TVA's Bellefonte Rising
The utility will spend $248 million in 2011 on next steps to complete the 1,260 MW reactor
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) decided Aug 20 to spend nearly $900 million on development of nuclear energy in 2011. It will invest $248 million to develop an option to complete the 1,260 MW Bellefonte Unit 1 reactor. TVA's Board also approved spending $635 million towards completion of the Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor which is within on schedule to be completed by late 2012. At the same time, the utility will take 1,000 MW of coal-fired power generation capacity off-line replacing it with other energy sources.
If TVA makes a final decision to complete Bellefonte 1 sometime next year, it will also be committing to spend up to $4.7 billion on the reactor. At 1,260 MW, that cost would bring in the power station at $3,730/Kw which is competitive with global costs for new reactors.
In August 2008 this blog estimated the cost to complete the partially constructed Bellefonte reactor would come in at $3,500/Kw. I also said the cost to complete the reactor would be $4.2 billion which turns out to be the lower end of the current cost estimate from TVA two years later.
What I did not know at the time was that TVA had stripped out a lot of the original equipment in the late 80s which is one of the the reasons the price increased to $3,750/Kw.
Why complete Bellefonte?
In a statement released to the news media, TVA CEO Tom Kilgore said the utility is making these investments "to reduce our carbon intensity." TVA is taking the action a month ahead of releasing an Integrated Resources Plan next month. The draft for public comment will be a 20-year look ahead. Once the comment is over, TVA will publish a final plan next Spring.
In his presentation to the TVA Board, Kilgore said there are five reasons TVA is moving ahead with Bellefonte 1.
- Latest power supply plan shows TVA need for new capacity in 2018-2020 timeframe and BLN chosen as least cost alternative for portion of the need.
- Final SEIS completed June 21. Bellefonte 1 is TVA preferred alternative
- Detailed scoping, estimating, and planning for the project established a high confidence cost and schedule.
- Detailed project level and enterprise-level risks identified along with mitigation actions for certain key risks
- Evaluated impact on various financial metrics. Bellefonte could add long term benefits to ratepayers
TVA said that if it decides to go ahead with completion of construction of Bellefonte, that the reactor could be powered up to generate electricity by 2018.
Green groups like energy efficiency, but oppose new reactors
Environmental groups praised TVA's plans to close the coal-fired plants, but repeated their criticisms of the utility's growing development of nuclear energy. Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the decision to shut 1,000 MW of coal-fired electricity generation capacity "is the right path for TVA.' Also, he praised TVA for boosting its spending on energy conservation to $135 million next year.
Smith argued against a decision to move forward with Bellefonte. He said demand for electricity in the current recession is off over the past two years. He emphasized that energy conservation and efficiency are better investments in the short-term.
TVA VP Ashok Bhatnagar said in a statement to the news media finishing the B&W designed Bellefonte is a faster, cheaper path to having a nuclear reactor online than building a new Westinghouse AP1000. He estimated it can be finished about 12 months sooner and cost $1 billion less than starting from scratch.
He cautioned against short-term thinking taking the current lower demand for electricity as a signal it is a long-term trend. TVA studies and power forecasts show the need for addition power by 2020.
However, a citizens' group calling itself the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team (BEST) reportedly basted TVA for pursuing restart of construction the Bellefonte reactor. Sandra Kurtz, a member of the group, told the Chattanooga Free Press Aug 21:
"Nuclear power is not safe, it's not reliable, and it's way too expensive."
Best is a chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL)which has long opposed any new nuclear projects by TVA.
In response to criticism from green groups, TVA Board Chairman Dennis Bottoroff told the newspaper nuclear power is the lowest cost option for power generation that doesn't emit CO2. He said that TVA achieved success in the restart of the Browns Ferry power station and is on target for completing Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2012.
History of Bellefonte reactors
Construction on Bellefonte was started in 1974, but stopped in 1988. In 2009 the NRC approved a request from TVA to reinstate the original construction permit. At the time construction stopped, a lot of equipment was removed from the partially completed twin reactor site. TVA evaluated both Bellefonte units and decided Unit 1 it still has the best prospects.
Bhatnagar said in interviews that TVA is ready to move forward from paper studies to developing detailed engineering plans, licensing, and equipment procurement. TVA hasn't made an official decision to complete Bellefonte 1. That action is expected next year. In the meantime, it looks like the utility is doing just about everything else to move the reactor project forward.
At one time Bellefonte was expected to be the site of two new Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000 reactors. The site was also expected to be the reference design for other AP1000 reactors to be built by Duke Energy, Progress, Southern, and Scana.
When TVA backed off its original plan, the lead role was shifted to Southern's Vogtle site in Georgia. Last February President Obama awarded the first federal loan guarantee for new nuclear energy projects, worth $8.3 billion, to Southern.
TVA is now revising the license application for Bellefonte 3 & 4 to focus the use of infrastructure on completion of Bellefonte 1.
While Congress may have stepped back from a cap-and-trade program, or a carbon tax, in a mid-term election year, many energy experts believe that both types of programs are inevitable. They will force a shift from fossil fuel to nuclear energy. Energy efficiency and conservation only take you so far. Eventually, you need more generation capacity. At the rate things are going, when that need arises, TVA plans to be there with Bellefonte.
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