Regulatory Absurdity: Vogtle's $30 Million Pipe Brace // Burning Man vs. BLM // TVA Goes With Gas, EPA Frowns
Regulatory Absurdity: Vogtle's $30 Million Pipe Brace
Georgia Power's Vogtle Unit 3 nuclear reactor has encountered another delay: vibrations in the cooling system were found during start-up and pre-operational testing. The fix requires a simple pipe brace, but because of the regulatory burdens on nuclear energy in America, Georgia Power must pursue a license amendment through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"The cost of the delay will be at least a million dollars per day. That will be a 30 million dollar pipe brace," writes Jack Devanney, at Gordian Knot News. "A system in which this is 'just the way things are' is suicidal insanity."
"The two AP1000s under construction at Vogtle near Waynesboro in Georgia are the first new nuclear units to be built in the USA in over three decades (two units that were also under construction at the VC Summer site in South Carolina were subsequently cancelled)," reports World Nuclear News. "Construction of Vogtle 3 began in March 2013 and unit 4 in November that year. Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power, both subsidiaries of Southern Company, took over management of the construction project in 2017 following Westinghouse's Chapter 11 bankruptcy."
Correction 1/14/23: An earlier version of this coverage asserted that Georgia Power would have to relicense the plant, but pursue a license amendment. It has been corrected accordingly.
Burning Man vs. BLM
The Burning Man Project, the non-profit behind the annual festival held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, is suing the Bureau of Land Management over an approved geothermal project.
In its filing, the nonprofit argues that the agency failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when it ruled in October that the exploration project would have “no significant impact,” meaning it doesn’t require a more rigorous environmental review.
Ormat's Gerlach Geothermal Exploration Project would be sited under a mile north of Gerlach, Nevada, which serves as a gateway town for Burning Man's temporary Black Rock City. Gerlach's population holds 120. Black Rock City holds 80,000.
"Ormat previously proposed a geothermal development project in the same location, but has since withdrawn its development plan and submitted an exploration plan instead," reports the Nevada Current. "After analysis of the project site, BLM approved drilling by Ormat of up to 13 exploratory wells and construction of about 2 miles of new access roads and associated facilities across about 5 miles of public land. The exploration project would be the first portion of a potential future large-scale geothermal development project."
Opponents of the project fear it would permanently degrade vital hot springs directly adjacent to the project site.
“After participating in the public process and seeing no movement on our concerns, we filed this lawsuit to help ensure the impacts from the proposed project are minimized, and that Ormat is a good corporate citizen in this environmentally sensitive, economically vulnerable area of Northern Nevada,” Burning Man Project’s General Counsel Adam Belsky said.
The BLM stated in an October letter that they will be conducting additional hydrological monitoring before, during, and after drilling to address concerns raised during the public comment period for the project. Residents and landowners are concerned that the exploration project will have a direct impact on their property interests and will lead to the conversion of a unique and virtually untouched ecosystem of environmental, historical, and cultural significance into an industrial zone.
“Consistent with the law and the realities of geothermal development, Ormat undertook government review of its exploration project in advance of pursuing any development,” Paul Thompson, Ormat's VP of business development, said. “Ormat is evaluating whether to intervene in the action, and looks forward to prevailing in the lawsuit and continuing its contribution to Nevada’s green energy, zero emissions future, which will offset some of the copious amounts of fossil fuels the Burning Man Project annually emits in the Black Rock Desert.”
TVA Goes With Gas, EPA Frowns
The Tennessee Valley Authority, America's largest public utility, has decided to build a new natural gas plant to replace some of its coal generation. The Environmental Protection Agency isn't happy.
The TVA plans to retire the first of two coal burning units at the Cumberland Fossil Plant, near Cumberland City, Tennessee by the end of 2026. The proposed 1,450-megawatt natural gas plant would be up and running before then.
"The EPA issued a response to the analysis stating that TVA relied on “inaccurate underlying economic information” and “may continue to underestimate the potential costs of the combined cycle gas plant and overstate the cost of solar and storage,'" reports AP. The agency also said that the TVA used a "misleading" metric to show that renewables are more expensive than natural gas generation and failed to consider the opportunities presented by the Inflation Reduction Act's provision of $375 billion over 10 years for clean energy projects.
It is unclear if the EPA has suggested any physically or financially sound solutions to wind and solar's intermittency and dispatchability problems.
“Replacing retired generation with a natural gas plant is the best overall solution because it’s the only mature technology available today that can provide firm, dispatchable power by 2026 when the first Cumberland unit retires – dispatchable meaning TVA can turn it off and on as the system requires the power,” TVA's president and CEO Jeff Lyash said in a statement.
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American electricity usage, often a measure for economic activity, is set to slide in 2023. "U.S. power consumption will ease in 2023 as weaker economic activity and milder weather drag it from the record high hit the previous year," reports Reuters. "EIA projected power demand will slide from a record 4,044 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2022 to 4,014 billion kWh in 2023, before rising to 4,064 billion kWh in 2024 as economic growth ramps up. That compares with an eight-year low of 3,856 billion kWh in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic depressed demand."
Britain is optimistic it will make it through next winter. "The UK government said it’s confident Britain will have enough energy to get through next winter as liquefied natural gas flows boost supplies and demand is reined in," reports Bloomberg. "Britain, like countries across Europe, has called on homes and businesses to curb gas and power use as its energy systems endure the tightest winter for seven years. Those cuts, together with mild weather and ample LNG imports, have helped ease the crisis, with UK gas prices tumbling 70% since August."
The House of Representatives has passed a bill that aims to ban the sale of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China. "The new legislation bans all sales of crude oil from the United States’ SPR to any entity under the influence, control, or ownership of China’s Communist Party—unless that oil isn’t exported to China," reports Oilprice.com. "The bill—H.R. 22, Protecting America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve from China Act, did more than just squeak by along party lines. The legislation passed 331 to 97, with 113 Democrats voting to ban crude SPR sales to China."