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Nuclear Costs

Estimates for new reactor construction costs continue to sky-rocket. Conservative estimates range between $6 and $12 billion per reactor but Standard & Poor's predicts a continued rise. The nuclear power industry is lobbying for heavy federal subsidization including unlimited loan guarantees but the Congressional Budget Office predicts the risk of default will be well over 50 percent, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. Beyond Nuclear opposes taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies for the nuclear energy industry.

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Thursday
Jun232016

UBS: Palisades shutdown by spring 2017, replacement with "cheap renewables," would benefit Entergy, CMS, & ratepayers

UBS AG is a Swiss global financial services company, incorporated in the Canton of Zurich, and co-headquartered in Zurich and Basel.In a report entitled U.S. Electric Utilities & IPPs: Reacting to Retirements, UBS has advised investors that Entergy and CMS (Consumers Energy), as well as area electric ratepayers, would benefit significantly from the near-term (spring 2017) permanent shutdown of the problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor. (IPP stands for Independent Power Producer.)

A relevant section reports:

Contracted nuclear fleet at risk as well too

Further, we see long-term contracted plants as also at particular risk of shutdown as utilities have little incentive (ratebase) and high costs attached to these typically smaller facilities. An update from ETR around its Fall EEI update on its nuclear portfolio could potentially include an arrangement with CMS on premature retirement of Palisades. We think such arrangements across the Midwest could materialize over time (depending on progress in achieving carbon goals with wind, etc). [Page 1]

The Debate at Palisades: Illuminating the Dilemma

Focus has shifted towards Michigan where the conversation revolves around ETR’s remaining single-unit plant, Palisades, which continues to run with an above-market contract with CMS. We reiterate our view that shutting down this unit early could not only save money for ETR in operating the plant and accelerating its strategic positioning away from nuclear but also reduce delivered costs to CMS consumers avoiding the cost of such a high-priced PPA. While merchant IPPs have been on the front end of the latest retirement wave, we see a trend towards regulated entities should the industry prove unable to rein in costs. We emphasize with power prices across much of the country now trending below $30/MWh – and capacity contributing an additional $5-10/MWh, the implicit value of carbon remains the key 'discrepancy' in justifying the economics of these plants.

Both sides would likely save costs

We believe a scenario in which Entergy opts to shut down Palisades nuclear plant during the spring 2017 refueling timeframe would likely be mutually beneficial for CMS/ETR later this year (~3Q timeframe for ETR decision) and envisage scope for CMS and ETR to arrive at a mutually agreeable arrangement to close the plant early and effectively replace the arrangement with a lower all-in cost solution, such as ratebasing further available merchant capacity in the MISO market for instance. This would likely result in both CMS and ETR respectively transitioning to a more regulated profile. Further, we see an early retirement scenario as likely addressing ongoing concerns around nuclear sustenance capital. An update could be provided in tandem with ETR's EEI capex update on its future nuclear strategy. Given its spring 2017 outage, we see this Fall timeframe as still providing latitude for a possible expedited retirement as soon as next year. [Page 3-4]

UBS asks, and answers, this key question:

What's changing in the equation? Cheap Renewables.

...We see the improving cost profile of renewables as adding to nuclear pressures. [Page 4]

UBS later states:

Bottom line, we would expect continued retirement in restructured markets as [nuclear] plants continue to be undermined by zero-cost renewables. (emphasis added) [Page 5] 

It should be noted that Dr. Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment, accurately predicted, three years ago, many of the recently announced reactor closures in the U.S. One of the reactors he considered at high-risk of near-term shutdown was Palisades.

His report was entitled "Renaissance in Reverse: Competition Pushes Aging U.S. Nuclear Reactors to the Brink of Economic Abandonment." His analysis was based in part on UBS investment analyses at that time.

Included among the factors that Dr. Cooper listed as to why Palisades was at risk of near-term shutdown were: economic factors (cost, old, merchant, less than 25 years with license extension [stand alone should have been included -- Palisades is a single reactor plant]; operational factors (long term outage); and multiple safety issues. [See Exhibit ES-1, Retirement Risk Factors of the Nuclear Fleet, page iv.]

Thursday
Jun162016

PowerDC call to join them Fri., June 17 to show D.C. PSC opposition continues against Exelon Nuclear takeover of Pepco

This just in from the PowerDC coalition, opposed to Exelon Nuclear's takeover of the Mid-Atlantic utility Pepco:

Make your voice heard. Join us at the Public Service Commission building tomorrow at 3 p.m.

Tomorrow the D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) will announce whether it will uphold its shocking approval of Exelon’s bid to takeover Pepco.

PowerDC coalition members, along with the, D.C. Office of the People's Counsel, and the D.C. Attorney General have asked the PSC to reconsider its decision. This request comes as a result of the PSC's decision to approve the merger based on flawed procedural grounds.

Let us know if you can attend the PSC's hearing (1325 G Street, NW #800) tomorrow at 3 p.m.

Thank you,
PowerDC

The commission and the media think the public has accepted defeat and moved on. We have an opportunity to show them that we are still engaged, outraged, and prepared to continue this fight. Join us!

Wednesday
Jun152016

Closure of OPPD’s Fort Calhoun plant looks likely; cost to generate electricity is double U.S. average

"Port" Calhoun, with Missouri River floodwaters lapping at safety-significant systems, structures, and components in summer 2011.As reported by Cole Epley in the Omaha World-Herald, it appears a solid majority on the board of directors on the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), owner of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant on the Missouri River in Nebraska, are ready to back OPPD management's recommendation that the problem-plagued atomic reactor be permanently closed.

As reported:

Said four-year board member Tom Barrett: “When you look at it from either the future of energy or the price of energy, the economics kill it. My vote is going to be to shut it down.” (emphasis added)

The article also reports:

[W]ind energy will make up nearly all of the replacement power in the wake of the nuclear plant’s expected closure.

David Kraft of Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago renamed Fort Calhoun as "Port" Calhoun, in the wake of historic flooding on the Missouri River in 2011 (see photo, above left).

The atomic reactor narrowly dodged disaster due to the flooding. Fortunately, upstream dams held. If one or more had breached, Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates, Inc., warned an "inland tsunami" could have caused disaster at Fort Calhoun. (Although OPPD had wisely shut down the reactor to ride out the flooding before it began, the high-level radioactive waste storage pool was nonetheless vulnerable to catastrophe, if its cooling were disrupted.)

A simultaneous electrical fire -- allowed to smolder for days -- landed "Port Calhoun" on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Red Finding" degraded performance category of worst reactors in the country. In the past several years, this has cost OPPD ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars, as OPPD has struggled to get off NRC's bad list. Apparently that investment has been wasted, as "Port" Calhoun will now likely close by October 2016, after the OPPD board of directors votes to do so tomorrow.

Tuesday
Jun142016

Exelon to shut Nine Mile Point-1, Ginna reactors if New York fails to OK compensation plan

As reported by Jim Ostroff at Platts, Exelon Nuclear has threatened to close two of its three atomic reactors in upstate New York, on the Lake Ontario shore, unless the New York Public Service Commission approve massive bailouts to prop them up, at ratepayer expense.

Exelon has engaged in similar blackmailing and hostage taking, of its own workforce and host communities, in Illinois -- with recent announced closure dates for the Clinton atomic reactor (June 1, 2017) and its Quad Cities Units 1 and 2 (June 1, 2018), after the Illinois state legislature refused to bail them out, at ratepayer expense, for the third year in a row.

Exelon has extended its shutdown threats to Byron in Illinois, as well as Three Mile Island Unit 1 in Pennsylvania (Unit 2 melted down 37 years ago).

As David Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago (Illinois' 35-year nuclear power watchdog) has said, "please do!" NEIS has been the only party -- not Exelon, nor the nuclear power industry's workers' own unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) -- to call for "just transitions" for the workforce that would be displaced by reactor closures.

Similarly, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and the Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) have strongly advocated for a just transition for upstate NY nuclear plant workers, as well as state funding to help nuclear plant host communities adjust from nuclear dependency, to the burgeoning, long overdue renewable energy economy that will replace it.

Monday
Jun132016

Bailout alert: PSEG quietly lobbying New Jersey for handouts to keep operating 2 nuclear plants in the state

As reported by NJ Spotlight, regarding the Salem Unit 1 and 2 atomic reactors in New Jersey near Wilmington, Delaware:

Public Service Enterprise Group officials have quietly begun lobbying administration and legislative officials about securing new financial incentives for the units -- given their ability produce power without contributing any emissions to global climate change. (emphasis added)

(That last claim is, of course, most debatable!)

Exelon Nuclear is minority owner of the Salem 1 & 2 atomic reactors. Exelon lobbyists have similarly demanded bailouts in IL, PA, and NY, in order to prop up its age-degraded, economically non-competitive atomic reactors.

(Thanks to Scott Stapf of the Hastings Group for the Tweet alerting us to this news article.)