in terms of providing grid reliability, reliance and stability. Under most circumstances, an announcement of such a proposed study would cause everyone to fall asleep. Nowadays, though, this proposed study was considered revolutionary and perhaps obscene.

The general weltanschuang (German used quite deliberately) of studies under the last administration did not encourage looking at questions of mere grid reliability.  The only allowable questions seemed to be: "How can we get more renewables (and gas backup) on the grid?"  When Secretary Perry asked for a reliability study, he set the natural gas industry into a state of shock. They had a pretty good idea of what such a study would show. They didn't like it one bit.

If you think people were upset that this study was performed at all, you can imagine the anger when it showed the value of base-load plants. The DOE study showed a need to increase grid reliability by supporting base-load plants that can store fuel on site. Yes, that means coal and nuclear.

The FERC Rule-Making

After a FERC study is completed, if it shows a need for a change in the electricity markets, the next step is FERC making a rule for the change. FERC starts this process by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, (NOPR). FERC recently issued an NOPR for the Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule, based on the DOE study.
Here's the link to the proposed rule: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/09/f37/Notice%20of%20Proposed%20Rulemaking%20.pdf

The bulk of the rule is on page 11: (FERC shall)...issue a final rule requiring its organized markets to develop and implement market rules that accurately price generation resources necessary to maintain the reliability and resiliency of our Nation's bulk power system.  The proposed rule allows for recovery of costs of fuel-secure generation units frequently relied upon to make our grid reliable and resilient. 

Update: The easiest way to comment on this rulemaking is to use the Nuclear Matters link Urge Policymakers to Protect Nuclear Energy.  You fill out your contact information and click :Submit. There is a pre-written comment on the form, but you can edit it as you wish.  Click the link and submit your comment today or tomorrow!  Time is short. October 23 is the last day for comments.

Beating Back the Attacks

There are so many things to say about this rule-making!  And so many things have been said!  You would think this is the first NOPR that FERC had ever issued.  It isn't.  Here's a brief run through the proposal and the attacks on the proposed rule.

The DOE study:  
I recommend Rod Adams excellent blog post of August 24, Long awaited DOE report on electricity markets and reliability. The post includes links to the study itself.

Is this rule-making legal?  Is it rushed?  
Yes it is legal. Once again, Rod Adams has a good overview: Rick Perry Directs FERC to Complete Final Action on Resiliency Pricing Rule in 60 Days. In Utility Dive's article Powelson: FERC 'will not destroy the marketplace' in cost recovery rulemaking, Acting FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee explains that the new rule will have a record, docket, and analysis. Just like the rest of the rules. In the same article,  Scott Hempling, a Georgetown law professor, said there is no statutory obligation for any particular period of time for comments.  My own understanding is that 60 day and 90 day comment periods are pretty standard.

Isn't this "rule" kind of vague?
Yes. It is slightly more vague than usual.  According one of the articles in Utility Dive, energy lawyers say that the vagueness of the rule may give more room for industry input on the final product.   But frankly, it is not out of line with other FERC rule-making.  For example, in FERC 1000, one of the most complex and contentious parts of the rule is stated pretty simply: Local and regional transmission planning processes must consider transmission needs driven by public policy requirements established by state or federal laws or regulations.  FERC rarely tells system operators exactly what to do: FERC directs them to "consider this" or "allow for that" etc.  Kind of vague, but then again, they are the system operators and they have their own constraints.

Is FERC Fuel-Neutral, Part 1:
Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said that a proposed rule supporting baseload plants "would blow the market up."  At FERC, according to Wikipedia, Wellinghoff's three priorities were integration of renewables, energy efficiency, and demand-side energy practices, such as real-time pricing.  Wellinghoff didn't mention reliability in his priorities as FERC chairman. I also don't notice that anybody blamed him for supporting the expansion of renewable energy. When some people claim that FERC must be "fuel neutral," they apparently don't mean "treat renewable installations like other power plants."

Is FERC Fuel-Neutral, Part 2:
FERC doesn't like rules that say: Gas plants shall or coal plants shall. For a FERC rule, don't actually name the type of plant.  The new proposed rule doesn't name types of plants.  Any plant that can store 90 days worth of fuel qualifies for recovery of costs of fuel-secure generation units.  FERC and grid operators have many rules for how plants get paid: there's the whole business of ancillary services.  Grid operators pay for ancillary services (reactive power, quick dispatch) even though only certain types of plants can provide these services.  If FERC determines that "fuel security" is important for grid reliability, it can make sure that plants that are able to supply the fuel-security service are paid for that service. This is not revolutionary.

And the final question: Is this going to "blow up the markets"?
There is no market to blow up.  On Friday, Utility Dive quoted Rick Perry saying: There is no free market in electricity. I have been saying this for a while.  I recommend an article by Travis Kavulla, of the Montana Public Service Commission. His article in American Affairs  is titled: There Is No Free Market for Electricity: Can There Ever Be?  It's a good summary of how nobody can "blow up the market" because there really isn't a market.


Actually, there is no "finally" because FERC is beginning the rulemaking process, and we won't see the final rule for perhaps 90 days.  That is, 60 days for comments, some more time for putting the final rule together.  But in another way, I can say:

Finally, the government is paying attention to the reliability of the electric grid!