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Utilities mull nuclear possibilities for electricity market turmoil

November 03, 2020

Energy Central:

Shifting demand, increasing costs, carbon-free goals and pandemic restrictions have left electricity markets spinning like a roulette wheel.  The International Energy Agency forecasts an increase in hydrogen and new momentum behind nuclear power. Harnessing the power of those two energy sources is still topics of great debate.  However, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just approved a new small modular reactor (SMR) design by NuScale and the current administration gave a $1.4 billion taxpayer subsidy to the nuclear power industry. NuScale wasted little time on their goal of deploying up to 1,682 small (60-megawatt) reactors across the U.S.  In Utah, the Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) will build a 720 megawatt SMR facility designed by the nuclear technology company.  The project will receive funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Costly construction and nuclear waste, make nuclear power highly controversial.  Failed projects in other states have also left utilities and investors wary of nuclear power.  In 2017, utilities in South Carolina abandoned plans to build two new nuclear reactors in the state after delays and cost overruns plagued the multibillion-dollar project.

After construction of costly nuclear power plants, utilities want to get their money’s worth.  Current market prices range from $120 to $189 per megawatt hour, according to some estimates. But the UAMPS project promises to deliver power to Los Alamos at just $55 per megawatt hour.  Philo Shelton, Los Alamos Utilities Manager, said the group anticipates DOE to offer a funding award that’ll cover 80 percent of the costs moving forward.  NuScale as the technology provider would pay another 5 percent and the members would pay the remaining 15 percent.  Steve Tobin, an engineer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a member of the county’s Board of Public Utilities, says nuclear has advantages over renewables but he did express concerns that a public utility is being asked to pitch in funds to develop a new design for nuclear power. The time it takes to construct a nuclear power plant is another concern.  Karl Cates, research editor at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says, “This is key—the timeline and build out problems, because it takes so long, years and years, to build them,” he said. “By the time those years have gone by, electricity markets will have changed so substantially, and the climate risk argument will continue to rise in prominence, and investors are distancing themselves from conventional electricity generation models.” 

[Nevelyn Black]

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