Friday, September 18, 2015

Quebec Hydro another Pilgrim's problem

A headline caught my attention, and upon investigation, it led exactly where I expected it would - to incumbent power producers protecting their turf.

Canadian hydropower could boost wholesale power costs in New England: study
Wholesale power costs in New England would rise an estimated $777 million/year if the region's electric customers are forced to subsidize the cost of building new transmission lines to import up to 2,400 MW of hydroelectric power from Canada, the New England Power Generators Association said Wednesday.
The study also estimated that the delivered cost of Canadian hydropower would likely be about $97/MWh, or $42/MWh above the average wholesale power price in New England over the past three years. Based on a conservative cost analysis, it said, the likely price of the hydropower contracts would lead to "$777 million in above-market costs that Massachusetts consumers would be paying every year. Such ... exorbitant cost does not appear to be justified, even with the other policy considerations weighed."
If the price is $97/MWh on a market averaging $42, it would be because the power was being imported at higher value period. The question is the extent to which the expense of transmission would improve market efficiency. Because Quebec hydro is the only dispatchable renewable energy source potentially available to New England, that's likely a yes if carbon emissions are considered.

The fuller story should make many Ontarians uncomfortable: both those spinning the nonsense that Quebec hydro could replace Darlington as well as Pickering (already slated for closure), as well as those not alert to the impact of greater grid connections. The study being reported was prepared for the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA), and the example given of existing generators threatened by imports from Quebec was, predictably, the big baseload one:
...The study noted the "price suppression" effect of allowing transmission costs associated with the Canadian hydropower to be subsidized is "likely to undermine the financial viability of other relatively efficient, low-cost existing power-generation resources currently in the market." Specifically, "it may hasten the retirement of existing nuclear power plants that produce power with no carbon emissions..."
The study said when Vermont Yankee was retired at the end of last year because of anticipated prices in New England's energy markets, "the region lost roughly 5 million MWh[/year] of zero-carbon electric energy ... with most of it replaced in the near term, at least, by fossil-fired generation."
It said that if a long-term contract for hydropower suppressed prices in New England's wholesale market and led to the retirement of Pilgrim nuclear station, for example, it would mean another 5 million MWh of zero-carbon supply/year would be retired."
So Quebec power would be more expensive and thus depress prices for all other generators.

The Pilgrim power plant, in Massachusetts, is already vulnerable. Despite a relatively recent extension of its operating license (2012) Pilgrim has some issues with  the NRC and/or operations improving as a result of incidents resulting in unplanned shutdowns.

From the Boston Globe:
Entergy was awarded a 20-year operating license in 2012 to continue operating Pilgrim, but opponents are hoping to use the downgrade to pressure the company to shutter the plant now. On Wednesday, state Senator Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, met with advocates from the Sierra Club, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and others.
They discussed how to advance bills in the Legislature that require the company to pay fees to store its spent nuclear fuels at Pilgrim, and that would force Entergy to show that it has enough money to cover the costs of securing its spent fuel after the plant closes.
The bundling of costs onto nuclear units is a tactic that's worked in Germany, and Sweden.

I'm not sure claiming spending on transmission lines from Quebec is nuclear's biggest issue in the northeast.
Entergy is also considering closure of the Fitzpatrick nuclear power plant in New York, where this generation's Governor Cuomo continues to fight the Indian Point Energy Centre, and Exelon's Ginna plant is also bound for decommissioning.

Maybe New England should be reclassified as New Germany.

Probably not. The Boston Globe report advises that Massachusetts "now gets about 58 percent of its energy from natural gas" and only 3% from coal.

A 2013 Donald Jones article shows how going all-in on gas is a New Englandish move:
The present situation in Ontario, and indeed in the United States, is reminiscent of that in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. Cheap natural gas discovered in the North Sea coincident with the development of combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technology effectively put a stop to any future nuclear build. The “Dash for Gas” had started. The last nuclear plant to be built in the UK was Sizewell B, a Westinghouse design, that started up in 1995 but planned follow-on units were cancelled because low cost natgas.
Running low on gas, the government in old England is now pushing construction of new nuclear generating stations.

News noting Entergy considering closing Pilgrim is in multiple locations today (Sept. 21st) including,Entergy Says It Is Reviewing Options For Pilgrim NPP, Including Closure:

Entergy...pays for inspections, which cost $1.8 million in 2014. This is expected to increase with the plant in Column Four.
A separate threat is the potential fine of $10,000 per year for each spent fuel bundle in the plant's spent fuel storage pools that would be imposed if a bill considered by the state government passes this fall. For Pilgrim, that would be a $33 million expense, given the plant has more than 3,000 fuel bundles in its pools.
Another $25 million expense per year could also be figured into the plant's finances if another bill, one that is meant to address decommissioning expenses, passes in the state.
“If those bills were to pass, that would be part of our evaluation of future viability,” said David Noyes, Pilgrim’s director of regulatory and performance improvement.

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