Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Economic Value of Nuclear Energy in Illinois

Exelon made its case – see post below – and now we get a chance to look more deeply into the economic impact of the company’s 11 nuclear reactors (not to mention its corporate headquarters) in Illinois. NEI has released a report containing an independent analysis using a nationally recognized model to estimate the facilities’ economic impacts on the Illinois economy.

Consider:

Thousands of high-skilled jobs. Exelon employs 5,900 people at its nuclear energy facilities in Illinois. This direct employment creates about 21,700 additional jobs in other industries in the state. A total of nearly 28,000 jobs in Illinois are a result of Exelon’s nuclear operations.

Economic stimulus. Exelon’s Illinois nuclear plants are estimated to generate $8.9 billion of total economic output annually, which contributes $6.0 billion to Illinois’ gross state product each year. This study finds that for every dollar of output from Exelon’s Illinois facilities, the state economy produces $1.65.

Tax impacts. Exelon’s nuclear facilities in Illinois are estimated to contribute about $290 million in state and local taxes, and nearly $1.1 billion in federal taxes each year.

But the report has a sobering message, too.

In 2016 alone, the early retirement of the Byron, Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear energy facilities would result in a loss of nearly $4 billion of direct and indirect economic output in Illinois. The losses would increase each year thereafter and reach almost $5 billion in direct and secondary output by 2030. The number of direct and secondary jobs lost increases over a five-year period, peaking in the fifth year after the plants close, to more than 13,000 jobs lost in Illinois.

And that’s just a taster. Exelon made an excellent case for the value its facilities provides Illinois as a producer of carbon-emission free electricity. In a way, this is the rest of the story. By all means, download and read the whole report.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Exelon Makes the Nuclear Case in Illinois

exelon-co-logo Kathleen Barrón, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs and wholesale market policy, had some strong words at a policy summit held by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

“If the units at risk of closing today -- representing 43 percent of the state’s nuclear generation -- retire, they cannot be mothballed and later brought back online,” she said. “Together they represent more than 30 million metric tons of avoided carbon emissions, given that they will need to be replaced with fossil generation to provide the around-the-clock electricity needed to serve customers in the state.”

That’s true. Nuclear energy is not really properly valued for its presence in the proposed EPA climate change rule (which of course could change before it is finalized), and one consequence of that would be that shuttered nuclear plants would lead to higher carbon emissions – and cause states to miss their targets. If you consider climate change an existential issue, it doesn’t get starker.

The logical objection is this: Illinois has had nuclear reactors for a long time, so their value has already been noted. But that doesn’t paint a complete picture. if favoring renewable power through subsidies and other incentives causes nuclear energy to become relatively unprofitable, then plants that close as a result will likely be replaced by natural gas works (because baseload energy, which most renewable sources cannot supply, remains necessary). That wrecks the state’s emissions targets and provides a value to nuclear energy retroactively. The argument is: it shouldn’t be retroactive – that’s too late. It’s valuable now.

Barrón makes exactly this point:

“All zero-carbon resources should be treated similarly,” Barrón said, “and a state like Illinois that has invested in nuclear technology should be recognized for that clean energy investment.”

It certainly should. She also notes nuclear energy’s superb performance during the polar vortex earlier this year – something we’ve beat the drum on several times. But the real interest here is that Exelon has put it on the line: Illinois has a lot of nuclear capacity (a plurality, if fact, generating 47 percent of the state’s electricity) and losing it would be a loss not only for the state, but for the nation – and depending on how grand you want to get, for the world.

You can get a PowerPoint presentation about nuclear energy in Illinois (prepared by the Illinois EPA) here. It was presented at the summit.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nuclear Fills in Big Blind Spot as the U.N. Gathers

Former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman weighs in on climate change in the Boston Globe, but also tilts the discussion toward local concerns:

During the polar vortex event, nuclear energy facilities around the country helped to save the day in the face of extreme weather. Because uranium fuel is plentiful and stable in price, nuclear energy facilities aren’t affected by the same type of fuel price fluctuations as other sources of energy. Neglecting clean energy sources such as solar, wind, and especially nuclear, can result in blackouts, increased power bills, and will take a heavy toll on our efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

I’ll add that uranium doesn’t get diverted to home heating, which really hurt the natural gas supply in New England last year. If predictions of a powerful winter come true, expect nuclear energy’s reliability to once again play a part in keeping people warm.

Whitman’s larger point is that New England is becoming over dependent on natural gas while the new EPA rules regarding carbon emissions will have a decided impact on its use. Still, about 33 percent of the region’s electricity is supplied by nuclear energy, so what’s needed is a bit more variety. More nuclear energy wouldn’t go amiss, either. “State-based plans for supplying clean energy and reducing the amount of pollutants into our air must include keeping a balance in our energy portfolio,” writes Gov. Whitman. The governor is currently the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.

It’s a sensible editorial. It’s also well-timed, with the U.N. Climate Summit coming up this weekend.

Another editorial – op-ed, really – by Lawrence Mone and Alex Armlovich for the New York Daily News addresses the summit directly. It’s called “A climate march with a big blind spot.” Care to guess what that big blind spot is?

With the UN climate summit set to kick off, environmental activist Bill McKibben on Sunday will lead what is being advertised as history’s largest climate-change march through the streets of Manhattan. McKibben calls it “an invitation to change everything.”

Notably absent from McKibben’s agenda is any endorsement of the one carbon-free electricity source that, unlike many other forms of alternative energy, can be affordably scaled up to power modern economies: nuclear energy.

I really like that formulation - “can be affordably scaled up to power modern economies.” That’s important, especially for developing countries.

Mone and Armlovich gather together a lot of factoids, many of which are quite useful:

Household electricity costs the French just 21 cents a kilowatt-hour — cheaper than what Con Ed charges in New York. France also emitted 87% less carbon dioxide per unit of electrical energy than Germany, according to the most recent data.

France being the nuclear star, Germany the nuclear goat – bien sur! And they take on some of McKibben’s own dumber statements.

McKibben recently claimed nuclear power is “like burning $20 bills for energy.” Yet according to the federal Energy Information Administration, utility-scale solar power — even with a lavish government subsidy — remains nearly 40% more expensive than nuclear. Onshore wind at a small scale is slightly cheaper, but requires nearly 850 square miles (or most of Rhode Island) of turbine-covered land to equal the output of a typical two-unit nuclear plant.

The authors make a lot of good points – I suspect the U.N. Climate Summit will be pretty friendly to nuclear energy – so this is more of a complement than a corrective. Still, worth a full read – and not only for the terrific array of data points to memorize.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NEI CEO Marv Fertel to Participate in Ex-Im Bank Press Conference

NEI CEO Marv Fertel will be participating in a press conference on the U.S. Export Import back today at 1:30 EDT in Room S. 115 at the Capitol. Also participating will be:

Sen. Cantwell
Sen. Manchin
Sen. Kirk
Sen. Graham
Ms. Kavia Kusum, President, Combustion Associates Inc.
Mr. Michael Richard, Director of Government and International Affairs, Westinghouse Electric Company
Mr. Dan Pfeiffer, Vice President of Government Affairs, Itron, Inc.
Mr. Patrick Wilson, Director of Federal and Government Affairs, Babcock & Wilcox
Mr. Steven Wilburn, CEO, FirmGreen

The U.N. Climate Summit

climate_summit The United Nations Climate Summit September 24 has an interesting format. It brings together 120 heads of state (or their representatives)to “announce bold actions that they will be taking in their countries.” These, I assume, could be anything on-topic, so there may be some nuclear energy-related announcements. Everything could be kind of vague and feel-good – gestures toward energy efficiency, for example – or countries get very ambitious with their announcements. This is a U.N. effort, but should not be confused  with the Framework Convention on Climate Change. I suppose it’s okay to call the summit a bit more casual – or at least as casual as such a high-level meeting could be.

Write Jerry Kremer over at the Huffington Post connects the summit with its location, focusing on New York state’s own emissions profile.

While New Yorkers produce 8 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita annually, the national average is more than 150 percent higher -- and in some states 300 percent higher!

That’s pretty good – for New York. But why?

With 30 percent of the state's electricity coming from nuclear, 23 percent hydro, and four percent wind, solar and other renewables, New York's generation mix is comparatively light on the burning of fossil fuels. The air pollutants and greenhouse gases that are prevented by New York's nuclear fleet amount to tens of thousands of tons annually.

Kremer wants the summit to note the nuclear-friendly atmosphere of New York and even more:

The United Nations Climate Summit provides a unique opportunity to highlight the many benefits of nuclear energy at a time when some domestic reactors face economic and regulatory headwinds. I encourage worldwide attendees to consider the vital importance of New York's nuclear plants, starting with nearby Indian Point, which supplies more than 10 percent of the state's power, and whose continuous operation has been critical to improving New York City's once abysmal air quality.

As far as countries that might make nuclear energy-related announcements, UAE, Vietnam and Bolivia seem like possibilities. We’ll see. The U.N is setting up a live stream of the event, so check back over there to watch.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Innovation Brings Safe, Reliable Nuclear Operations

The following post was sent to us by PPL Susquehanna’s Francis Golomb for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them.

Francis Golomb is an electrical journeyman in the predictive maintenance group at the Susquehanna nuclear power plant in Luzerne County, Pa. He’s worked at Susquehanna for 10 years after earning a certificate in electrical occupations from Pennsylvania College of Technology. He’s also a certified Level I thermographer. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Francis Golomb uses new infrared technology for cutting edge diagnostics testing.

Helping the plant operate safely and reliably

I perform several different types of equipment testing that help detect potential issues before they become problems. One common type of testing is the use of infrared cameras to make sure the temperature of equipment is what it’s supposed to be. For example, if we find a hot spot on an electrical connection, we know we need to replace it before it shorts out. Or we may find a solenoid valve is cool, which tells us it isn’t working. We also use other technologies like ultrasonic testing, which is the use of sound waves, to find potential equipment issues. I also do electrical current signature analysis and partial discharge analysis.

We use the information from these tests to monitor equipment on a regular basis and track performance to make sure there are no adverse trends. From there, we work with engineers to help determine the best time frames for replacing or repairing equipment.

For example, we recently found an electrical connection on a main generator breaker that was hotter than normal. We were able to replace it during our last refueling outage — long before it became a reliability problem that would have required us to shut down the unit to fix. Because of what our group does, the plant operates safely and reliably.

Everyone at our plant knows that we have a responsibility to protect the public by keeping the plant safe. That responsibility is very personal to me since my family lives near the plant.

Fascinating equipment and technology

I enjoy the technology that lets us “see” into equipment where the human eye can’t. I get to see a world that most others don’t, and get a great sense of satisfaction from helping to interpret the messages our components send us. Through our regular communications with our equipment, our plant tells us ahead of time when it’s not working right so we can fix it before things become problematic.

With early detection, we have the time to plan the repair in the most cost effective manner. We have the time to find the best equipment, have it shipped to the plant, and then installed under optimal circumstances.

Knowing my work prevents an expensive rush repair or having to shut down a unit unexpectedly is gratifying.

PPL Susquehanna infrared testing checks equipment temperatures. 

Innovative prediction

We keep an eye out for improvements to technology that allow us to monitor more equipment or monitor it more effectively. This year, we bought a new infrared camera that was smaller and more flexible so we could see around obstructions to test equipment we hadn’t been able to before. The new camera also has more color palates, or color scales, that we’re experimenting with to see which provides us with optimal information.
 
Public confidence in our future

The work our group does helps keep our plant operating safely and reliably and that goes a long way toward building public confidence in our industry.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Site Selecting Jobs and Investments in the Electricity Market

site_section_logo If you need evidence of the power and value of the electricity market, Site Selection has you covered. The self-described magazine of corporate real estate strategy and area economic development has published a listing of utilities that have added the most jobs and invested the most resources in the last year. Site Selects lists the top 10, always a popular round number for this kind of endeavor. Frankly, the numbers of jobs in particular surprised and delighted me. These are the companies
(most of them, also delightful) with nuclear holdings:
Alabama Power: the Southern Company subsidiary's economic development team helped companies create 1,810 new jobs in 2013 with total capital investment closing in on $2 billion.
American Electric Power: AEP hosted 10 educational forums across its service territory attended by more than 400 community partners and elected officials. [Writer Adam Bruns didn’t get job/investment numbers for AEP.]
Duke Energy: The calendar year 2013 saw the team helping to garner more than 100 project wins, approximately $3 billion in corporate capital investment and the addition of over 13,700 new jobs in its multi-state territory, where it serves 7.2 million customers amid a population of 21 million.
Entergy: Totaled 9,221 new jobs and more than $20.7 billion in corporate facility investment in 2013, marked by dramatic growth in the Gulf Coast economy.
FirstEnergy: FirstEnergy and its 10 utility operating companies helped corporate end users invest nearly $3 billion and create a planned 7,792 jobs across its service territory of 6 million customers amid a population of 13.4 million across six states.
Florida Power & Light: The team at FPL helped companies in its territory create 11,997 jobs with nearly $15 billion in project investments, among 4.6 million customers in a 35-country area of Florida populated by 13.3 million people.
Georgia Power: The utility's Community & Economic Development team helped attract 18,532 new jobs and $2.7 billion in private-sector capital investment last year via 78 projects.
Tennessee Valley Authority: TVA's economic development team continues to be a leader among leaders in such categories as total new jobs it helped companies create (52,000) and total capital investment associated with that job creation ($5 billion) across its huge seven-state territory serving a population of 9 million people.
In case you’re not keeping count, that’s 8 of 10 companies that have nuclear holdings – I’ve directed the links to the relevant nuclear page for each company. Heck, the story is illustrated with a shot of Georgia Power’s (which is a subsidiary of Southern Co.) Plant Vogtle project. The remaining two companies have nuclear cousins and deserve a shout out, too:  they are Gulf Power (another Southern Co. subsidiary) and LG&E (a subsidary of PPL, which has nuclear holdings).
By all means, read the whole thing – a very impressive job by Adam Bruns. The number of jobs created and amount of money invested is staggering, leading one to believe, and not without merit, that where goes the electricity generation business, so goes the nation.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Diablo Canyon is Safe from Earthquakes

This morning in a conference call with nuclear energy bloggers, NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, in response to a direct question about the safety of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, said "[We] believe the plant is safe ... Otherwise it still wouldn't be operating." For the why behind that conclusion, you ought to review two reports that were released yesterday afternoon.

On Wednesday, PG&E released a report confirming the seismic safety of Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The report, the Central Coastal California Seismic Imaging Project, is 14 chapters long, but the bottom line is delivered succinctly by The Tribune, the paper of record in San Luis Obispo.

The report will now be peer reviewed by an NRC committee that includes Neal Driscoll, a professor of geology and geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. When asked about the report after its release yesterday ...
[Driscoll] said PG&E marshaled many state-of-the-art tools for the study to better understand the faults around Diablo Canyon and reduce uncertainty. He looks forward to analyzing the study.

“I think releasing these reports to the public so that they can be vetted and peer-reviewed is a great step forward,” he said.
Back in Washington there was more good news about Diablo Canyon, as NRC once again concluded that there were "no immediate seismic safety issues at the plant." That report was issued in response to concerns raised by the plant's former resident inspector. As was reported in The Tribune this morning:
Mark Satorius, the NRC’s executive director for operations, on Wednesday issued a response to the safety issues raised by Peck in an appeal that he filed with the agency. That appeal criticized a 2009 review of the safety implications of the Shoreline Fault that runs just offshore of the plant.

Peck filed the appeal, called a differing professional opinion, in July 2013. The agency convened an independent review panel to look at his allegations, and Satorius met with Peck to hear his concerns. His response is in the form of a memo to Peck.

“A compelling basis for my conclusion is drawn from our meeting on July 30, 2014, when you and I agreed that there is not now nor has there been an immediate or significant safety concern associated with this Diablo Canyon issue,” Satorius said in his response to Peck.
For more information on the plant and its operations, visit its website.

Nuclear Advocate Serves as 'Technical Conscience' at Vogtle 3 & 4

The following post was sent to us by Southern/Georgia Power’s Sarah Gillham for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them.

Sarah is the maintenance rule coordinator at Vogtle 3 & 4. She has been in the nuclear industry for four years, choosing to make a career in the industry after two summer internships in her field. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Sarah Gillham
How long have you been in the nuclear industry? 
I have been employed full time for four years and have two summers of previous experience as an intern.

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it? 
I am currently serving as the maintenance rule coordinator at the Vogtle 3 & 4 site. I am also responsible for a couple of plant systems, and I act as the owner and technical conscience for those systems. I enjoy my job because it is new and different every day – whether that’s seeing changes being made to the construction site or having new activities and responsibilities assigned.

Why do you think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future? 
Beyond being a sustainable clean-energy source, nuclear energy is a source of a significant number of stable jobs for a variety of skill sets, which can positively impact regional economies.

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear industry? 
As maintenance rule coordinator, I am working through processes that are 20 years old and that were developed for implementation at existing American commercial nuclear plants. For a new plant, we can make the processes more robust, and we can make improvements to these processes to streamline their use for the anticipated new nuclear builds in this country.

How does working in the nuclear industry affect your personal life? 
I am involved in the North American Young Generation Nuclear and American Nuclear Society sections in my area. These organizations reach out to the community to provide information to the public about nuclear. This has given me opportunities to learn and be confident in speaking about nuclear energy to friends, neighbors and relatives. These professional organizations are also great ways to be involved in community projects and they provide a number of professional development opportunities. Working with these organizations has allowed me to meet new people with common interests. I have enjoyed my involvement greatly over the course of the past four years.