Skip to main content

Energy Plants: An Open and Closed Case

800px-Boardman_Oregon_coal_plant_pano1

Oregon's Boardman Coal Plant

Our friends over at Coal Power have done a real service, taking a look at energy generation plants set to close over the next few decades. While the U.S. grapples with issues of infrastructure, notably roads and bridges, energy infrastructure is mostly the business of utilities.

Anyway, since this is originating from Coal Power, let’s hear that part first:
Coal-fired generation units across the U.S. are an average age of 37 years old, while the average retirement age since 1999 is 48 years. Coal units are not the only fuel type approaching typical retirement age, with natural gas steam turbine (NGST) units possessing the second-oldest weighted average age.
That’s surprisingly more like nuclear plants than one might expect, though it looks like a fair number of coal plants are being kept operational. Utilities are jittery about proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules that may cause some coal facilities to retire early. I think this could even be called the point of the article.
A variety of factors could impact fossil fuel unit retirements. Although the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) was vacated by a federal appeals court in August, many coal-fired units have already installed costly emission controls due to the EPA’s looming Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which will come into effect in 2015.
Here’s the takeaway on nuclear energy, which I found a bit contentious:
Nuclear units across the United States are nearing the end of 40-year operating licenses, with an average unit age of 32 years. Licensees are able to apply for a renewal of up to 20 years, subject to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) approval. Although the NRC has readily extended licenses for units, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in September 2012 looks to curb how nuclear owners apply for renewals. The Nuclear Reactor Safety First Act would limit the advance time period in which a licensee could apply for a renewal to within 10 years of the license expiration date.
The bill referenced here, sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), died in committee. The description is basically the entire text of the bill, an addendum to the Atomic Energy Act. I’m not sure why Coal Power felt the need to refer to it here – maybe writer Neil Powell just wanted to fill out his nuclear coverage or make the nuclear profile a litter dimmer to fit his thesis.

In any event, NEI keeps track of license extensions: currently 73 reactors have been granted 20 year extensions – 13 have applications in at the NRC – and 17 expect to apply. That’s the fleet – presumably, Markey’s bill would apply only to that final 17. (And to be honest, I’m not sure how the bill would trip up the extension process, if at all.)

So, let’s say nuclear energy is pretty well covered – there’s a few new reactors in progress this decade and likely a few more next decade and onward. In Powell’s favor, he does point out that newer forms of generation are still making baby plants.
Several generation technologies largely developed over the past 10 to 15 years are not at significant risk of potential retirement over the decade. Those include natural gas combined-cycle (CCGT), wind, and solar technologies.
Though still nascent, small nuclear reactors have a lot of potential to flesh out the energy fleet, though the main growth may be in the 2020s. Powell does not mention these, but they are still new and not in service yet. The idea, though, is that the industry is not standing still.

So, electricity generation is not in any great danger of disappearing. It may seem as though the sky is preparing to fall to our coal friends, though I wouldn’t underestimate their ingenuity in keeping the sky aloft.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…