It’s obvious that Dr. Robert Davies, who wrote a letter (Dec. 8) critical of next generation nuclear energy, lives in the world of theory and conjecture and isn’t responsible on a daily basis to keep the lights on and business humming in Utah’s public power communities.
His ivory tower views run counter to the practical realities faced by the men and women who operate community power departments and face the responsibility every day of producing reliable, affordable electricity in the face of rapid population growth and increased electrical demand. They don’t have the luxury of living in a fantasy world.
These hard-nosed utility directors are supporting the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) being developed by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems precisely because it will provide abundant carbon-free, affordable energy, while helping clean our air, retire coal plants, combat climate change, and complement and enable dramatically more renewable energy, especially wind and solar.
Dr. Davies calls the CFPP “experimental” and posits that electricity produced will be too expensive. He theorizes that renewable energy and batteries are the future of energy.
The CFPP is hardly experimental. The reactor design has been approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after years of careful study. It is based on tried and true nuclear technology that has functioned effectively for many decades. The U.S. Department of Energy, after lengthy review, has agreed to invest $1.355 billion in this project, an enormous vote of confidence.
UAMPS has a great deal of experience and expertise with the renewable energy touted by Dr. Davies. We are excited about, and committed to, renewables. Wind, solar and other renewables will be ever-increasing percentages of our energy portfolios. We own a large wind farm and we’re developing solar projects. We own a renewable waste heat project and purchase geothermal energy. We’re building additional renewable projects.
But we know absolutely that relying entirely on renewables and batteries would dramatically increase rates paid by customers in UAMPS’ member communities. It would make the grid less reliable. Nothing is more disruptive to everyday life and commerce than brownouts and blackouts.
Having looked at all options, having reviewed numerous studies, and having access to best practices and the best thinking in utilities across the country and the world, we are convinced that the fastest and most-cost-effective path to decarbonize the electric utility industry is by producing large amounts of renewable energy (intermittent by nature), backed up by affordable, safe, reliable nuclear energy produced by small modular reactors.
Our target price of $55MWh for CFPP electricity is an excellent price that will not be exceeded. It makes the CFPP very competitive with other forms of dispatchable (available whenever it is needed) energy. By contrast, energy from a project like the Australian battery array touted by Dr. Davies would cost around $125MWh, when all expenses are included. Our customers would never stand for such an enormous rate increase.
Dr. Davies also says the CFPP has seen “delays and cost overruns.” That is simply not true. The cost of developing, constructing, financing, operating and decommissioning the plant have remained consistent. UAMPS decided to push back completion of the project to better match when the electricity will be needed by UAMPS members, and to provide plenty of time for UAMPS governing bodies to scrutinize every phase of the project.
Dr. Davies claims that the CFPP is competing with renewable energy. That is simply not true. In reality, the CFPP complements and enables much higher amounts of renewable energy than would otherwise be possible.
Dr. Davies is also not keeping up when he talks about the utility industry’s affection for “baseload” energy. That’s not even a term we use any longer. We are producing energy that follows load, that is available when and where it is needed.
Pres.-elect Joe Biden wants to significantly de-carbonize by 2035. His incoming administration and the outgoing Trump administration both know that such quick action will require energy from small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). And the CFPP is the first SMR project.
Dr. Davies calls nuclear power a distraction. But the CFPP is proving that SMRs can be developed in a realistic timeframe and at a reasonable price to accomplish decarbonization. Indeed, SMRs are not a distraction, and are in fact the best pathway forward.
We welcome Dr. Davies to visit UAMPS, learn firsthand about energy development and distribution, and why we are pursuing this project, instead of taking gratuitous potshots from the sidelines.
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