NW could reach cost effective CO2-free grid by 2045 using nuclear power: study

More and different sources of electric power will be needed in the Northwest to maintain energy reliability and to achieve a carbon dioxide-free system by 2045, according to a study released in late January by Energy Northwest.

In particular, the study found that deep decarbonization of the Northwest electricity system can be accomplished at reasonable cost if nuclear capacity plays a role in the region’s energy future.

The study was prepared by Energy + Environmental Economics of San Francisco in response to Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Clean Energy Transformation Act, which calls for the state to reach 100% clean electricity by 2045.

Energy Northwest is a not-for-profit utility agency created by the Washington State legislature in 1957 to aggregate and help meet the needs of public power utilities.

The study examined scenarios in which the 1,207-megawatt (MW) Columbia nuclear power station is relicensed beyond its current 2043 license expiration date and in which small modular reactors are deployed in the region.

The value of relicensing the Columbia station ranges from $75 million per year in an 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction scenario to $1.35 billion per year in the 100% GHG reduction scenario, the study found.

The study also found that small modular reactors (SMRs) are “most valuable under very tight emissions reductions regimes.” In those scenarios, small modular reactors reduce the cost of achieving deep emissions reductions relative to scenarios that only rely on renewable resources and energy storage. “SMRs have their largest role when new gas generators cannot be built or when they are able to receive a nuclear production tax credit,” the study found.

If a nuclear production tax credit were available, small modular reactors would make economic sense and the first could be built and deployed as soon as 2040, the study found.

Small modular reactors would have the largest build-out If there were a ban on building new gas-fired generation, leading to the first SMRs being built by 2030 and 6,300 MW being built by 2045, the study’s authors said.

If NuScale Power’s cost estimates for building small modular reactors are used, as opposed to estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, small modular reactors could reduce the cost of achieving 100% GHG reductions by nearly $8 billion per year as a result of SMRs’ ability to provide firm capacity and avoid an overbuild of renewable generation, the study argued.

NuScale Power is working on a project to build a series of small modular reactors in Idaho. The project would include 12 individual 60-MW modules, producing a total of 720 MW. In July, members of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) signed power sales contracts totaling more than 210 MW from UAMPS’ Carbon Free Power Project that would use NuScale’s technology.

Energy Northwest has the option to operate the SMR plant.

“Completing this study is simply the first step in a much larger decision-making process,” Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest’s CEO, said in a statement. “Any decision to invest in new resources will take time, and will only be done in the best interest of our member utilities, the people of Washington and, of course, the environment.”

To request a copy of the full study, contact [email protected].