LETTER: Ramming through pro-nuclear legislation not an energy solution for Missouri

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 | 10:50 a.m. CDT

Although we have seen the defeat of a bill to partially repeal construction work in progress and head our state down the road to more dangerous, expensive nuclear power, there are powerful voices and lots of money still trying to get a bill through our legislature before the session ends. One of Columbia's representatives, Chris Kelly, is so intent on this that he wants a special session called just to pass such legislation.

I agree with one thing Mr. Kelly has said recently: We need to continue the discussion about the energy future we want for Missouri.

But ramming a piece of pro-nuclear legislation through the legislature at this time is a very poor way to maintain a discussion that ought to include the people of Missouri, not just the big money players.

Action now doesn't allow time for anyone to soberly reconsider nuclear energy in light of what has happened at Fukushima. That catastrophe is still unfolding, even though the American media has grown tired of reporting on it. Even so, the American people are more enlightened and more concerned about the risks of nuclear power now than ever before. Many of them now feel the risks involved in keeping enormous amounts of nuclear waste in cooling ponds is a totally unacceptable plan for the future.

A rushed-through pro-nuke bill also doesn't allow the public time to learn that a vice president at Ameren has stated publicly that there is no need to build a second reactor at Callaway, if we would pursue all the efficiency gains that could be made in this state. Does anyone imagine that the public would support a second reactor if they knew its main purpose was to serve Ameren's bottom line?

Most of us who have really educated ourselves about the proposed Callaway 2 know that an Early Site Permit is not an actual requirement to build a second plant. By pushing for this partial CWIP repeal, Ameren is simply setting the stage for a full CWIP repeal later, if it ever decides to build a nuclear plant at all. It is endeavoring to make our state and the ratepayers commit to a nuclear energy future at a time when opportunities to add clean, renewable energy and to improve energy efficiency are exciting and realistic and safe. If we put our energy, enthusiasm and dollars into those options, we can begin to see a real change now, not somewhere down the road after a $8 billion to $12 billion reactor has been built requiring ratepayers and taxpayers to bear all the risk while Ameren takes in all the profit.

Don't be mislead by claims that we cannot do without nuclear energy, not after Ameren has admitted that we can. Don't imagine that repealing just part of the no-CWIP law, which the voters passed overwhelmingly years ago, is just a little thing done to keep options on the table. By committing to building another nuclear reactor, we are, in fact, saying that we will take other options off the table.

I urge everyone to pick up the phone and tell Mr. Kelly and our other leaders what we think of that idea.

Jean A. Blackwood lives in Columbia.

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Robin Nuttall May 3, 2011 | 5:01 p.m.

@Jean, I'm curious as to your statement, "more dangerous nuclear power." More dangerous than what?

More dangerous than coal, which kills an average of 30 people a year and 100,000 in the past century and has contributed hugely to global warming?

More dangerous than oil and gas, which has polluted our oceans and now, through fracking, threatens to poison our water supplies? Something around 20 people die each year on oil and gas rigs.

So far the Fukashima plant disaster has not killed anyone. Neither did 3 mile island. And is nuclear waste any worse than coal or gas pollution?

I just don't buy the hand waving that nuclear is so horribly dangerous. Is it? Really?

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock May 3, 2011 | 5:31 p.m.

It should be noted that Jean represents the Sierra club.

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Ellis Smith May 3, 2011 | 7:25 p.m.

Isn't Sierra Club advising MU on means of generating MU's future power requirements? Thought I saw that in this newspaper. Will MU's energy source be geothermal, as planned (but NOT in consultation with Sierra Club) and Curator-approved for MS&T? Very small carbon footprint.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 3, 2011 | 7:47 p.m.

Ellis, how much energy can MS&T get from geothermal (I'm assuming it's steam from "hot-rock" geothermal), if you know? I'm thinking, because of the part of the country we're in, that it's not a whole lot.

As far as the nukes, Fukushima was a pretty freak disaster. So far, the reactor has not lost containment, and any radiation leaking has been from spent fuel cooling ponds. It's nothing like Chernobyl, which shouldn't even be mentioned as a failure scenario for Western (or Asian) reactors. It's a mess, but not an uncontrollable one.

Missouri is a fairly lousy place for both wind and solar, in terms of capacity factors. Ameren (or any power company) would love to have a generating resource that used no fuel. The problem is that our weather isn't solar and wind friendly enough to make these power sources economical here. Thus the push for the nuke. Wind and solar, here, are far more expensive per energy unit than nuclear. Numbers on request.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 3, 2011 | 10:43 p.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

I don't have the technical specs. for this project (they will be published in brief for our students, faculty and alumni), but the "financials," as it were, have been disseminated. The project will take 5 years to complete (a lot of drilling!) and when complete is expected to initially save $1.4 million annually over the present coal (or wood)-fired power plant, which has been in service since 1945. Eventually, savings is expected to rise to $2.8 million annually. 25,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions will be done away with! And we will no longer be dependent upon fuel deliveries.

Project cost is $32.4 million, for which 30-year revenue bonds were approved by the Curators on 12-8-10. At the same time, the Curators approved a new $43.2 million building to house the Chemical & Biological Engineering departments at MS&T. Yes sir, the Curators have been very good to us in recent years! For example, we've completely renovated three large classroom/laboratory buildings and more than doubled the size of a fourth building, plus a new student center built entirely with donated funds. A new dorm complex has also been built, but we're still short of space on campus or in Rolla to house students, leading to our enrollment being capped.

I have an email from Milton J. Murray, PE, an alumnus who is familiar with a similar geothermal system already installed and operating in Missouri for generation of municipal power. Murray says we're going to love the new system.

Something needs to be mentioned. The power requirements to operate MS&T are only a fraction of the power requirements to operate MU. That should be obvious, but may not be to everyone. What might work well at MS&T might not work well for MU. Still, if you REALLY want to chop carbon dioxide emissions you can't stick with fuel combustion.

If you want more information and can't wait, try calling 573-341-4111 and ask to speak to Public Relations. We bark occasionally, but we don't bite. :)

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 4, 2011 | 8:16 a.m.

"Don't be mislead by claims that we cannot do without nuclear energy, not after Ameren has admitted that we can."

Is their IRP available online anywhere? Some of the statements made by the VP and in the text of the linked article don't add up to me.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 4, 2011 | 11:46 a.m.

Estimates of domestic electrical demand are readily available on line.

We can treat any point (present or future) on the demand curve as a "zero sum" situation: If we eliminate any existing generation sources we must - in REAL time, not future time - substitute an equal amount of generated electricity from remaining sources. Otherwise, we will fall behind the curve. Once we fall behind the curve we are effectively also behind the eight ball!

Some countries have found themselves in that position, and I've worked in one of them. The aggravation and the economic losses can be severe.

Eliminate ALL nuclear power plants if you choose. Fine by me, but what have you lined up TODAY to make up for the loss in generation?

What some "wowser" suggestions fail to take into consideration is that the devil, as usual, is hidden in the details.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 4, 2011 | 6:25 p.m.

The reason I wanted to see the actual IRP was that several statements were made in the article about efficiency linked in the above article.

Columbia had an IRP prepared a few years back, and they projected that, even with cost-effective investment in efficiency, electrical demand would rise about 25% by 2027. Yet in the linked article, the VP states electrical demand can be reduced by 7.3% by 2030 by investing in efficiency. I wonder if that's what Ameren's IRP really says, or if they mean 7.3% below what it would have been without the investment. It's a big difference.

Electrical generation really is a zero sum game, because demand and supply must be closely matched at all times. Not planning for demand will result in some very inconvenient electrical service.


(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote May 4, 2011 | 10:48 p.m.

How much could we save by adopting a smart grid, i.e. rates vary according to usage demands? My dishwasher and washing machine have delay timers and I generally run those during the middle of the night. It would be nice if we could incentivize conservation, though perhaps that is not an Ameren's financial interest. Like health care, the energy sector is a poor candidate for the free market as companies make more money when we consume more of their product. I understand that rate increases have to go through regulatory boards, however I am unaware of the rate ever going down. I'd be willing to green light their nuclear ambitions if they would install a smart grid. As one commenter has already mentioned, the cost of coal is quite high if you include indirect costs. Moreover, the nuclear plants of today have passive controls to avert the situation Japan is now experiencing. Perhaps if I lived to the East of Callaway I would have a different opinion of the dangers of nuclear power (since Columbia is upwind).

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 5, 2011 | 3:09 a.m.

Demand for electric power isn't constant throughout a 24-hour day. I once interviewed for a job in St. Louis where the potential employer was arc melting powdered ceramic compositions to form liquids that were cast in molds, similar to metallurgy. That's an expensive procedure. Melting only took place between midnight and dawn, because of favorable power cost within those times. This required that all factory operations be organized around the time of day when melting took place.

In Venezuela we were plagued almost daily with power outages during afternoon and early evening hours, due to tropical storms and an electric grid barely adequate to meet demand at ANY time of day. The solution was to reorganize operating hours to take advantage of the period from midnight to dawn when more, and more reliable, electric power was available. This played hell with engineers' social lives but created a temporary solution to our problems. :)

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 5, 2011 | 7:15 a.m.

"How much could we save by adopting a smart grid, i.e. rates vary according to usage demands?"

The wild card is how much of the savings would be eaten up by rate increases. When people conserve -- whether it's water or electricity -- it reduces revenue for the utility companies, which make up for the shortfall by raising rates to fund infrastructure replacement and other capex. There was a MO utility in the news a year or two that said exactly that, and the argument was compelling enough for regulators to approve a rate hike.

No, I'm not saying we shouldn't conserve. I'm just pointing out that people shouldn't assume that their rates will remain flat for years on end or even decrease.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 5, 2011 | 9:32 a.m.

Christopher Foote wrote:

"How much could we save by adopting a smart grid, i.e. rates vary according to usage demands?"

That depends if you mean money or electricity.

If people use the same amount of electricity, just at a different time of the day, that still means that no conservation in electricity takes place. Using the electricity at a different time merely shifts the type of fuels used to generate the electricty, and this is the basis of off-peak pricing. Natural gas peaking plants are the most expensive way to generate electricity for most utilities, and peak pricing during the day reflects this. Increasing usage at off peak times means more of the power comes from coal/nuclear (although that depends on how much demand is increased at off-peak times).

Taum Sauk is a pumped hydro facility designed to save some of the electricity generated at off-peak times for use during peak loads. Ameren has title to lands on Church Mountain and potentially could build a facility about twice as large as Taum Sauk, but this has been opposed by conservation groups. Natural gas is still cheap enough that it's more economical to use turbines than build pumped hydro.

Tiered pricing, where the more electricity one used, the more expensive it is, would be an incentive to conserve. Columbia has that to a limited extent now, aned having meters that showed dollar amounts of electricity used, prices/kwh at various times of the day, etc. might help conservation minded people and delay the need for more generating facilities.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 5, 2011 | 11:35 a.m.

I agree with the Bearfield and Foecking posts, immediately above, but am making a different point. There is a HIERARCHY here: lack of availability tops price! If electricity, petroleum, metallic and non-metallic mined minerals, etc. reach critical supply then price isn't the number one problem. (Of course availability can be a large factor in establishing price.)

If, for example, there is no gasoline available at the pump, what you or I might be willing to pay for gasoline - if it were available - is of no consequence.

(Report Comment)

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