By - Michael Drost

EPA removes support for existing nuclear generation in climate rule

Energize Weekly, August 12, 2015

Nuclear power plant operators who were hoping to be thrown a bone by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the form of its final Clean Power Plan (CPP) rule released last week were disappointed to find out that carbon-free generation from existing nuclear plants will not count towards a state’s clean energy goals, although it will allow states to take more credit for carbon-free electricity from nuclear power plants currently under construction.

The nuclear industry has been hammered by the dual forces of cheap natural gas and renewables and high maintenance and construction costs, resulting in at least three dozen nuclear units at risk of closure for financial reasons, amounting to about 6 percent nuclear capacity. In the draft version of the CPP rule, the CPP would have allowed states to count 6 percent of existing nuclear generation toward their clean energy goals. The EPA removed that provision in favor of letting states count more nuclear generation from power plants under construction toward their goals.

“Nuclear facilities will be credited because it’s new, zero-carbon generation that will be credited as part of a compliance strategy,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “That’s entirely consistent and appropriate.”

Nuclear advocates and states will large amounts of nuclear capacity expressed concerns that the new rule will force companies to abandon existing nuclear generation that is deemed at risk. That could hurt the states’ ability to come into compliance with the rule, which calls for electricity-sector carbon emissions to be reduced by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) president and chief executive officer Marvin Fertel said that while the NEI supports the provision allowing more credit to carbon-free generation from plants under construction, it is “disappointed” that the rule’s “best system of emission reduction” does not incorporate the value of carbon-free electricity from existing nuclear power plants.

“This is surprising since EPA clearly recognized in the proposed rule that some of these plants are at risk of premature shutdown. In the final rule, EPA notes correctly that ‘existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.’ What the final rule fails to recognize is that CO2 emissions will be significantly higher if existing nuclear power plants shut down prematurely,” he said.

Southern Co., which is building two new reactors at its Plant Vogtle facility in Georgia, said that it is relieved that generation from new reactors will count toward a state’s compliance strategy, however maintains that it is “concerned” that the final rule may “impede state’s authority to act in the best interests of customers,” according to Bloomberg.

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