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Subsidizing new nuclear power such as Vogtle reactors in nation’s interest

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Adding two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle is going to need some help from Congress and the federal government to work, according to Georgia Power’s request to continue. And it is in the national interest to subsidize new nuclear power the way the government is helping wind and solar power technologies, a nuclear engineer said.

Georgia Power and its partners made the request to the Georgia Public Service Commission last week to finish Reactors 3 and 4 at Vogtle, which would be the first new nuclear reactors to come on line in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Georgia Power said its capital cost to complete would be an additional $4.5 billion, raising it to $8.771 billion, with a total capital cost for all partners of $19 billion.

However, in a table buried deep in its filing, the company reports financing costs of just under $4 billion, which appears to raise its total cost to more than $12.1 billion. That does not include, however, a $1.7 billion anticipated payment from Toshiba, the parent company of original contractor Westinghouse, said Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins, which would make the company’s total cost $10.47 billion.

Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the project and is the only partner to publicly report its costs. If the other partners incur similar financing expenses, and Georgia Power has warned against using its numbers to calculate costs for the other partners, total costs for the project would approach $30 billion, according to an Augusta Chronicle analysis. That would not include $3.7 billion in promised Toshiba payments, Hawkins said, and any actual financing costs for the other partners could be very different than what Georgia Power is facing, he said.

Currently, the cost of the project is adding 5 percent to the bills of ratepayers and completing the project will boost that to 10.3 percent if each reactor is completed in the additional 29 months that the company is putting forth as its most reasonable timetable, according to the filing. Georgia Power President W. Paul Bowers said rates are currently 14 percent below the national average and would still be competitive and below the national average with the cost of completing the project.

In the filing, Georgia Power assumes that production tax credits for new nuclear power that are set to expire before the projected date for the reactors to come online in 2021 and 2022 will be extended. The company has also been in talks with the U.S. Department of Energy about new loan guarantees in addition to those that are already saving customers $375 million, according to the filing. Georgia Power has received $3.4 billion in guarantees and has applied to DOE for an additional $1.7 billion, Hawkins said.

The U.S. House of Representatives in June passed an extension of the tax credits and it is pending in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is “committed to doing whatever he can to ensure that the Plant Vogtle project stays on track for completion, and he will continue working with Senate leadership on a path forward to get the nuclear production tax credit extension passed this year,” spokeswoman Amanda Maddox said.

Those credits and loan guarantees, as well as nearly $3.7 billion in payments from Toshiba set to begin next month, are part of the risk assumptions that Georgia Power made in deciding to go forward.

“If any of these assumptions are not realized, the economics may not warrant going forward with the Project,” the company said in the filing.

But the country does have an interest in making sure the project, the only one still underway in the U.S., is viable and able to deliver new first-of-a-kind “evolutionary” nuclear technology, said Dr. Travis Knight, director of the nuclear engineering program in the College of Engineering and Computing at the University of South Carolina. Nuclear provides about 75 percent of the country’s electric generation that does not create greenhouse gases and is an important part of reducing those emissions in the future, he said.

“You want some diversity in your energy generation so keeping nuclear power going is essential,” Knight said. “Clearly, there is a strategic interest in things like grid reliability and diversity of power sources. Without a doubt there is a strategic interest in that. If it were totally driven by market forces and plants were forced to shut down and everything went to natural gas and what you could derive from solar and wind, that would put us in a very vulnerable position.”

One has only to look at south Texas, where two nuclear reactors 90 miles southeast of Houston are still operating despite widespread devastation from Hurricane Harvey, he said, while the nearby petroleum and gas refineries are heavily disrupted. Moreover, while natural gas is very cheap at the moment, that might not be the case in the future, Knight said.

“I don’t think anyone reasonably expects (prices) to stay so low for so long,” he said. Long-term operations are also much cheaper in nuclear power than natural gas or coal – with nuclear, the fuel cost is about 5 percent of the cost of generation versus about 90 percent for natural gas and around 75 percent for coal, Knight said.

“That makes it very volatile and those are pass-through costs that are borne by the ratepayer, the customer,” he said. In fact, once the reactors come online, “customers begin to see fuel savings immediately,” Hawkins said. According to one analysis the company included in the filing, it would actually save $585 billion to complete the project versus abandoning it and building a gas-fired generating plant instead, and that is before applying an additional savings from loan guarantees or tax credits.

The U.S. government already heavily subsidizes wind and solar technology and “I think you could make a stronger case for nuclear” because it is always available and reliable, Knight said. Only about one in five in the USC program go to work for a utility but others go into related fields, such as nuclear safeguards and national nuclear security, he said.

“If we shut every plant down today, the United State still has a strong interest in nuclear technologies,” Knight said. “And we need to maintain a strong workforce, a strong technological basis and a strong position in the world. I don’t think we want the greatest nuclear experts to be in China or North Korea or Iran or Russia or any of those other places. We have a leadership role to play. Therefore, it only makes sense that the government take some responsibility in ensuring that is the case.”


63 Comments on "Subsidizing new nuclear power such as Vogtle reactors in nation’s interest"

  1. Cloggie on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 9:45 am 

    Last year 80% of new power in Europe was renewable:

  2. Cloggie on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 10:18 am 

    Did the offshore wind calculation again on more realistic data (where I had to assume less):

    EROI offshore wind: 54 for a 4 MW turbine.

    Earlier calculation for a 6 MW turbine resulted in EROI of 60:

    In both cases energy cost of installation, maintenance and storage are not included.

  3. Kenz300 on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 10:47 am 

    Nuclear energy is too costly and too dangerous.

    Fukishima is still poisoning the environment.

    Chernobyl will never be safe.

    What will it cost to store nuclear waste forever?

    Who will pay for it?

    Wind and solar power are safer, cleaner and CHEAPER.

    Cheaper WINS !

  4. drwater on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 11:34 am 

    Nuclear is vastly cleaner and safer than coal for base load power. It’s also CO2 free and there is enough fuel for several thousand years with any of the breeder technologies. We should be pushing ahead with the new gen reactors.

  5. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 11:44 am 

    See cloggen-fraud, your idiotic proselytizing has finally managed to convince one PO.coms most skeptical fence-sitters, KENZParrot of the virtues of wind power. An amazing achievement. Now, you can finally FO to your kibbutz, sit in a rocking chair sucking matzah ball soup through a straw all day.

    Off you go now, and thanks for converting kenzparrot for everyone. He used to be so….skeptical before you stumbled in.

  6. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 3:07 pm 

    The energy source of the future is
    to burn up old IKEA furniture.

    The supply quantities are infinite, yet
    it has zero value to society.

    It makes great big clouds of black
    smoke that are best vented out tall

    This will make America Great Again,
    first with unlimited cheap energy,
    second with those wonderful smoke
    stacks pouring out black smoke,
    and last it get rid
    of all that IKEA particle board furniture.

    And no ugly windmills either.

  7. Cloggie on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 5:49 pm 


    Duke Energy nixes nuclear plant, will invest $6 billion in solar and batteries

    By year end, global solar capacity could equal nuclear; by 2022, solar could double nuclear.

    Nothing but victories, as far as the eye can see.

  8. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 5th Sep 2017 7:48 pm 

    No more electricity at night.

  9. Antius on Wed, 6th Sep 2017 9:56 am 

    ” Did some digging in research in optimal wind power distance in very large grids, like the North Sea. The result is indeed a little disappointing. A Belgian study arrives at an cost optimal distance of 15 rotor diameters, which would reduce the total number of 4 MW wind turbines (like applied in the Gemini wind farm) to 50,000 or 200 GW name plate wind power in that part of the North Sea (200,000 km2) that is “monopilable”.

    Interesting. A 200GW nameplate capacity is about 80GW of time averaged power, or 700TWh per year. That works out at 0.4W/m2 over an area of 200,000km2.

    Sanity check: Atmospheric pressure is 100KPa – that’s 10te of air for every square metre. (1) Let’s assume we can extract energy from the bottom 30% of the mass of the atmosphere – which is the lower 2km; and (2) we extract one third of the total energy of that airstream; (3) Assume average wind speed in that zone is 10m/s. Total extractable power per metre cross-section of the atmosphere is 500.6KJ/m. (4) Let’s assume that wind turbines can achieve 80% efficiency in converting the extracted mechanical energy into power. The extractable electrical energy is then 400.5kW/m. Let’s say we absorb all of the available energy passing through a 500km line across the North Sea, adjacent to the wind. Maximum possible power extraction would be 200GW.

    But that would require filling the North Sea with turbines over an area of 500,000km2. If engineering difficulties limit development to narrow strips of coast, then 80GW would appear to be a sensible realistic maximum. This would require planting 3000km of coastline to a thickness of 67km. No small task.

    If we assume that another 150GW (40GW(av)) is installed on land (i.e. 20,000km2 of wind farms at 2W/m2), maximum realistic wind power generation in Europe would be 1050TWh per year. This compares to an actual European electricity consumption of about 2000TWh per year. If we switch all energy functions to electricity (i.e. transport & heating, etc.) without changing our societies in any other way, total electricity consumption would roughly double. So, on the face of it, if we completely maxed out wind power development in Europe it might provide about a quarter of the continents’ energy needs. But that is before we need to think about storing energy and covering the storage losses. From previous analyses I have determined that this could consume up to half of renewable energy, if we try to use it to produce baseload power through storage alone. More later.

  10. Cloggie on Wed, 6th Sep 2017 11:56 am 

    If we assume that another 150GW (40GW(av)) is installed on land (i.e. 20,000km2 of wind farms at 2W/m2), maximum realistic wind power generation in Europe would be 1050TWh per year.

    You arrive at 1050 TWh for all Europe (onshore + offshore). That is all based on that quote-mined 15D optimal dispersion of wind-turbines.

    If you look at a real study, you get totally different numbers:

    p24: Respectively, 29 %, 25 % and 20 % of the projected total offshore wind potential at 10 to 30 kilometres from the coast (7 100 TWh) in 2030 can be found in these areas. Map 3.1, however, illustrates that some offshore areas in this distance class have sea depths greater than 50 metres and are therefore not suitable for wind energy development.

    Further out at sea, at 30 to 50 kilometres from the coast, the Baltic, the North Sea (including the English Channel) and the Mediterranean respectively account for 30 %, 30 % and 20 % of total wind potential. The total potential for this distance class is estimated as 3 300 TWh in 2030.

    (Not sure what the year 2030 has to do with “potential”)

    At any rate, they arrive at 3300-7100 TWh wind energy potential, mostly in North Sea and Baltic (each 30%).

    Current EU consumption is ca 3000 TWh.

    In other words, North Sea + Baltic offshore wind can replace the current fossil fuel electricity consumption with a factor of 1-2.

  11. Antius on Wed, 6th Sep 2017 12:33 pm 

    “p24: Respectively, 29 %, 25 % and 20 % of the projected total offshore wind potential at 10 to 30 kilometres from the coast (7 100 TWh) in 2030 can be found in these areas.”

    It would seem that you have two conflicting reports. They cannot both be correct. From my own admittedly limited analysis, 7100TWh appears to be unrealistically high. I can only imagine that the authors of this document did not base their assessment on any sort of dynamic atmospheric analysis. This is effectively double counting. You cannot remove energy from a river further upstream and expect it to still be there further along stream.

    Strictly speaking, the problem here is different to wind shadowing. The extra separation distance between wind turbines is needed because very large wind farms drain kinetic energy from the entire lower atmosphere. It takes a lot of distance for friction between higher and lower air layers to restore ground wind speeds.

    There is a tendency to assume that the atmosphere is boundless – a huge ocean of air. It is tempting to think that the kinetic energy of the atmosphere must be mind-bogglingly large. Like everything else, it has it’s limits.

  12. Cloggie on Wed, 6th Sep 2017 12:52 pm 

    It would seem that you have two conflicting reports. They cannot both be correct.

    I had to search really long until I found a reference to this 15D number. Wind shadow has not really been addressed thoroughly so far. Wind Farm Layout Optimization Problem or WFLOP has only been applied to windfarms of 150-200 turbines and has nothing to do with filling the North Sea with wind turbines.

    Here some excerpts from the EU study (2009) that says that the raw technical potential of wind power in Europe is ca. 20 times the current consumption or 75,000 TWh:

    The real constraint of applying wind power is public acceptance (“not in my backyard”).

    I think that offshore is the best way forward. Still interested in WFLOP studies regarding very large grids, read North Sea.

  13. Cloggie on Wed, 6th Sep 2017 1:16 pm 

    Here finally a study that explicitly researched wind shadow. Conclusion: for all practical purposes NOT an issue:

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