Fact 5: Utah and the Western region would benefit significantly from nuclear power.
Utah and the western region have significant need for new electricity resources. Utah is one of the primary areas that would benefit from new base load nuclear electrical generation. Because Utah has the closest service area to the proposed plant, it would not incur the cost of long distance transmission, and therefore, load serving electric utilities in the State would have a a cost advantage participating in the Blue Castle project.
The National Electric Reliability Council (NERC) - the organization responsible for assuring the reliability of the nation's electric system - forecasts that the region comprising Utah will have the third fastest growing demand for electricity in the U.S. at 1.63% per year. Overall demand for electric power in the western U.S. is growing faster than eight of the nine U.S. NERC regions. PacifiCorp, one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S., serving most of Utah and parts of Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Wyoming, projects peak load growth to be about 1% per year for the next ten years in their latest 2015 "Integrated Resource Plan." Given PacifiCorp's existing resource base of power plants, power purchases, interruptible power contracts and demand side management (DSM) for the eastern region, PacifiCorp's east service area (comprising Rocky Mountain Power), planning reserve margin (13%) has already been breached and by year 2024 the east service area will require an additional 2,200 megawatts of capacity to meet peak load growth, rising to nearly 5,600 megawatts in 2034 (more below).
Additional pressure for new electric resources in the west is materializing because of coal plant closures and essentially no new coal plant construction. The EPA's June 2014 "Clean Power Program" which has the aim of reducing carbon emissions 30% below the 2005 emissions by the year 2030, will insure that no new coal plants will be built in the U.S. Additionally, both state and federal regional air quality statutes are already affecting existing coal power plant operations resulting in the 2005 closure of the 1,500 megawatt Mohave Power Station in Nevada. The EPA has also targeted the 2,040 megawatt Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico to either improve emissions or shutdown. The 2,280 megawatt Navajo Generation Station in Arizona will likely be next. Approximately half of PacifiCorp's base of 6,500 megawatt coal generating plants could be closed by year 2030 under some of the regional air quality regulation scenarios and nearly all of these plants will require expensive modifications in the near term to remain in operation. All of this has a disproportionate effect on power generation in the western U.S. because of its historically heavy dependence on coal.
The value proposition of new nuclear can be represented by comparing projected electricity costs from the most likely new base load alternatives-natural gas. A new coal resource is not included in this comparison because of the low probability that such a project could successfully be permitted in the foreseeable future.
PacifiCorp has projected the range of costs for electricity produced with natural gas to be anywhere from slightly higher than nuclear power to as much as double the cost of nuclear electricity when gas is used in plants that are not base loaded. Natural gas is the only dual use fuel used by electric generators and presents business risks that are extremely difficult to contain and manage. In the early 2000s, gas market volatility caused the collapse of the merchant natural gas generating industry. However, the lower initial capital cost and short construction time makes natural gas a continuing option for some utilities, especially with the current low marketplace cost of gas. The importance of fuel diversification and price predictability for a region like Utah should not be underestimated, making nuclear power a natural option for inclusion in the state energy portfolio.
Nuclear power on the other hand presents virtually no volatility issues to generators. The cost of nuclear fuel is less than 12% of the total cost of nuclear generation (versus 80% for natural gas). Once a nuclear plant begins commercial operation there are almost no resource risks to manage and the cost of nuclear electricity is highly stable and predictable.
Even though it will require five years to license and another five to seven years to build a new nuclear facility, the benefits over its 60 year lifetime will improve the base loaded, low cost electricity supply to Utah and some of its neighbors.