News Briefs


Century’s first new U.S. nuke on line 

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on October 19 announced its Watts Bar Unit 2, the first new U.S. nuclear plant in 20 years, had begun commercial operation.

TVA launched the project 43 years ago, but despite the lengthy process, the October announcement indicated the $4.7 billion, 1,150-megawatt reactor had been brought in on budget.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, a national trade association, noted that, netting out with recent plant retirements, Watts Bar’s opening restored the number of functioning U.S. power reactors to 100, in 30 states and producing 19 percent of the nation’s total electricity but 63 percent of its CO2emissions-free generation.

The figure of 100 active generating units was short-lived, however. In the final week of October, the Omaha Public Power District announced it had shut down its Fort Calhoun reactor in Nebraska. With a capacity of 478 megawatts, it had been the nation’s smallest commercial power reactor. Its retirement returned the number of functioning U.S. units to 99.

DPC to collect in nuke waste settlement

Dairyland Power Cooperative is to receive $73.5 million from the federal government within 90 days for breach of contract damages, following acceptance of a settlement offer in mid-October.

The sum is in addition to $37.6 million received in 2013 for costs arising from the
La Crosse-based generation and transmission cooperative’s storage of spent fuel from its closed nuclear plant at Genoa, Wisconsin. The earlier payment was for costs incurred from 1999 through 2006; the new settlement is for Dairyland’s costs from 2007 through 2012.

The breach of contract results from the government’s failure to carry out its congressionally mandated mission of providing a permanent, national repository for spent power plant fuel under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. A repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has been nearly completed but has not been opened to receive material for storage. The statutory deadline to do so passed on January 31, 1998.

A third round of litigation, seeking recovery of costs incurred since 2013 and associated chiefly with the cooperative’s independent storage facility for spent fuel at the Genoa plant site, awaits filing with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Retired Alma units set for tear-down 

Within three years, everything but the smokestack will have disappeared from the site of Dairyland Power Cooperative’s retired, five-unit Alma Station on the Mississippi River.

The stack may take longer because its demolition is a separate project from the tear-down and removal of all the other structures at the site, where three coal-fired generating units were retired in 2011 followed by the remaining two in 2014.

The Alma Station was Dairyland’s first fossil-fueled generation facility. Removal of materials from the site is well underway, and some structures could be gone by year’s end.

When all five units were in operation, they could generate a combined 194 megawatts.

Study reveals self-moving goal line

A multi-decade, worldwide study reported recently in The Washington Post found that deployment of renewable generation sources—chiefly wind and solar energy—and fast-dispatchable generation sources—chiefly fueled by natural gas—tend to increase in tandem at a near one-to-one ratio.

The reason cited is that the more wind or solar generation is connected to the grid, the more non-renewable generation is required for backup. The study, examining 26 countries over a period of 23 years, found what the Post called a “surprisingly tight” relationship between renewables and natural gas: For every 0.88 percent increase in renewable capacity, fast-ramping fossil-
fueled generation capacity increased a full 1 percent, the Post reported.

Published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study looked at member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and spanned the period from 1990 through 2013.

The Post quoted the study’s authors saying renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies “should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply.”

The lead researcher was quoted saying, “When people assume that we can switch from fossil fuels to renewables they assume we can completely switch out of one path, to another path,” adding that the history revealed by the study suggested otherwise.

Three more solar projects announced 

Dairyland Power Cooperative has finalized agreements for three new utility-scale solar generation projects in addition to 12 it announced earlier this year.

The initial dozen are at scattered locations across western Wisconsin. Of the three announced in November, two will be in western Wisconsin and one in northeast Iowa; all 15 will be sited in the service areas of local distribution cooperatives on the Dairyland system. Those that began construction earliest were to come on line in November.

Scattered locations offer the advantages of minimizing the chance of all units being affected by a single weather system and spreading the grid infrastructure impact, Dairyland said. A side benefit, the cooperative said, is that all the generation sites will be used to provide beneficial bee and butterfly habitat that will also serve the purpose of reducing soil erosion.

Size of the individual projects ranges from half a megawatt to 2.5 megawatts for a total of 20.3 megawatts from all 15 combined. Dairyland President and CEO Barbara Nick noted that once all the facilities are operating, the cooperative’s expansion program will nearly double the amount of utility solar generation currently on line in Wisconsin.