Life isn’t easy in Ukraine these days. There’s an ongoing low-grade war in the eastern part of the country that constantly threatens to explode as Russian troops continue building their forces in the region. In the rest of the country, there’s serious economic contraction–far worse to Ukraine’s economy, on a percentage basis, than the Great Recession that swept across the West several years ago. To top it off, Transparency International recently named Ukraine the most corrupt country in Europe, with police and other officials regularly demanding bribes from citizens. Efforts to curb that corruption are a major focus of the Ukrainian government. Continue reading
As pointed out in the article itself, some environmentalists and clean energy advocates remain skeptical that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is attainable; and we’ve had a few strong and interesting responses to my recent post The archaic nature of baseload power–or why electricity will become like long-distance. Check out the comments to that piece and add your own.
In that article, I laid out the obsolete nature of the 20th century electricity system, which relied on large “baseload” nuclear and fossil fuel plants located far from the largest electricity consumers sending (and wasting) electricity over long high-voltage transmission lines. Such a system simply makes no sense anymore given the cheaper, cleaner, generally smaller-scale, and more sustainable energy technologies of the 21st century. Continue reading
It hasn’t been a very good week at Exelon headquarters near Chicago. First, four of its reactors–from New Jersey to Illinois, couldn’t clear the PJM capacity auction, putting their future in jeopardy. And this morning came the worst news of all for the company: The Washington DC Public Service Commission unanimously rejected its attempt to take over the local utility Pepco.
Even though four states and FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) had already approved the deal, approval from all jurisdictions involved is essential to allowing the deal to go through, so DC’s action–if it stands–will kill the deal entirely. ; Continue reading
Exelon’s troubled nuclear fleet ran into still more trouble Friday, when three of its nuclear sites–totaling four reactors–failed to clear the PJM capacity auction for 2018, despite PJM’s efforts to bolster big-time nuclear and coal generators.
The three losers were the two Quad Cities reactors, Three Mile Island and Oyster Creek. Another Exelon reactor that is bleeding money is Clinton, in downstate Illinois, which is not part of the PJM service area.
Failing to clear the auction does not necessarily mean that these reactors will close, nor, for that matter, that they are even uneconomical. Although, in this case, they are either losing money or barely breaking even.
The capacity auction is held by PJM to ensure a reliable source of power during peak demand periods, like during the recent polar vortex and on the hottest of summer days. Utilities bid a price to PJM that they will accept to guarantee that their power plants will be operating during those times, during that span–June 2018-June 2019. Once PJM has what it considers adequate capacity, power plants whose bids are higher than the last plant bidding successfully are said to fail the auction and PJM will not count on them operating.
However, utilities with power plants that fail the auction can still attempt to, and often do, sell their electricity on the open market. In addition, local transmission constraints can sometimes force regulators to keep power plants open even if they have not cleared the auction. These local grid issues can become quite political and used to keep reactors and other controversial plants operating when other cheaper and cleaner choices may in fact be available. That is what is happening with Exelon’s aging and expensive Ginna reactor in New York, which is “needed” only rarely (some would argue never, since the need could quickly and easily be met with inexpensive renewables), but regulators have implemented a sweetheart deal to keep it running–a deal now being challenged by clean energy activists.
While it’s not known at this point whether any such transmission constraints are in play at Quad Cities, most experts seem to think that Exelon will be announcing within the next few weeks its permanent shutdown, probably by 2017. A similar announcement could come for Clinton if the Illinois legislature does not quickly act on Exelon’s repeated demands for a bailout of its reactors. So far, the legislature has balked at Exelon’s demands, but the company is continuing its all-out lobbying effort. The auction results could actually hurt Exelon’s position, however, since–in an effort to support big coal and nuclear plants–PJM set the terms of the auction so that more of them could qualify. And that means higher electricity prices for ratepayers–in this case 37% higher. It will be a hard sell for Exelon to convince legislators to now cause rates to rise even more.
It seems that Exelon sees a similar dynamic developing in Pennsylvania where, as the graph to the right indicates, the company (and its Philadelphia Electric subsidiary) has ramped up its lobbying spending in recent years. Added together, its spending ranks fourth on the list, behind only the frackers of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and two health care insurers. It may be that a legislative-imposed ratepayer bailout for Exelon’s Three Mile Island reactor will be high on the company’s wish list this year.
For its part, Exelon’s Oyster Creek reactor in New Jersey already is set to close in 2019. The auction results make it more likely that the reactor will close earlier than that and certainly anything, such as NRC post-Fukushima regulations, that would force Exelon to have to spend money on the reactor would send it into a speedy retirement.
Meanwhile, Exelon has released some new documentation about the finances of its nuclear fleet and this article from Saturday’s Crain’s Chicago Business provides some details about those finances, as well as how the electricity markets work. Left unanswered however, is the deeper question: how is it even possible that paid-for nuclear reactors’ operating costs are so high that they cannot compete with other generating sources like wind and gas? Nuclear power was sold as a technology that yes, might be expensive to build, but whose fuel and operating costs would be so low that nothing else could compete. In reality, even with low fuel costs, the costs of merely operating and maintaining aging reactors are proving too high to keep them running. The miserable economics of nuclear power are coming home to roost.
The problem is not Exelon’s alone, of course. Entergy has several reactors in the same position–indeed, it was when Entergy first decided not to even enter its Vermont Yankee reactor into the Northeast’s annual capacity auction a few years ago that activists saw its shutdown writing on the wall. And Ohio’s FirstEnergy is desperately seeking re-regulation of that state’s electricity sector as a means of bailing out its perennially-troubled Davis-Besse reactor and a few coal plants to boot. That probably isn’t in the cards, although the utility’s request from the public utility commission for a bailout is still pending, but it has made FirstEnergy somewhat of a poster child for the epitome of the obsolete 20th century utility model–one whose time is quickly passing by.
All of these utilities, and the nuclear trade associations, had been hoping the Clean Power Plan would set up a new means to bail out these uneconomic reactors. But with the EPA turning its back on existing reactors and withdrawing even the limited support for them its draft plan had held out, that avenue is a dead-end.
So, it looks to be bye, bye Quad Cities. And more may be following soon, as the U.S. finally begins to move toward a clean energy future.
August 24, 2015
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There are no shortage of skeptics out there, even some among environmentalists and clean energy advocates, who are unconvinced that renewable energy can ever be the dominant–perhaps even sole–source of electricity generation.
The reasons for this skepticism vary. Some, for example, argue that the land needs for sufficient generation of wind and solar power are too great. This turns out to be an incredibly lame argument, but that’s the subject of a different article. Continue reading
Having pretty much failed in the developed North and West, the multinational nuclear power industry is now pinning its hopes for—perhaps not revival but mere existence—on a handful of nations largely in the global East and South: China, India, Brazil, even Vietnam. Another nation the industry is counting on is South Africa, which currently has one two-unit nuclear site. But the country’s current President, Jacob Zuma, wants to basically quintuple its nuclear capacity despite the possibility—some would say probability—that such a project could bankrupt his nation and the fact that South Africa has plentiful and cheaper renewable energy potential. Even more disturbing, it’s clear that Zuma’s government wants to build Russian reactors, whose safety record is, shall we say, less than sterling. Continue reading
The headlines flash daily about major changes in energy policy in the UK; none of them good news. The slashing of support for solar, energy efficiency and other clean energy programs and at the same time an apparent intent to spend absolutely mind-blowing amounts of money on new, untried, and highly risky nuclear power reactors. From the point of view of an America where, haltingly but steadily, clean energy is gaining a true foothold and is moving ahead, it seems incomprehensible that our closest ally would move in the opposite direction of most of the world’s industrial economies. Could that really be true?
So we asked veteran UK activist Pete Roche to explain what is happening in the UK. And no, the news really is not good. Continue reading