Nuclear power’s critical role in reducing green house gas emissions in all economies
There is a perception that while nuclear power is being adopted by emerging economies, it is declining in developed countries. While it’s certainly true that the majority of the 65 nuclear reactors currently under construction are in China, Russia and India, nuclear energy plays a crucial role in reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions in all economies. This is a theme that has emerged from the discussions in Paris over the last few weeks and is illustrated well by recent developments in the province of Ontario.
Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) led to the closing of coal-fired power stations and to the harvesting of wind and solar power as an emission-free alternative source of energy. Actual data show that after the initial decline in GHG emissions related to the shuttering of the coal plants, GHG levels actually started to rise again as a result of the larger number of gas-fired power plants required to compensate for the intermittent supply of energy from the wind and solar. The Strategic Policy Economics (Strapolec) study of actual LTEP data stated: “..the 2013 LTEP suggests that the wind policies are making Ontario cleaner whereas the actual data shows that our reduced GHGs are due to nuclear and increases to our GHGs are due to increased gas that is a result of growing wind installations.”
Recently, Ontario demonstrated its commitment to Nuclear Power by announcing plans to refurbish and extend the life of several reactors at Bruce Power. Bruce Power became the world’s largest operating nuclear power plant in 2012, and currently provides about 30% of Ontario’s electricity at a price roughly 30% below the average cost of power in the province. Ontario Power Generation is expected to announce similar plans for two reactors at the Darlington site in early 2016 and life extension is being considered for the Pickering nuclear power plant.
Bruce Nuclear Power Plant
Bruce Power has signed an agreement with the Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) to extend the operating life of the nuclear reactors at the Bruce Power facility to 2064. The agreement ensures that Ontario continues to get 6.3 gigawatts (GW) per year of emissions-free electricity for an additional 30 years beyond the original retirement date of the reactors. Bruce Power brought Units 1 and 2 back into operation in 2012 after completion of a major refurbishment and life-extension project. With all eight reactors online for the first time in seventeen years, the Bruce Power site became the world’s largest operating nuclear facility. The December 3rd, 2015 agreement covers the financing of refurbishment and life extension of Units 3 to 8 through an investment of an additional C$13 billion.
Significantly, TransCanada announced that it has exercised an option to increase its ownership of Bruce Power to 48.5% – so rather than being stymied by the Obama administration’s rejection of the final phase of its Keystone Pipeline on November 6th, after five years of wrangling for approval, TransCanada has accelerated its move into carbon-free energy by increasing its investment in nuclear. Its larger stake in Bruce Power means that clean energy will increase to well over 30% of TransCanada’s electricity generation capacity.
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Bruce Power will deliver electricity at a price of C$65.73 per megawatt-hour (MWh), about 30% lower than the average price of C$98.90 per MWh that Ontario residents paid for electricity in 2015.
Darlington Nuclear Power Plant
Ontario Power Generation, which is owned by the Province of Ontario, is expected to announce plans in early 2016 for the refurbishment of two of the four reactors at the Darlington site, at a cost of about C$10 billion. The 3.5GW Darlington plant provides about 20% of Ontario’s electricity.
Pickering Nuclear Power Plant
IESO has identified a 2-3GW potential shortfall in the province’s energy requirements between 2020 and 2032 due to the scheduled closure of the 3.1GW Pickering nuclear power plant in 2020. The Pickering plant generates 15-20% of Ontario’s electricity. Ontario’s growing dependence on electricity generated from natural gas-fired power plants exposes the province to rising electricity costs on two principal fronts: since 99% of the gas is imported, weakness of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar results in higher prices in Canadian dollar terms; and carbon-pricing, once introduced, is likely to further increase electricity costs.
The Pickering nuclear power plant produces electricity for about 25% less than the cost from a gas-fired power plant. Strapolec has recently completed a study that recommends extending the life of the reactors for four years to mitigate the forecast power shortfall. The study estimates that the life extension of the nuclear plant would save C$4 billion that would have to be spent on importing gas if the power shortfall were to be made up from gas-fired generation. The life extension of the nuclear plant would also avoid the release of 18 million tonnes of GHGs to the atmosphere. If Ontario adopts similar carbon-tax initiatives to Alberta, an initial fee of C$20 per tonne of gas emitted, the value saved by not emitting the GHGs would be C$360 million over the four-year period. If British Columbia’s carbon tax of C$30 per tonne were levied, the additional savings from nuclear would be C$540 million over the four-year period.
Nuclear Investment in Perspective
Although the cost of refurbishment of nuclear reactors – C$13 billion at the Bruce plant and C$10 billion at Darlington – are daunting, they pale in comparison to the C$37 billion that Ontarians overpaid for electricity in the last eight years according to the Ontario Auditor General’s annual report, which has just been released. And worse, the same report estimates that Ontarians will be overcharged for electricity to the tune of another C$137 billion over the next 18 years. This gross overpayment is due to poorly applied subsidies. For example, some of the agreements designed to incentivize renewable power generation obligate the province to buy solar power at up to C$800 per MWh in preference to nuclear power that is generated at C$66 per MWh – less than one-tenth of the cost.
Richard Spencer is president and CEO of U3O8 Corp., (UWE.TO, OTC:UWEFF and SSE:UWE). U3O8 Corp. (www.u3o8corp.com) is a Toronto-based exploration company with a portfolio of ... <Read more about Dr Richard Spencer>