Why do Utah and the surrounding region need nuclear power?
Nuclear power provides some of the most stable base load sources of power in the U.S. Furthermore, nuclear power production costs have been at or below the national average of coal and natural gas fired power plants during the last decade. However, there have been only a few nuclear power plants built in the west. Of the 99 commercially operating nuclear power reactors in the U.S., only six are located in the west.
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. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) projections regarding demand for electricity in the Western Region show the following growth in the next nine years (2015-2024): 13% in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, 14% in Kansas and South Dakota, 18% in Arizona and New Mexico, and 2% in California.
Additional pressure for new electric resources in the west is materializing because of coal plant retirements and essentially no new coal plant construction. The recent changes to the EPA emissions standards for coal fired power plants has already resulted in the closure of several plants. Furthermore, approximately 13,000 megawatts of capacity near the Blue Castle Project site are projected to be retired by 2040. The total projected lost capacity due to these retirements is more than four times larger than the proposed capacity of the Blue Castle Project.
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 (the parent of Rocky Mountain Power) 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.