Jack Greene

Jack Greene

The Logan Municipal Council unanimously voted to continue its participation in a first-of-its-kind Small Modular Reactor (SMR) project near Idaho Falls.

I definitely agree with the Council’s desire to invest in carbon-free energy sources, for which nuclear qualifies if one disregards the mining and milling operations plus shipping the uranium and fuel waste products.

Following is a brief summary of statements on yet unresolved issues with nuclear power (including SMR).

Justin Robinson, former vice chairman of Logan’s Renewable Energy & Conservation Advisory Board and VP of technology for Groundwork Renewables stated that “While the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) is considered a next-generation reactor design, it still generates power with the conventional nuclear fuel cycle, meaning it uses refined uranium to produce electricity and nuclear waste, some of which can remain dangerous to humans for tens of thousands of years. What to do with that waste can be a thorny political problem.

It’s fiscally irresponsible. This is some of the most expensive power on the planet, and the current estimated rate is not set in stone. CFPP is a risky undertaking for a municipal power company because it’s untested technology. The risk profile is very high for Cache Valley.”

Peter Bradford, a critic of the project and former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated that cost overruns have nixed several other nuclear projects (about half), even those promising reductions through new construction techniques. He also mentioned the economic competitiveness test wouldn’t be independently conducted and would only compare CFPP to a natural gas-fueled plant.

A high-level, independent economic study completed by Energy Strategies compared the cost competitiveness of delivered power from the SMR plant relative to the costs of power from comparable alternative low- or non-carbon emitting resource portfolios that include wind, solar, and energy storage. The alternative portfolios were constructed in a manner such that they would provide the same energy and capacity value as the SMR resource being considered by UAMPS members.

Some of the primary findings of the analysis include:

• On a levelized cost basis, the alternative resource portfolios, including those that are emissions-free, (solar, wind, and battery storage) were approximately 40% ($24-$28/megawatt hour) less costly than the SMR generation assumed in the Base Case of this study.

• After considering a $45/MWh low-end LCOE sensitivity for the SMR technology, the study finds that the alternative portfolios are still less expensive than SMRs. The average cost of the alternative portfolios is $40/MWh, which means that the alternative options are more than 10% less expensive than the lower-bound SMR cost estimate. Based on a $90/MWh high-end cost sensitivity for SMR resources, the SMR portfolio is more than twice as expensive as any of the alternative portfolios.

• Deeper capital cost declines for solar, wind, and battery energy storage resources as reported by NREL may further reduce the costs of studied portfolios with these resources by 7–19%, which further increases the potential for these resources to be more cost effective than the SMR project.

As I see it, there is a significant void in the energy cost options commissioned by Logan city.

My question: Has there been an in-depth study on the $30 million cost for 12 years of SMR energy comparing it to investing in energy efficiency programs for Logan Light & Power customers — like LED’s, high efficiency AC, weatherization, energy efficient appliances, ground source heat pumps for building heating and cooling, effective education on how to reduce electrical energy consumption, and so on.

Our local school districts have instituted similar programs and drastically reduced their energy consumption saving them millions of dollars. I’m assuming a similar energy-efficiency program would reduce energy demand by a considerable amount which could potentially negate need to increase our base load, at a far lower cost than the quoted $30 million and show immediate results.

Further, energy efficiency is a permanent fix and would provide many local jobs for retrofits and upgrades — great for local businesses. This, combined with continued reduction in cost for renewable energy technology, new storage capacity new geothermal sources for which Utah has great potential, (as it does for solar and wind) would result in many Utah jobs and save millions of dollars over coming decades.

Energy efficiency has been successful in Utah. Despite Utah’s rampant population growth, our electricity demand has remained fairly level, meaning people are using their energy more wisely. We have only scratched the surface on energy efficiency potential. Something for retailers to consider.

Nationally, the energy efficiency sector added a whopping 76,000 jobs in 2018. 2.32 million Americans now work in the industry. Those are among the findings of the new edition of the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, issued recently by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative.

With continued growth, subsectors including construction, professional services, wholesale trade, and manufacturing, energy efficiency is adding far more jobs than any other energy sector. Fully half of all new energy jobs are in energy efficiency.

I urge Logan city to look carefully at policies and investment that encourage energy efficiency and compare it to the SMR costs. I’m well acquainted with Logan City Council members who I have utmost respect for and their strong desire to protect our health and economic interests.

The “off-ramps” on this decision are scheduled for 3-4 months from now, which is rapidly approaching.

Jack Greene is a former high school teacher and well-known Cache Valley conservation advocate.