Kewaunee nuke is shutting down; why are we building more at Vogtle?

Dominion Power is shutting down a nuke because it can’t compete economically. Why are we letting Georgia Power charge us up front and load us up with debt to build a nuke we already know can’t compete economically? After all, if it could, it wouldn’t need three-legged nuclear regulatory-capture stool that we the rate-payers and taxpayers are already paying on, instead of getting on with solar and wind power.

According to 22 October 2012 PR from Dominion Power:

Dominion (NYSE: D) today said it plans to close and decommission its Kewaunee Power Station in Carlton, Wis., after the company was unable to find a buyer for the 556-megawatt nuclear facility.

According to Dominion:

Kewaunee, Dominion’s fourth nuclear station, generates 556 megawatts of electricity from its single unit. That’s enough to meet the needs of 140,000 homes.

The station began commercial operation in 1974…

1974? That’s the same year as Plant Hatch Unit 1, on the Altamaha River 100 miles from here. (Hatch Unit 2 came online in 1978.) But the Hatch reactors were relicensed in 2002 extending their lifetimes 20 years out to 2034 and 2038, so they won’t be closing, right?

Well, maybe they could. Howard A. Learner wrote for JSOnline 30 October 2012, Market has spoken in Kewaunee shutdown,

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a 20-year operating license extension for the Kewaunee plant in February 2011 and then, in April 2011, Dominion put Kewaunee up for sale. Now, Dominion is shutting down the Kewaunee nuclear plant because its operations aren’t economical going forward.

The market has spoken, and policy-makers should listen to and learn from that message.

Why did the market speak?

Dominion says its decision was based on dollars and sense. Nuclear power plant operations and retrofits are economically challenging today because growing supplies of competing cheap natural gas and zero fuel cost wind power are holding down electricity prices while demand stays flat.

That plus solar power already beats gas, although thus far energy utilities are trying to ignore that because they like big baseload power plants.

But watch what happens as Moore’s Law ramps down price so far it can’t be ignored, pushing solar deployment up past everything else. Already in September 2012 all new energy plants in the U.S. were wind or solar. As I mentioned in November:

New wind is up 25% Jan-Sep 2012 over the same period last year, and new solar is up 78%.

For comparison, new coal is up 22%, new natural gas is down 50%, and new oil electrical generation is down 90%. Last year solar accounted for only 70% more new megawatts than biomass; this year it was 170%. Last year wind and solar combined added twice as many megawatts as coal; this year more than that (2.29 times or 129%). Last year wind + sun accounted for only 40% as much new generation as natural gas; this year 109%. So wind increased faster than any chemical-fuel-burning energy generation method, and solar increased faster than that. This continues the long-term trend of solar prices going down and solar deployment going up.

But some energy executives aren’t getting the market’s message, as Learner noted:

Wisconsin Energy Corp. chief executive Gale Klappa is arguing publicly that new nuclear plants are needed to supply power for Wisconsin starting in 2020. What’s going on here?

The Kewaunee shutdown decision injects economic reality into the public policy debate. Does Klappa intend to put his own shareholders’ money at risk for building an expensive new nuclear plant, or would his board of directors only approve this plan if the risks were shifted to “other people’s money”—namely, consumers and taxpayers?

Oh, like Southern Company and Georgia Power have done with the Plant Vogtle boondoggle three-legged nuclear regulatory-capture stool whose legs are a stealth tax on Georgia Power bills, PSC approval of cost overruns, and an $8.33 billion federal loan guarantee?

We already knew SO and Georgia Power went way over budget last time, thirty years ago when nuclear reactors had no wind or solar competition. Now we do have wind and solar power to turn to, and we could have already built more solar and wind power with that $8.3 billion loan guarantee, on budget and on time, than Vogtle units 3 and 4 will every produce even if they’re ever built.

Why do we, the people of Georgia, let the PSC and the legislature continue to charge us through the nose (more than $1.5 billion so far) and load us and our children up with debt for that white elephant, that IBM 360 in a smartphone age, that Titanic in a personal drone age, that nuclear power plant in a rooftop solar age?

Why are we betting on the Chicago Cubs 1919 Black Sox of nuclear power against the Atlanta Braves of solar power? Why are we betting on Bainbridge against Valdosta in high school football? No offense, Bainbridge; Decatur County is negotiating on a 100 acre solar park, But that isn’t going to get anywhere without a Power Purchase Agreement, and Georgia Power gets to dole those out while pouring money down that bottomless pit by the Savannah River. Until we the people of Georgia say enough! Must we wait for Moore’s Law to make solar even more cost-effective than nuclear? Why not just shut the Vogtle boondoggle down now, get that 1973 territoriality law out of the way, and get on with solar and wind power for jobs, energy independence, and clean air and water?

-jsq

 

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