Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Nuclear Plants US Scorecard

Well, it has been quite an interesting few days for me. As my two regular readers will have observed, some nuclear nuts are in an uproar over my blog post (from April 8, 2009) titled Nuclear Nuts. Apparently, they are unhappy with the graph I posted that definitively shows a state's electric power price increases as the percent of power from nuclear plants increases. They are also dumbfounded that the state with the highest percentage of nuclear power, Vermont, has one of the highest power prices in the country. All these facts go against their long-held beliefs.

Facts are stubborn things.

There is also some controversy over the construction cost of new nuclear power plants, with some nuclear nuts claiming the costs as put forth by Craig Severance were discredited. Perhaps so, but only in their own minds and to their own satisfaction. I have, as I wrote elsewhere on my energyguysmusings blog, carefully checked Severance's figures and agree that he has it just about right.

Further, major utilities have published their own cost estimates for new nuclear power plants in the U.S. and their numbers are not far below those of Severance.

Therefore, I set up this blog post to keep score, as it were. The proposed nuclear power plants in the U.S. will each get a paragraph or maybe more, and a summary table will show the estimated cost and initial schedule for completion, then cost increases as time passes, and the final cost plus years behind schedule.

I will also keep track of the investments in each new nuclear plant's customer base of non-grid-based power, such as wind, solar, cogeneration, distributed generation, and combined heat and power. If any new nuclear plants ever do start up, there will be a rude awakening for the nuclear plant owners. Their customers will not pay for their outrageous power price, but will instead self-generate via the many alternatives now available. The nuclear plants' owners will be in quite a fix, as their customer base shrinks and shrinks. Their only move at that point is to increase their power prices to their remaining customers, thus giving even more incentive to go off the grid and self-generate. Thus, the nuclear death spiral occurs again as it did in Louisiana in the 1980s.

To begin the listing, here is the summary table.

Plant Site .......State.........Output...Cost Estimate.....Final Cost....Years Late

South Texas
Nuclear Project......Texas......2700 MW.....$10 - 1317 Billion..... Later..... Later

Florida Power
and Light...............Florida.....2200 MW.....$17 Billion............Later .... Later

Georgia Power
Vogtle Plant..........Georgia...2200 MW......$14 Billion...........Later..... Later

Individual Plant summaries.

STNP is proposed as a doubling of the existing plant, by building two new reactors not far from Victoria, Texas, just a small distance from the mouth of the Colorado River. This plant is controversial because it consumes precious and scarce river water in drought-stricken South Texas. Thirsty people get rather cranky, especially when they know that their local nuclear power plant is literally vaporizing vast quantities of fresh water into the air. This plant is also infamous, as the original two reactors cost SIX times the initial cost estimate ($5.4 billion final cost vs $900 million initial cost) and was several years late in completion. Lawsuits were filed all around. Currently, a Japanese company who sells reactors and reactor technology is part of a joint venture to build the new reactors. Their cost estimate is $5 billion each, or a total of $10 billion - yet that was recently updated (increased) to $13 billion, to account for interest during construction. They also state they will complete the plant expansion in four years after receiving their COL (Construction and Operating License) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We shall see. UPDATE: San Antonio city leaders are receiving loud and numerous messages to not buy into the STNP expansion. Oct 13: CPS Energy's board, the San Antonio municipal utility, voted to issue $400 million in bonds to fund development of the expansion, but passed a resolution to reduce the city's ownership to 20 to 25 percent, rather than 40 percent. The city council will vote on this (ratify) on October 29. This puts NRG, the project proponent, in the bad position of having to find a buyer for the remaining 20 percent. Will be interesting to see who is willing to do this, and if the San Antonio city council votes to approve or deny the city's participation. (Oct 28, 2009): The price just went up by $4 billion, now at $17 billion. Toshiba apparently cannot agree on the price - and City of San Antonio is re-thinking this - and postponing their decision. This is absolutely amazing, since nuclear proponents insist (indeed, shout it from the rooftops!) that Japanese nuclear plants are old technology by now - with modular construction and known costs. Apparently not! Stay tuned in Texas!

And now (Jan 21, 2010), City of San Antonio via its CPS entity is suing the venture of NRG and Toshiba. Never a good sign when the supposed partners in a multi-billion dollar venture go to court so early in the game. This project may not yet be fully dead, but it is certainly comatose. The price issue was to be resolved sometime in January, 2010, which is any day now.

FP&L is proposed as a two-reactor plant at Turkey Point with each reactor 1,100 MW. This was recently approved (August 2009) by the state of Florida, and now awaits approval for COL from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Florida is interesting because of the vast potential for power from the Gulf Stream offshore Miami. Such a power plant could easily provide all of Florida's power forever, with zero risk of radiation, and zero operating cost except for maintenance.

FP&L was dealt a serious blow this week (Jan 21, 2010) when the Public Utility Commission denied their $1.3 billion rate increase request, and instead awarded approximately $75 million. This effectively kills the nuclear project, or at the best (for nuclear proponents) postpones the project for a few years. The price will only increase with time, as materials and labor costs increase.

Georgia Power's Vogtle plant is also a two-reactor plant with each reactor 1,100 MW. This plant recently (August 2009) received an Early Site Permit from federal regulators, which merely allows some preliminary site preparation to commence. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to issue a COL. However, the utility states they will be finished with construction by 2017. Such optimism, both on the cost estimate of $14 billion, and the schedule!

Stay tuned, sports fans. This game will take a while to play out, but the action is bound to be interesting!

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

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