US Energy Policy, Nuclear Power and cleaner power

In 2016, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu criticized the Clean Power Plan. He did not think energy storage can solve the reliability problems of wind and solar quickly enough, he said Friday, which led him to criticize the Environmental Protection Agency for neglecting nuclear power in its Clean Power Plan.

“Even though the Clean Power Plan says we need nuclear and maintains the same ratio, they give no credit for it,” Chu said during a debate at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit hosted by Stanford University. “We should make a Clean Power Plan that’s based on clean energy, not renewable energy.”

The Clean Power Plan allows states to count new nuclear plants and uprates at existing plants toward their clean energy mandates, but it does not give extra credit to existing plants, as the nuclear industry wanted, to help them compete with cheaper energy.

Exelon Corporation announced in 2016 it would move forward to shut down the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants, given the lack of progress on Illinois energy legislation.

The Clinton Power Station were to close on June 1, 2017, and the Quad Cities Generating Station in Cordova was close on June 1, 2018. Quad Cities and Clinton have lost a combined $800 million in the past seven years, despite being two of Exelon’s best-performing plants.

In December, 2016, Illinois approved $235 million a year for Exelon to prop up nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities, six months after the company threatened to shut them down. The nuclear plants were saved.

FirstEnergy has said it could decide next year to sell or close its three nuclear plants — Davis-Besse and Perry in Ohio and Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania. PSEG of New Jersey, which owns all or parts of four nuclear plants, has said it won’t operate ones that are long-term money losers.

* Extra regulation post-Fukushima added extra costs to nuclear plant operations
* Fracking has kept natural gas energy costs low
* there was no offsetting economic relief in the Clean Power Plan bill

Nuclear energy facilities avoided 554 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 across the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from nearly 118 million cars, which is more than all U.S. passenger cars. The U.S. produces more than five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

The US under current policies is losing 13 GW of clean energy power from nuclear plant closures. The Clean Power bill would allow this.

The CPP which was justified based upon the Paris Agreement combined with some other new policy in the Guardians policy set A was to produce about 300 million tons of CO2 savings by 2025. Most of the CO2 savings were not occur until later in the CPP plan. Losing 20-50% of existing nuclear power would cost 52 to 165 million tons of CO2 by 2025. Shutdowns early are magnified because each gigawatt of nuclear power lost a year early is 3 million tons of CO2 each year. If the GW plant is lost in 2017 then it would be a cumulative 24 million tons of CO2 by 2025.

If the USA loses all 55,000 megawatts of nuclear power plants threatened by today’s economic and policy landscape and those plants are replaced by new natural gas power plants, CO2 emissions could increase by roughly 156 million metric tons annually.

Losing existing nuclear plants has immediate negative environmental effects that accumulate.

Based upon the Exelon – Illinois agreement about $2.5 billion per year seems sufficient to save 10% of the nuclear power. $7.5 billion per year would save the remainder.

The CO2 emissions avoided by the nation’s nuclear plants alone delivers an estimated public value of $6 to $54 per MWh.

Trump has set policy in motion to completely remove or cripple the Clean Power Plan by removing enforcement or enactment. He did this with executive orders.

It is unclear whether Trump will enact or how he will be able to enact his new energy policies.

The conventional wisdom is that the Trump administration’s moves will bring subsidy cuts for renewables and will be a boon for the coal and nuclear power industries. On their face, the two documents do seem designed to unleash a major reversal and perhaps even a revolution in U.S. energy policy. The first is an executive order signed by the president March 28, titled Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. The second, issued on April 14, is a memorandum from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordering a “Study Examining Electricity Markets and Reliability.”

To appreciate how important these two documents are, you have to remember that coal and nuclear producers have been hounded by environmentalists and hammered by competition from turbines burning cheap natural gas. The Trump administration, however, is now promoting the notion that energy “reliability,” “grid resilience” and “fuel diversity” are valuable.

Perry’s memo mandates a study to ask whether renewable energy subsidies contribute to the closing of coal-fired and nuclear power plants and threaten the reliability of the electric power grid.

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