- Vogtle was budgeted at $14 billion when building commenced in 2013. Current estimates say it could top $21 billion by the time it comes online in 2019-2020. “The new units at Vogtle will be uneconomical when or if they are complete” – John Rowe, Former Chairman and CEO of Exelon.
- V.C Summer was budgeted at $9.8 billion when building started in 2013. Now it is closer to $14 billion by the time it comes online in 2020.
Consumers that get their electricity from nuclear plants would see an extra fee tacked onto their energy bills to cover the cost of construction. The US is not the only country that has found that nuclear construction and budgets nearly always go up. This has been the case in many nuclear projects worldwide.
What many people don’t know, is that because of a lack of long term storage or reprocessing facilities in the US for spent fuel rods, they are mainly stored on-site in water filled storage pools. These spent fuel rods are highly radioactive and require constant cooling. The storage ponds were never designed for long-term storage and the amount of spent fuel rods has increased. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized power plant operators to increase the number of rods being stored by up to five times what the storage ponds were designed to hold. This is clearly a safety and security issue so the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized the use of dry storage for older, less radioactive spent rods to free up space in the pools for newer ones.
When a nuclear plant is at the end of its life, it needs to be decommissioned. All Nuclear plants are required to have a trust fund to cover the cost of decommissioning. You’re paying for this too in your monthly electric bill. The fun is taxed, so the government takes 20% of it.
Consider the case of Petra Nova in Texas. The profit from capturing and selling the gas relied on oil staying above $75 a barrel but as of 3/1/2017 the price is $56 a barrel. The Texas Clean Energy Project was budgeted at $1.9 billion but the projected cost ended up being $3.98 billion. The DOE pulled out of the project and many are doubtful it will ever be completed.
In Kemper County, MS the budget increased from $2.2 billion to a staggering $7.1 billion for a new plant. Although the plant is operating, it’s not apparent if they are capturing CO2 yet. They are supposed to supply the oil industry so it will be interesting to see if lower oil prices have an effect on the capture part of the process.
A new plant in Boundary Dam, Canada opened to great fanfare in 2013. By 2015 major problems were reported. Again, the CCS process relies on selling CO2 to oil fields and low oil prices have hurt its operation.
Retrofitting existing power plants with CCS technology is also expensive. The actual process can consume up to 25% of the power station output. For example, Schwarze Pumpe Power Plant in Germany was retrofitted in 2006. By 2014 the operators had discontinued all research into CCS as the costs and energy required made it unviable. Earlier in 2013, Germany abandoned CCS entirely.
There were four CCS retrofitting projects in the UK. As of 2015, the withdrawing of government funding had stopped all four. These plants relied on pumping CO2 into used oil wells in the North Sea.
Some ideas on how we can become greener and lower our emissions
Coal needs to be taken out of the equation as quickly as possible, and most importantly, we need to ensure that job losses in this area are more than made up by new jobs in clean technology. Texas has between 24,000 and 25,000 people working in Wind Power alone. According to the EIA, there were 6,633 people working in coal mining in 2015 (down from 7,938 in 2014).
A ramp up of wind power, solar and biomass jobs could be used to fill the loss of mining jobs. Are we doing anything to find these hard-working Americans new jobs? Tax incentives and grants could be awarded to companies willing to locate where these jobs are being lost.
Coal fired power stations could possibly be converted to burn biomass. It should be noted that many of the existing PA coal fired stations are old and not economic. This coupled with the abundance of cheap gas, is killing the coal industry. CCS is not going to save coal, it’s going to increase the cost and make it less competitive.
According to a 2015 report by Penn Future, in 2012-2013, fossil fuels in PA got subsidies of $3.2 billion.
Natural gas is an important short to medium term tool in reducing carbon emissions but it’s a finite resource. Although it releases less CO2 than coal or oil, it’s still releasing carbon into the environment. We don’t want to go down the road of trying to make CCS work with gas next in order to keep it in the mix. It’s also a fossil fuel so is included in the $3.2 billion subsidy.
This option should be abandoned due to the cost overruns, incredibly long time to build and no coherent strategy or plan on dealing with waste as outlined above.
Our renewable figures are a disgrace. We are not getting enough out of our renewable portfolio. The three main renewable sources (wind, solar and biomass) are not even close to what they could produce.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, Pennsylvania is a leader in manufacturing wind turbines but our installed generation capacity is 1,369MW. This is equivalent to one medium sized power station. Twenty six facilities exist statewide, employing between 1,000 and 2,000 people. We need subsidies at the moment to ensure the industry grows. We could use some of the $3.2 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry to subsidize wind energy.
The Alta Wind Energy Centre in California generates nearly 1,600MW of energy which is more power than the whole of PA.
A mixture of large and small installations would make a huge difference. We also need to think out of the box on wind power. A startup in Scotland is proposing small turbines that can be attached to existing lamp posts. A survey of lamp posts in the UK suggests that 20% of an estimated 10,000,000 lamp posts are suitable.
Biomass seems to be very underutilized. It’s an essential tool in the race to meet emissions targets. Full or partial conversion of existing coal and oil fired power stations (along with retooling to make them more efficient) would be a great way forward. Drax power station in West Yorkshire in the UK has carried out an enormous amount of retooling and conversion to Biomass. This has resulted in a 40% lowering of emissions. Of 6 generating plants, 3 are now running on biomass which is partially harvested and manufactured through their facilities in the United States. Sixty-five percent of their power is now generated from biomass. They also utilize the by-product from the plant to produce gypsum. Drax was one of the 4 abandoned CCS projects and the move to biomass was largely driven by moving away from burning coal.
Finally, solar power is another very important power source. We generate around 300MW of power from Solar and the industry employs 3,021 people in 2016. Prices have dropped by 64% in the past five years. Costs will come down, employment will go up, emissions will go down if we invest in more solar! Again we need to embrace rather than talk down solar.