Two stories this morning illustrate that there is both hope and a lot of work to do if we are going to have a sensible discussion about energy choices in America. Perhaps our lessons are also applicable outside of the country.
Many of you have heard about Chuck DeVore’s attempt to put an initiative on the ballot in California that would overturn the states virtual moratorium on new nuclear plants. Assemblyman DeVore gave up on the initiative for this election cycle, but vowed that he would continue to press forward on the idea that nuclear power is one of our best tools for fighting climate change. In his opinion, it would be short-sighted at best to keep it off the options list.
It appears that his message is starting to get heard, at least. State Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) has scheduled an information gathering hearing about nuclear power to be held December 10 in CalTrans offices at 4050 Taylor St. in San Diego. You can read about this event and the continuing discussion that is going on by visiting voicofsandiego.com and reading the article titled Once Taboo, Nuclear Power Experiences Renaissance in California. There is plenty of material to discuss and many issues that still cause legitimate concern, but I am confident that an open process will lead to the right decisions as long as nukes are willing to work hard at sharing their knowledge and passion.
On the other side of the country, however, a political alliance that includes the Governor, NY State Attorney General, Westchester County Executive, at least one US Senator (who is also running for president), and one US Congressmen who used to sing for a living are all seeking to force the NRC to deny a license extension for Indian Point reactors 1 and 2. You can read about their efforts, along with the flimsy reasons given for their stance at New York Seeks to Block Nuclear Plant License Renewal. Here is a quote from that article:
New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano have submitted documents asking the federal government to deny the relicensing of Indian Point sought by owner-operator Entergy Corporation.
The papers filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, identify dangerous deficiencies in Entergy’s relicensing application for Indian Point related to terrorism, earthquakes, evacuation plans, and the surrounding population density.
If they are successful, natural gas suppliers in the Northeast will be loving life – Indian Point has a capacity of 2200 MWe. It has been running at an average annual capacity factor of about 93%. If that power is replaced by very efficient gas turbine combined cycle plants running at an average heat rate of 7,000 BTU per kilowatt hour, and if the price of natural gas is a well behaved $7.00 per million BTU, it will cost New York residents about $900 million per year to pay for the fuel for the yet to be built plants.
People who understand a bit more about the law of supply and demand and who understand the pipeline constraints that currently exist will know that a more likely price for natural gas for the plants needed to replace Indian Point would be a bit higher most of the time and a whole lot higher during peak demand periods in both summer and winter. It might very well cost residents in excess of $1.5 billion per year in fuel and capital recovery costs to shut down Indian Point. Most of that money will be spent buying fuel from someplace else since NY is not a gas producing state.
Not only will that increased expense be borne by NY residents, but the increased demand for natural gas will also cause price increases throughout the northeast US. A lot of people who are already struggling with heating bills are going to be hurt by a decision to prematurely close an operating reactor.
Of course, there is also the environmental impact to consider. This plant is not going to be replaced by windmills or solar panels; the most friendly replacement choice is natural gas but it might also be partly replaced by increased coal burning. I will leave the computation of that effect to someone else.
In contrast, the existing zero emission plant is fully capitalized and carefully maintained in order to meet NRC regulations. The specific operating cost at Indian Point are not publicized, but the average over all of the nuclear plants in the US fleet is about 1.72 US dollar cents per kilowatt hour. For a plant producing 2200 MWe at a capacity factor of 93%, that leads to an annual cost of about $310 million. About 70% of that cost is not fuel – it is salaries, taxes, decommissioning fund payments, used fuel storage, security, and other costs that actually end up benefiting the local area near the plant.
Shutting down a plant that is able to meet NRC rules for continued operation is stupid. I struggled to find a less confrontational word, but I simply cannot think of a clearer way to say it. In the meantime, I continue to purchase stock in natural gas suppliers who will benefit if Indian Point shuts down. It is rarely wrong to bet on the side of ignorant politicians.