Electric discussion

It’s interesting that my column this week on using the electricity produced by Lepreau II to power economic development in New Brunswick and not New England got probably the most feedback I received to date. Several colleagues called and emailed to debate the issue and one guy tracked me down at home. He took issue with my term ‘low cost power’ regarding nuclear energy.

The truth is that I have been told that nuclear – over a long time horizon – is still one of the cheapest (and cleanest) forms of electricity generation. I don’t have personal knowledge of this but I have been told it by folks who should know.

Regardless, the assumption of my column was more simple than that. Simply, if you can produce power that you can sell into the U.S. that is competitive price wise with other forms of electricity production – my thinking is that if you back off your expected profit margin that must, by definition, make it cheaper here. Unless you plan on selling all the surplus power on the spot market to fulfil short term needs. My assumption, and it is only an assumption, would be that NB Power would want to negotiate stable, fixed term agreements for the power – at a lower rate than they would get on the spot market.

But, I don’t claim to be an energy expert – not in any sense of that term.

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0 Responses to Electric discussion

  1. mikel says:

    Actually its the OPPOSITE, its OBVIOUSLY the ‘dirtiest’, I still sometimes am surprised at a guy who seems so smart can come out with these whoppers. You are aware of the definition of ‘radioactive’, right?

    But Ill let an expert fill you in, go to the TJ and read the article called ‘the market and nuclear power’ or something like that. You are WAY off on that, there’s a reason why places are looking at wind power now, you think that Alberta company wants wind turbines in the province for public relations?

    The REAL topic I would have suggested would be to not pick sides. I find this extremely strange, such as your criticism above of David Hay. In the past it was YOU who was always arguing for looking at the local market first, which of course means looking at needs. Surely you don’t think THAT many data centres would set up in the province that it would be more than the power used by pulp and paper mills? That would be just crazy, one mill could power about ten to twenty data centres.

    But its a very pertinent topic, having energy power for local home consumption or the market. Unfortunately, you are on the wrong side of the globalization debate on that one. NB providing cheap local power would be like having a Venezuela in Canada.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Importing cheaper power saves millions
    Utility NB Power finding its oil-fired plants too pricey to run
    Print this ArticleEmail this ArticleComments | 2Resize TextBookmark this ArticleFacebookDiggStumble Upondel.icio.usLive BookmarkTechnoratiTOOL HELPRob Linke
    Published Friday February 22nd, 2008
    Appeared on page A1
    New Brunswick’s largest power plant has been running only half the time over the last 18 months because importing power from Hydro Quebec and New England has become cheaper.

    The giant Coleson Cove power plant west of Saint John, refitted between 2002 and 2004 at a cost of $800 million, and the much smaller Dalhousie plant in the northeast both burn oil.

    Record prices for oil have climbed higher than those for natural gas, which powers many New England plants.

    In these changing circumstances, NB Power has saved millions of dollars by importing the cheaper power while keeping the burners at Coleson Cove and Dalhousie turned off, said CEO David Hay.

    “It’s more economic for New Brunswickers and NB Power to do so, so it’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said.

    If importing power continues to be cheaper, Coleson Cove may not even run very often when the Point Lepreau nuclear plant goes offline for as much as 18 months, starting in April.

    Lepreau is undergoing a $1.6 billion refurbishment to extend its operating life.

    NB Power had planned to replace Lepreau’s 635 megawatts with Coleson Cove’s power, by cutting back on exports, and importing perhaps 10 per cent of its needs, said Hay.

    But with the potential to buy cheaper power from the U.S., replacement power “is not necessarily going to come from Coleson Cove,” said Hay.

    “We’ll take it from wherever the most economic source will be to help us keep rates as low as we can.”

    NB Power being a net importer of electricity recently has gone unnoticed for months amid the provincial government’s interest in building a second nuclear reactor at Point Lepreau to export power.

    A consultants’ study said earlier this month that half its power could go to New England. The other half could be used in the Maritimes, but not because demand is increasing. Rather, the argument is that the nuclear power would be cheaper and cleaner than power from oil or coal plants.

    It’s also ironic for NB Power to find itself replacing Coleson Cove’s power with power that originates in U.S. natural gas plants.

    NB Power spent $800 million refitting Coleson Cove to burn Orimulsion, extend the plant’s life to 2030 and reduce its pollutants. The arrangement to buy cheap Orimulsion from the world’s only supplier, Venezuela, fell through.

    Coleson Cove still burns oil, although NB Power has studied the option of mixing it with petroleum coke to reduce fuel costs.

    In 2002, most people who participated in public consultations about Coleson Cove’s future said they preferred a 400-megawatt natural gas combined cycle turbine over other options.

    But the province rejected natural gas as too expensive and its long-term supply too uncertain.

    The importation of significant amounts of electricity was not foreseen even a few years ago.

    “In the past, it was pretty much a one-way street,” said Bill Marshall, president and CEO of the New Brunswick System Operator, which is responsible for the transmission system.

    “Energy was always exported. But with the change in oil and gas prices, the economics now are that there are times when gas is more economical.”

    NB Power actually backed into the savings from imports unexpectedly.

    About 18 months ago, the utility created a “24-hour desk” for trading electricity.

    Traders staff the desk 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their constant monitoring of the “hour-ahead” market for electricity allows NB Power to act quickly on opportunities to sell power to or import it from neighbouring jurisdictions.

    NB Power expected the new desk would help most with export sales.

    But “we’ve seen far more opportunities to buy (cheaper power) than we would have imagined,” said Hay, so the savings have been “significantly more than we thought when we set the desk up.”

    The desk began operations as record prices for oil began to rise higher than prices for natural gas. Now New England is selling New Brunswick far more power from its natural gas plants.

    Quebec has some of the cheapest power in North America, thanks to huge hydro dams immune from spikes in the price of fossil fuels.

    Despite the savings, the imports of power raise questions about how NB Power will pay off the debt incurred by the $800-million refit of Coleson Cove, says environmentalist David Coon.

    The policy director for the Conservation Council said NB Power was relying on predictable revenues from the plant.

    “They’re desperately trying to figure out how to avoid a financial catastrophe at Coleson Cove,” he said.

    But even Coon, long a critic of Coleson Cove, says there’s no case for closing it down permanently.

    “Coleson Cove is the one plant they can turn on and off easily and get lots of power,” he said. “It’s extremely versatile and they wouldn’t want to lose it.”

    Said Marshall, the system operator: “With the peak loads we have in winter, I don’t think you’d be shutting down any of the large oil plants.”

  3. Sebastien says:

    OBVIOUSLY the dirtiest. If it’s that obvious then nobody could make Campbell assumption. Potential dirty might be a good word for it. If I have a 2 jar of dust sealed, does my house fell dirtier than a house with 1 jar of dust but sprayed out on my carpet.

    Did you know that some hydrocarbon compound (Furane for exemple) is a lot deadlier than a lot of radioactive waste?

    Did you know the nuclear industry is the safest power generating industry

    Did you know that every day of the week,every minute and every second radioactivity pass through our body.

    Do you think france and japan are weirdo?

    They probably have the most advance nuclear technology in the world because their citizen are not afraid and are not swayed by propaganda. We could have been a nuclear power with our huge reserve and our head start in the technology.

    But we had to listen to fear instead of working the problem.

    Stop reading you weekly news from the NDP or the green party.

    Anybody who use radioactive has a dirty word is just using propaganda. I bet you think everything that’s natural is good for you too.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Mis-informed minority attitudes about nuclear power stopped the growth in nuclear technology resulting in huge hydrocarbon investments (including Coleson Cove), expansions and extentions of life. One of North America’s largest polluters (Nanticoke coal plant) had it’s life extended because there was no alternative available to replace its enourmous power generation capacity; meanwhile, Ontario’s nuclear plants, with more than enough capacity to close down all the fossil fuel plants, were mothballed.

    Wind, geothermal, tidal etc will all contribute to our energy solutions but nuclear certainly is part of the equation for big source generation. Every energy source has an impact; nothing comes for free. However, the nuclear impact is far less than fossil fuels.

    It is unfortunate we lost 20+ years of advancements in nuclear energy when Canada was in a leadership position. It is also ironic that some of the same special interest groups that are protesting global warming are the ones that helped to keep fossil fuel plants so dominate by supressing nuclear power. Let’s not fall into that trap again.

  5. mikel says:

    Thats’ an interesting article above, and again points out what I was saying, that David Coon is far from a typical environmentalist, you’d be hard pressed to find another environmental advocate advocating KEEPING a coal fired plant.

    For the immediate above, Hydro power is BY FAR cheaper and safer than nuclear power-there isn’t even a contest, which again explains why they can get it so cheap from hydro quebec. Hydro and solar and wind have virtually NO safety concerns AT ALL, so that nuclear power is the safest is just crazy.

    And we are not talking about ‘radio’ ‘activitity’, we are talking about radioactive waste which is the result of nuclear energy production (and oil production and mineral treatment) and cannot be dealt with except by dilution for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Furans are no picnic, but do some more reading yourself, only 4 of the 135 types of furans are toxic, and none of those are created in current energy production. You change one molecule in a furan or dioxin and it becomes completely inert-you can go buy it at Canadian Tire and its sprayed on your lawn.

    Radioactive waste is a far different story. Even the costs of storage is considerable, and that doesn’t even include the ever more volatile political situation which means that far more costs should be incurred by protection. You can tell how little worried the government is about terrorism, a small band of guys with semiautomatic weapons could grab lots of spent fuel at lepreau no problem. It’s now known that 1 sievert of radiation has a 5% chance of causing cancer.

    It’s simply waste of a different sort, which again, is why the SMART places are looking at micro-hydro (forestry policies in NB are currently guaranteeing less hydro power will be available in the future), solar, and wind. These have concrete costs and no pollutants. That the hugest tides in the world are in the bay of fundy yet the government never even MENTIONS tidal power is a provincial embarassment. Energy investors are looking at solid long term economical plans, and nuclear has NEVER been an economic option without government support.

    Again, read that article in the paper and go check out the speaker at Sackville this friday. As the article above says, if NBPower is IMPORTING power for cheaper than it makes it (even at Lepreau), what kind of idiot investor is going to look at a nuclear plant to send the power the other way? They MAY do it, but only with government guarantees that they will achieve a certain profit level, either by subsidies or selling to NBPower at a set rate.

    And if you can’t find the article, just a reminder is that the nuclear facility they are proposing is a NEW type of design, and since it has that private element involved, that means the taxpayers will never be able to get the cost information the would get if it were public. WHich means the CAEC’s claims about their track record are spurious at best since there is no way to check their claims.

    Conversely, everybody knows what a length of hydro cable costs, and everybody knows what a solar panel and wind turbine cost, you can buy them online.

    The nuclear industry is a VERY powerful industry, in France as well as Japan. In fact a big player in the nuclear industry in France is none other than canadian Paul Desmarais, who is a big player here as well. So there is nothing ‘weird’ about it-that doesn’t make it good policy.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Hydro power is BY FAR cheaper and safer than nuclear power”

    I agree. Screw the communities that are displaced and let’s conveniently neglect the huge environmental impacts of damming up rivers and flooding farms and forests. Hydro is indeed fantastic if we just overlook these few aspects.