Skip to main content

Some Thoughts on the Wall Street Journal Story on Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy

Cheap gas? Not last week in the Northeast.
Yesterday evening, the Wall Street Journal published a story by Rebecca Smith that asked the question, "Can Gas Undo Nuclear Power?" It's a question that's been asked often, especially in the wake of the announced closing of the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin by Dominion last October. Here's what NEI's Richard Myers had to say about it at the time:
In 2005, when Dominion bought the plant: (1) power prices in the Midwest were in the $40-50/MWhr range; wellhead gas prices were in the $6-10 per million Btu range; and U.S. electricity demand was growing.

Today: (1) power prices in the Midwest are in the $30/MWhr range: gas prices are in the $2-3 per million Btu range; and (3) the U.S. has had 5 years of no growth in electricity demand, thanks to the worst recession in 80 years.
Near the close of 2012, NEI's President and CEO, Marv Fertel addressed the natural gas issue head on when it came to building new nuclear energy facilities. The following exchange with Steve Dolley of Platts came during an NEI-sponsored press briefing that took place in December (page 12):
Steve Dolley, Platts: Thanks Marvin, thanks for taking the time today. If you’re not expecting any new plants to be built over the next five or ten years, what are the industries other priorities with the nuclear regulatory commission? I know obviously plant safety is the number one priority for the industry and for NRC, but specific things that you’re hoping to accomplish with the commission over the next year?

Marv Fertel: Well first of all, news flash, we are building four. And we’re finishing Watts Bar, so there’s five new plants both in the pipeline being build. And one of the reasons on new plants, I don’t see us completing any beyond those five in the next - the rest of this decade. [A]s a nation we have not gotten back to 2007 electricity demand rates yet. So our demand is still down. We’re still in this recession. If you go over to financial whatever, we’ve probably increased the recession duration for a while.

So we need demand to come back. And as you all know because of the shale gas game changer (type) situation, we’re seeing low gas prices and low electricity prices right now. So everybody is looking to gas.

I would expect late this decade like into 2020 after we finish Vogtle and Summer that you could see new plants get started in our country. They just won’t be completed this decade. I expect demand will go up and there’s no question the price for natural gas will go up. I don’t expect it’s going to go to $12 or $14, but it will go up. It’s not going to stay at $2 or $3, it’s not even in the futures right now it’s almost $4 next year.

So we’ll see gas go up.
The message here ought to be pretty clear: while natural gas prices are at historic lows today, that can't last forever, especially if, as projected, America begins to export shale gas to international markets. In addition, we're already seeing evidence that industries that rely on natural gas as a feedstock that fled the U.S. during periods of high prices are now returning, driving additional new demand.

Finally, we need to remember that even in times of plenty, the price of natural gas can be awfully volatile. Just a few days ago during a cold snap in the Northeast, day ahead spot prices for natural gas reached $34.25 per MMBtu in New England and $36.00 in New York City.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An Ohio School Board Is Working to Save Nuclear Plants

Ohio faces a decision soon about its two nuclear reactors, Davis-Besse and Perry, and on Wednesday, neighbors of one of those plants issued a cry for help. The reactors’ problem is that the price of electricity they sell on the high-voltage grid is depressed, mostly because of a surplus of natural gas. And the reactors do not get any revenue for the other benefits they provide. Some of those benefits are regional – emissions-free electricity, reliability with months of fuel on-site, and diversity in case of problems or price spikes with gas or coal, state and federal payroll taxes, and national economic stimulus as the plants buy fuel, supplies and services. Some of the benefits are highly localized, including employment and property taxes. One locality is already feeling the pinch: Oak Harbor on Lake Erie, home to Davis-Besse. The town has a middle school in a building that is 106 years old, and an elementary school from the 1950s, and on May 2 was scheduled to have a referendu

Why Ex-Im Bank Board Nominations Will Turn the Page on a Dysfunctional Chapter in Washington

In our present era of political discord, could Washington agree to support an agency that creates thousands of American jobs by enabling U.S. companies of all sizes to compete in foreign markets? What if that agency generated nearly billions of dollars more in revenue than the cost of its operations and returned that money – $7 billion over the past two decades – to U.S. taxpayers? In fact, that agency, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), was reauthorized by a large majority of Congress in 2015. To be sure, the matter was not without controversy. A bipartisan House coalition resorted to a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver in order to force a vote. But when Congress voted, Ex-Im Bank won a supermajority in the House and a large majority in the Senate. For almost two years, however, Ex-Im Bank has been unable to function fully because a single Senate committee chairman prevented the confirmation of nominees to its Board of Directors. Without a quorum

Critical American Jobs: Vacancies President Trump and the Senate Need to Fill ASAP

When a new president takes office, there is always a lot on the White House’s plate. But recently 93 members of the House of Representatives sent President Trump a letter asking him to move one particular issue higher on the list: picking new members for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, so that body can resume its crucial work of overseeing energy infrastructure. The members of Congress are correct about that agency, known as FERC, but it is not the only part of government that is short-handed. FERC is supposed to have five members, but the number had dwindled to three, and recently one of the three quit, so FERC is not able to muster a quorum . FERC does many jobs. The one most important to the nuclear industry is oversight of the Independent System Operators, the non-profit companies that run the electricity markets and operate the electric grid over most of the country. Those markets have serious problems but, with FERC out of action, proposed reforms will have to wa