Nuclear part of US Northwest's optimal clean energy mix, study shows

04 February 2020

A new study of energy capacity needs in theĀ American Northwest has found the region can achieve a clean energy future, with an optimal mix that includes relicensing of the Columbia nuclear power plant and the introduction of small modular reactors.

Columbia (Image: NRC/Energy Northwest)

The study by San Francisco-based consulting group Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) was commissioned by Energy Northwest as part of long-term effort to evaluate all carbon-free options that can maintain system reliability while ensuring residents of Washington state have enough power for future decades.

Energy Northwest CEO Brad Sawatzke said the study had been motivated by the state's Clean Energy Transformation Act which aims for 100% clean electricity by 2045. "That’s an ambitious and worthwhile goal, so we have to start planning today to ensure the people of Washington state have the right mix of energy sources tomorrow. And it's our job to make sure that mix is not only reliable, but affordable," he said.

Energy Northwest is a not-for-profit utility agency and operates one of the largest carbon-free energy portfolios in the region, including wind, hydroelectric, and solar power facilities, as well as Columbia Generating Station (CGS) which is itself Washington's third-largest provider of electricity.

E3 calculated energy capacity needs in the region over the next several decades and analysed a suite of clean, reliable and affordable energy resources available to meet that demand. It found that achieving "even very deep electric emissions reductions in the region can be accomplished at manageable costs, provided firm capacity is available".

Columbia - a single boiling water reactor with a gross output of 1190 MWe - is relicensed in all the resource and emissions target scenarios in which it is available. "The value of CGS stems from its ability to provide both energy and firm capacity without emitting carbon. The value of CGS ranges from $75 million per year in the 80% GHG reduction scenario to $1.35 billion in the 100% GHG reduction scenario," the study found.

It sees SMRs to be most valuable under very tight emissions reductions regimes. "In those cases, zero-emitting firm resources provide important reliability services that reduce the cost of achieving deep emissions reductions relative to scenarios that only rely on renewables and storage. SMRs have their largest role when new gas generators cannot be built or when they are able to receive a nuclear production tax credit. In those cases, SMRs are built in all emissions reduction scenarios," it said.

Maria Korsnick, CEO of the US Nuclear Energy Institute, said the study clearly demonstrated the important role of nuclear energy in a carbon-free future. "Small modular reactors will provide always-on, reliable energy that can seamlessly complement wind and solar. The cost feasibility study shows that they can be a critical component of any plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions in a cost-effective way," she said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News