June 27, 2017 Read More →

Study Questions ‘Baseload’ Attributes of Coal and Nuclear Plants

Utility Dive:

A report prepared by the Brattle Group for the Natural Resources Defense Council outlines the myriad reasons some coal and nuclear plants are considering retirement and cautions against focusing on the plants’ so-called “baseload” attributes.

The new report is one of several released recently addressing the United States’ grid operation, energy markets and power mix. They come ahead of a highly-anticipated study the U.S. Department of Energy is developing, addressing whether clean energy policies threatening reliability by forcing coal and nuclear plants offline.

The report cites several reasons for less-efficient plants’ financial struggles: low natural gas prices, slowed demand growth, increased building and appliance efficiency, and the rapid growth of low-cost renewables.

“Efficient supply planning and operations require that a broad range of resources be considered and evaluated based on the services they provide, their attributes, and their joint ability to meet well-specified system and public policy needs,” the report concludes.

The Brattle/NRDC report is just the latest in a group of grid papers to be released ahead of the DOE’s highly-anticipated baseload study. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has indicated the Trump administration may seek to preempt state energy policies if it concludes reliability is threatened.

Last week, a report funded by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute and the American Wind Energy Association concluded the United States’ power mix is changing and identified a similar mix of factors. The report, conducted by Analysis Group, found cheaper natural gas, flat demand and more efficient generation were forcing some older units offline.

New Brattle study touts flexible grid, dismisses ‘baseload’ hype


Large coal and nuclear plants are less economical and not as essential in today’s electric supply mix, which increasingly depends on flexible renewable energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, argued based on the results of a new study. The NRDC also said the term “baseload” is no longer indicative of an energy source’s costs or reliability and should not be used for resource planning purposes.

The NRDC hired consulting firm Brattle Group to conduct the study ahead of a pending report from the U.S. Department of Energy that is expected to urge more market and regulatory support for nuclear and coal-fired units.

Large coal-fired and nuclear plants have long been referred to as “baseload” resources, a term used traditionally to describe units that can economically generate the electricity needed to meet minimum demand on a nearly nonstop basis. But an abundance of cheap natural gas, expanded renewable generation, low electricity demand growth and improved efficiency have made coal and nuclear plants less competitive, a trend that Energy Secretary Rick Perry said could require the federal government to intervene in defense of those resources.

Despite those concerns, many industry groups, Democratic lawmakers and renewable energy proponents have said the changes in the U.S. generating mix do not threaten grid reliability and that the Trump administration is trying to tilt federal policy in support of fossil fuels for no good reason.

“Today’s grid planners are increasingly valuing resource flexibility to make it easier to balance supply and demand in real time,” the NRDC said. “Many baseload plants are limited in providing this flexibility because they cannot be easily turned on and off without incurring significant costs.”

($)NRDC-backed study says coal, nuclear units less essential to the grid

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