Utility explores changing coal-fired energy vegetation to nuclear energy

The West goes nuclear.

A Invoice Gates-backed developer and one of many largest utilities within the western United States introduced Thursday that they’re launching a examine to find out whether or not as much as 5 coal-fired energy vegetation might be outfitted with superior nuclear reactors.

The transfer additional cemented the connection between TerraPower, a nuclear developer, and PacifiCorp, a six-state utility headquartered in Portland, Oregon. The couple agreed final 12 months to construct a 345-megawatt Natrium nuclear reactor on the positioning of a retired coal-fired energy plant in western Wyoming.

The settlement indicators the emergence of a brand new vitality transition technique within the West, the place PacifiCorp has needed to reconcile the local weather objectives of its prospects in Washington and Oregon with the desires of its customers in Wyoming, who wish to maintain the corporate’s coal-fired energy vegetation of their nation. State. Nuclear energy brings with it the prospect of jobs and carbon-free electrical energy, probably assembly the local weather objectives of political leaders and taxpayers in Washington and Oregon.

But the brand new emphasis on nuclear vitality additionally carries dangers. The primary reactor on the Naughton energy plant in Kemmerer, Wyo., the place the 2 corporations hope to show {that a} conversion from coal to nuclear is viable, has not but had its design authorized by the Nuclear Regulatory Fee and is predicted to price $4 billion. It’s unclear how a lot of those prices could be borne by taxpayers.

“PacifiCorp has a tough problem not solely technically, however politically with a various set of stakeholders,” stated Robert Godby, a professor who follows vitality markets on the College of Wyoming.

Nuclear has lengthy been anathema to many in Wyoming, the nation’s prime coal-producing state. However that is began to vary lately, as coal-fired vegetation throughout the nation have closed and PacifiCorp has begun to contemplate retiring its fleet of 4 coal-fired vegetation within the state.

The plan to transform the Kemmerer plant to a sodium-cooled Natrium reactor was adopted by Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, a Republican.

“I feel lots of people in Wyoming are prepared to have a look at the advantages and the prices of nuclear and see if it involves fruition,” Godby stated.

Thursday’s announcement is an element of a bigger effort to develop TerraPower’s expertise. The corporate’s first mission is predicted to start out working in 2028. And superior planning is required to carry different tasks on-line after that, stated Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower.

These future tasks might assist set up the availability chain wanted to construct further reactors. This vitality is desperately wanted as coal-fired energy vegetation shut throughout the nation and to enrich renewable vitality improvement, he stated.

“We have to rapidly not solely show the expertise, but in addition speed up it to have the type of international influence that TerraPower [company] was based by Invoice to realize,” Levesque stated, referring to Gates.

The conversion of coal-fired energy vegetation into nuclear vitality corporations is in vogue. A latest Division of Power examine discovered that siting superior reactors on former coal websites can scale back prices by making the most of present transmission and interconnection infrastructure (thread of vitalitySeptember 14).

Nuclear additionally has the potential to supply two issues that renewable vitality can’t present: electrical energy that may be distributed at any time and an abundance of jobs. Wind and photo voltaic installations typically make use of solely a handful of individuals as soon as they’re totally constructed. TerraPower estimates that its set up would require a workforce of 250 folks.

Ryan McGraw, vice chairman of mission improvement at Rocky Mountain Energy, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, stated the advantages of a Natrium reactor embrace “dependable emission-free technology that’s versatile and incorporates vital vitality storage expertise.” .

The examine introduced Thursday will assess whether or not different fossil gasoline energy vegetation operated by the utility might home a Natrium reactor. The businesses stated they’d have interaction with native communities earlier than a website is chosen.

“Whereas there are a variety of hurdles to beat earlier than any new expertise is delivered to market, this joint examine with TerraPower will assist us perceive these challenges and chart the way in which ahead with the perfect pursuits in thoughts. of our prospects,” McGraw wrote in an electronic mail.

‘It is loopy’

TerraPower’s expertise is exclusive in that the plant features as an electrical energy generator and battery. The molten salt used to chill the plant might be saved in large tanks after which launched, creating warmth that may spin a turbine. This enables the power to extend energy to 500 megawatts for a number of hours, serving to to offset drops in wind and photo voltaic technology.

The DOE awarded the corporate almost $2 billion for its first reactor. The corporate additionally attracted traders; it raised $750 million in a fundraiser earlier this 12 months (thread of vitalityAugust 16).

But there are nonetheless unanswered questions on price to prospects. TerraPower stated it could bear improvement prices, together with any potential overruns. And PacifiCorp stated it could solely choose the plant if modeling outcomes from long-term planning situations present it’s warranted. Levesque stated the corporate’s hope is that future reactors will price round $1 billion.

Nonetheless, some shopper advocates are cautious. They are saying the businesses didn’t present particular mission prices or whether or not prospects could be required to pay them. The aggressive company schedule was additionally a trigger for concern. TerraPower plans to file its reactor design utility with the Nuclear Regulatory Fee in 2023, start development of generators and different non-nuclear development in 2024, and start producing electrical energy in 2028.

“It is extraordinarily dangerous. It is loopy, really,” stated Bob Jenks, govt director of the Oregon Residents’ Utility Board, a shopper advocacy group. “It is an unproven expertise. It was not cleared by the NRC. He does not know the place he will get his gasoline from.

The corporate had initially hoped to import uranium from Russia, however deserted that plan after the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this 12 months.

Superior nuclear expertise like a Natrium reactor might finally be wanted to enrich renewables and energy the carbon-free grid of the longer term, Jenks stated. However PacifiCorp has a number of work to do to show that TerraPower’s resolution is healthier than different options, akin to batteries or hydrogen.

The utility additionally didn’t specify the way it intends to guard customers within the occasion of price overruns, a standard pitfall for nuclear tasks. Each corporations, Jenks famous, are owned by billionaires. TerraPower was based by Gates and PacifiCorp is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

“Warren Buffet’s PacifiCorp needs to place prospects at as a lot danger as doable. I do know Warren Buffet will not be going to take the chance, possibly Invoice Gates will,” Jenks stated. “They’ve a number of work to do earlier than convincing me, and I’ll argue that Oregon regulators do not approve of this till you realize what danger Oregon prospects are at.”

Oregon accounts for a few quarter of PacifiCorp’s vitality gross sales.

Reprinted from E&E information courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E Information offers important data for vitality and environmental professionals.