Pending Disaster

Pending Disaster

The PJM independent system operator (ISO) said there is no imminent danger to the grid when it was asked about the First Energy bankruptcy filing and First Energy’s request of FERC for cost recovery for its nuclear and coal-fired power plants.

While there is no immediate threat caused by retiring nuclear and coal-fired power plants, it’s disingenuous to ignore the future threat.

Nuclear and coal-fired power plants are being forced to retire before the end of their economic lives by the auction system. See, It’s Time to end the Auction Fiasco

An honest examination of the threat to our uninterrupted supply of electricity includes looking at the age of nuclear and coal-fired power plants and how their retirements would affect the reliability of the grid.

Exhibits from DOE Report March 13, 2018,
Reliability, resilience and the oncoming wave of retiring baseload units.

Exhibit 2-1 and 2-2 show the average age of coal-fired and nuclear power plants in 2017 and 2040.

Table 1, shows the average age of power plants in 2017 and 2040:

Type of Power Plant

2017

2040

Nuclear

37

60

Coal-fired

43

66

Table 1: Average age in years

  • In 22 years, half the coal-fired power plants will be over 60 years old.
  • In 22 years, 44% of nuclear power plants will be over 60 years old.

There are two extremely important facts concerning these power plants.

  1. It is impossible to build new coal-fired power plants under current EPA regulations limiting CO2 emissions to 1,400 pounds per MWh.
  2. It’s very doubtful any new nuclear power plants will be built due to their high construction costs and the cost overrun problems associated with the Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear plants.

Advocates of a carbon-free grid claim that wind and solar can replace all of our nuclear and coal-fired power plants.

This is probably wishful thinking. We can already see in New England where it was necessary to use oil-fired power plants last January to prevent blackouts. In addition, the ISO-NE has projected there will be blackouts if coal-fired and nuclear power plants are forced to close.

Replacing baseload power with wind and solar will result in the cost of electricity skyrocketing.

Germany, which is attempting to go carbon-free, is already experiencing high costs for electricity with German consumers paying four times more than the average American … 

While only 22.4% of electricity comes from wind and solar. (Coal and nuclear still supply 48% of Germany’s electricity.)

Wind and solar can’t provide electricity 24/7 when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow and requires storage for 24/7 availability of electricity to be remotely possible. 

And storage is very expensive. At the very least it will double the cost of wind and solar. That is, for every MW of solar or wind generated electricity, it could require an equal amount of storage.

Storage at these levels has never been tried, so no one knows whether it is even possible for storage to provide the required supply of electricity to backup wind and solar without baseload power plants.

Natural gas power plants are replacing nuclear and coal-fired power plants where there is pipeline capacity, but proponents of a carbon-free grid are already attempting to prevent the construction of natural gas power plants because they use methane, a GHG, and emit CO2.

Conclusion

It’s terribly dangerous to assume that baseload power isn’t needed, or that natural gas can replace nuclear and coal-fired power plants, or that wind and solar with storage could do the same.

Construction of natural gas, i.e., methane, power plants will also probably be curtailed, because they also emit CO2 and a carbon-free grid means no natural gas.

To allow nuclear and coal-fired power plants to disappear from the grid is gambling the future of the United States.

IS0-NE is already predicting the likelihood of blackouts.

Auctions used by ISOs, such as PJM, are forcing nuclear and coal-fired power plants to close.

Auctions should be abandoned, and nuclear and coal-fired power plants should not be forced to retire before the end of their economic lives.

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