THE REAL COSTS OF COAL & NUCLEAR MAKE NEW ENERGY CHEAP
One of the most familiar canards about New Energy is that it is more expensive than traditional sources of electricity generation. Nothing could be less true. Wind, in particular, is cost competitive now and getting more so every day, though not always as a result of its own progress.
The dreadful December 22 coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant revealed yet another way the power industry hides the true costs of using coal to generate electricity.
U.S. coal plants put out 131 million tons of waste every year. 42% is recycled, creating $1 billion/year in revenues. The rest piles up.
In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found ~25% of retention ponds and 57% of landfills did not have adequate protections. (A 2007 follow- up found some improvements.) Estimates put the cost of securing the 440 coal plants' 600 landfills and waste ponds at well over $1 billion and perhaps as high as $5 billion.
Lisa Evans, attorney, nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice: “Right now, the cost is being borne by communities, by people drinking contaminated water…The cost should be internalized by the coal industry.”
Environmental stewards are now pushing, in the wake of the disastrous coal-ash spill, for new regulations on waste storage. The industry opposes the idea, asserting it is unnecessary and would be excessively costly.
Jim Roewer, executive director, Utility Solid Waste Activities Group: “This seems to be an engineering failure…I don’t think it represents a trend or an epidemic, nothing that would require federal intervention.”
Uh, Mr. Roewer, the Tennessee coal-ash spill is the result of leaving the coal industry to manage its waste without federal intervention.
Even so, fix the 600 potential engineering failures to the EPA’s satisfaction. Add the cost of doing it to the price of coal-fired power. Then, let’s see how costly wind power is in comparison.
Oh, and then there’s the cost of coal's greenhouse gas emissions to consider, too, of course…
A firsthand report on the spill. From RiverFox911 via YouTube.
Maybe nuclear would be better?
Georgia Power and Progress Energy Florida have recently proposed to contribute to the heralded “nuclear renaissance” with new plants. One small detail: They want the ratepayers to pay for the bigger part of the price of the projects and take the bulk of the risk.
Well, suppose an accident happens. It happened with coal 2 weeks ago. It happened with nuclear in 1979 at Three Mile Island and at Chernobyl in 1986. Another such incident could once again turn public opinion hostile to nuclear plants. The people who have decided to build these new nuclear projects can walk away. The ratepayers’ money would, of course, be lost, and they would still have to find a power plant to keep their lights on.
Sounds like something plotted by Wall Street bankers, doesn’t it?
Progress Energy Florida’s deal with Westinghouse Electric Co. and The Shaw Group Inc. includes the purchase of two 1,105-megawatt reactors. The first would theoretically go online in 2016, the second in 2018.
Progress Energy Florida has already begun adding charges ($11.42/1,000 kilowatt-hours) to its customers’ monthly bills to pay for them.
Total projected cost: $17 billion. In round numbers, that’s 7.7 million per megawatt.
To be fair, the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) technology is said to be far safer than that used in the Three Mile Island days - though that, too, was touted at the time as the latest, safest technology.
The real problem with passing on the cost of building nuclear power to the ratepayer is that it hides the truth: The marketplace has rejected nuclear energy as a bad investment because of construction delays and cost overruns.
The NGNP plant being built in Finland is Europe’s first new reactor in 20 years. It is 3 years behind schedule and 50% over budget. TVA (Yikes! They can’t be trusted with coal. Should they be trusted with nuclear?) recently doubled to $17 billion its budget for proposed nuclear plants that would use the same Westinghouse AP1000 reactors Georgia Power wants its customers to pay for.
What this means is that construction delays and cost overruns must be expected in nuclear plant construction, despite the fact that ratepayers have no real control or recourse.
This is like telling a house contractor nobody will be paying much attention to his work but go ahead and do the renovation because everybody on the block is chipping in to pay. Talk about a happy contractor!
Regulators in Georgia have recommended against the Georgia Power plan, asserting the company should take a bigger part of the risk. It’s a reasonable point but it likely means the nuclear plant can’t get built because Georgia Power won’t expose its stockholders to such risk and isn’t likely to find investors to take on such big risk for such big money with such a long payback period.
So why should the ratepayers?
Meanwhile, back on the farm: The TransAlta Corporation’s 96-megawatt Kent Hills Wind Farm (randomly selected as the most currently reported wind installation to go online) began commercial operation on December 31, 2008, on time and on budget. It cost $170 million Canadian ($143 million U.S.).
In round numbers, that’s $1.5 million per megawatt. Georgia and Florida ratepayers could build twice as much offshore wind capacity at twice the cost and wind power is still cheaper than nuclear.
How much cheaper wind is than coal cannot be known until the real costs of coal become clear. That won’t happen until the U.S. puts a real price on greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for the costs of coal’s other toxic wastes.
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Oh, and speaking of toxic wastes, does anybody know how much it will cost to safely store nuclear waste? No, nobody does, because there is no known way to store nuclear waste safely.
Want to know how much it costs to handle wind waste? It’s equal to the number of nuclear and coal plants it makes sense to build – ZERO – when the options of wind, solar and hydrokinetic energies are available.
Footnote: Another post will take up the squandering of diminishing water resources on coal & nuclear energies. Wind and solar, of course, require virtually no water.
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Progress Energy To Buy And Build Nuclear Reactors
Russell Ray, January 5, 2009 (Tampa Bay Online via MSNBC)
Advisory: Kent Hills Wind Farm begins commercial operation
January 5, 2009 (CNNMoney)
Nuke revival puts all risk on customers
Jay Bookman, January 4, 2009 (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Coal-Ash Spill May Cost Utilities Billions in Rules
Alex Nussbaum, Christopher Martin and Daniel Whitten, December 31, 2008 (Bloomberg News)
U.S. power companies; AEP; Georgia Power; Progress Energy Florida (Jeff Lyash, President/CEO); Westinghouse Electric Co.; The Shaw Group; TransAlta Corporation (TSX: TA) (NYSE: TAC); Japan Steel Works Ltd.; FLA State Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and FLA State Rep. Peter Nehr of Tarpon Springs
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- Regulation of coal wastes will add one of the costs of the spew to the cost of coal-fired generation, making New Energy one big step closer to parity.
- Georgia Power and Progress Energy Florida propose to build nuclear reactors and finance them with fees on their ratepayers’ bills.
- TransAlta Corporation’s 96-megawatt Kent Hills Wind Farm just went online, on time and on budget.
- A Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on the TVA coal ash spill is scheduled for January 8.
- Little needed discipline of coal waste sites has come from the Bush EPA despite a 2007 study identifying 67 sites with proven or suspected contamination.
- Charges to ratepayers for the nuclear plants has begun in FLA despite the fact that no AP1000 reactor has ever been built for commercial service.
- Georgia Power wants approval to build and start charging ratepayers by March.
- The FLA project was approved by one regulatory agency in July 2008, expects another to rule in 2009 but may not get final approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before 2011.
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- The coal ash spill was at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, 35 miles southwest of Knoxville. - It covered 300+ acres of rural Roane County.
- Georgia Power’s proposed reactors would be at its Vogtle plant on the Savannah River near Augusta.
Progress Energy Florida’s reactors would be on a 5,100-acre site in Levy County.
- The Kent Hills Wind Farm is 30 kilometres southwest of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
- Levels of arsenic and other metals are above drinking water standards in the region of the coal ash spill.
- When coal waste is recycled it goes into a $1 billion+ market of gypsum wallboard, cement products, landfill for construction projects but environmentalists have questioned whether such recycled materials are safe because they contain some of the same toxins in the coal ash.
- New regulations on coal waste would add to the costs of burning coal which are already due to rise from greenhouse gas emissions caps.
- Many power companies that rely on coal, (including AEP, the biggest) store coal ash both in wet slurry ponds and in dry landfills.
- Georgia Power’s share of the proposed nuclear project is estimated at
$6.4 billion, just 45% of the cost.
- Japan Steel Works Ltd. is the only company in the world capable of manufacturing the foot-thick reactor vessel needed in most nuclear plant designs. It is rushing to expand production from five vessels a year to 12 by 2012. 30+ new reactor units have been filed in the U.S. and more are coming. Such supply bottlenecks explain the inevitability of delays and cost overruns in nuclear construction. Competitors do not get into the market because it has no future.
- Sen. Fasano and Rep. Nehr asked Progress Energy to suspend its plan to charge ratepayers for its nuclear project because it puts the burden on already-burdened consumers. Both lawmakers will bring legislation to stop the plan.
From TheCleanDotOrg via YouTube.
- David Goss, director, American Coal Ash Association: “There have been a handful of smaller spills over the years, but nothing like this one…I expect the spill will raise a lot of questions about how coal ash gets stored. We could see new regulations at the federal level.”
- Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman, AEP: “Some of these ponds have been operating for decades without a spill,” she said. “We have a regular inspection schedule for each site and the largest ones have instruments to tell us when there’s a problem.”
- Jeff Lyash, President/CEO, Progress Energy Florida: "Expanding our nuclear capacity will ensure our customers will continue to have a reliable supply of energy, while reducing reliance on fossil fuels and helping to eliminate greenhouse gas from our environment…"
- Tom Newsome, Finance Director, PSC: “No private-sector entity is investing in or proposing to invest in a new nuclear plant without direct or indirect support from the public…”