policy-makers to address needed market reforms as well as international
trade opportunities and threats. He
also suggested that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should focus its
regulatory priorities on safety.
In sum, the current nuclear power
position begs for a comprehensive energy policy that values nuclear power’s
inherent reliability, grid stability, and
carbon-free generation qualities. In the
most recent, visible policy level action
by the Department of Energy, Secretary
Moniz released part one of the department’s Quadrennial Energy Review
(QER). The initiation of the QER holds
much promise—to provide a roadmap
for federal energy policy based on a
comprehensive assessment of the nation’s needs and resources. While the
first installment of the review is silent
on nuclear power, it drew considerable
attention to aging infrastructure and
transmission issues that need concerted
actions to address. Nuclear power advocates are pressing for the DOE to speak
to the nuclear situation in part two.
While the nuclear renaissance has
died down and nuclear new build
projects have been significantly curtailed, the rest of the country’s nuclear
power fleet is aging, with many plants
approaching retirement age. Without
improvements in markets that value nuclear, any major new construction will not be feasible. Moreover,
the significant investments needed to
upgrade current operations (e.g., replacing steam generators) will not be
I for one, continue to do what I can
to stay on the roller coaster ride of commercial nuclear power. When does the
boring part start?
One hundred years ago I was not around to witness the growth of the electric utility business; nor see the technological
advances of 50 years ago, or the start-up of the first commercial nuclear
power plant (Dresden 1 in 1960).
Ever since I made a career transition
that planted me in and around the
root system of the nuclear renaissance, I have been wondering how
the industry ever got the reputation
as a sleepy, unchanging world—a
boring, regulated environment.
The excitement continues with the
ever-changing dynamics of economy,
technology, regulation, and politics.
The resultant anxiety and concern now
are about as high as the excitement
and anticipation of 15 years ago. On
the heels of electricity de-regulation in
select states, U.S. nuclear power plants
across the country started to stretch to
their pinnacle of reliability, production, and safety. Electricity markets
made major investments and capital
improvements possible. Nuclear new
construction appeared viable and the
number of proposals and applications
for nuclear new builds reached unprecedented levels.
Then, hydraulic fracturing and hor-
izontal drilling made shale gas acces-
sible. At the same time, the economy
faltered, lowering electricity demand
while the bottom dropped out on
natural gas prices, and hence electric-
ity prices. Meanwhile, technological
advances in renewable installations,
combined with support by state regu-
lations, have given renewable sources
electricity marketplace advantages that
are felt profoundly by nuclear power
(and coal). Quite the triple punch of
technology, economy, and regulation.
Which leads to where we are today,
with nuclear power plant owners feeling like they are fighting for their lives.
Despite the obvious benefits to grid
stability and carbon reduction efforts,
nuclear power plants are being shuttered due to flawed electricity markets
that have been recently altered to benefit wind and solar generation. While
investing in new technologies and electricity diversity are always a good idea,
doing so at the expense of long-term
electricity diversity and grid stability
is not a good idea. Although distributed generation and energy storage are
expected to grow, the U.S. economy
depends on a stable grid, and a stable
grid depends on large generators, such
as nuclear power plants. The canaries
in the coal mine of electricity markets,
the shuttered Kewaunee Station in
Wisconsin and Vermont Yankee, show
that concerns raised over the premature closing of potentially thousands
of megawatts of nuclear generation are
not empty threats.
In an executive panel at the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington
this May, Bill Mohl, President of En-tergy Wholesale Commodities, stated
that the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission (FERC) needs to update
its policies and address the erroneous
market pricing issues. “States are picking winners and losers and not properly valuing the attributes of all generation,” he said.
In his keynote address, Exelon CEO
Chris Crane made a compelling case
for action on multiple levels. The risks
and potential costs of over-reliance on
gas and a less diverse generating mix
are extremely high. Crane encouraged
What Sleepy Utility?
MARY JO ROGERS, PH.D.
Mary Jo Rogers,
is a partner at
Solutions with over
15 years working
with energy leaders.
published the book,
Learned from U.S.
Penn Well. Contact
Mary Jo at maryjo@