Two developments in the US energy landscape this week call into question the “clean energy” status of nuclear power and natural gas, too. In Rhode Island, state officials torpedoed a proposed natural gas power plant after a massive wave of public opposition. Meanwhile, federal officials greenlighted the sale of New Jersey’s Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey to the company Holtec Decommissioning International, which will take it down atom by atom. So, now what?
The Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant
Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is a tricky business. It’s even trickier in the Oyster Creek case because Holtec intends to deep-six the facility in record time. The company credits its proprietary technology with enabling it to beat conventional timelines, though the Sierra Club is among those questioning Holtec’s ability to accomplish the task at a white-hot pace.
How fast? Well, According to our friends over at Energy Central News, by law the plant has a 60-year window for decommissioning. The NRC has already approved a 15-year schedule ending by 2035. Holtec anticipates completing most of the heavy lifting by 2025, with site remediation to follow.
Presumably New Jersey ratepayers have already chipped in for the cost of decommissioning by paying into an $848 million trust fund over the years of the nuclear power plant’s operation. Holtec expects to add another $46 million in investment income to the fund during decommissioning. We say presumably because anything can happen, but that’s the plan.
If all goes well, Holtec will get the job done within that budget. Still to be settled is where to stash the spent fuel. Holtec anticipates building a facility in New Mexico for that, though critics are already raising environmental justice issues.
Nuclear Power Out, Wind Power In
Oyster Creek’s fate was all but sealed years ago, when environmental groups and local stakeholders began drawing attention to its devastating impact on the ecosystem in Barnegat Bay. Fresh waves of residential and commercial development aren’t doing Barnegat Bay any favors either, but Oyster Creek took the #1 slot in the state’s 2010 list of action steps for restoring the 1,350 square mile estuary.
Critics of the closure plan (the plant pumped out its last kilowatts last fall) had been advocating for keeping the plant open while installing new cooling towers to help restore the bay. In past years they had a key ally: the absence of any handy alternative for the plant’s 636 megawatts.
Now they do. New Jersey is finally beginning to tap its massive offshore wind resources. In the latest development on that score, just last Friday the state tapped Denmark-based Ørsted to build a 1,100 offshore wind farm.
If that sounds big, it is. Ørsted’s so-named Ocean Wind project is the largest ever offshore wind procurement for a US state, according to Reuters.
Did you hear the sound of teeth gnashing? That’s probably former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, known for his alliances with fossil industry stakeholders. New Jersey’s offshore wind industry hit the doldrums under the Christie administration, but his final term ended two years ago and now it’s a different ball of wax.
Natural Gas Hits An Offshore Wind Power Wall
Natural gas stakeholders have been hungrily eyeballing the New England market for growth opportunities, but like New Jersey, Rhode Island has set its sights on offshore wind.
Alex Kuffner of The Providence Journal has the scoop. Take it away, Alex:
In a long-awaited decision with far-reaching implications for the state’s energy regime and environment, Rhode Island regulators on Thursday rejected approval of a proposal to build a $1-billion fossil-fuel burning power plant in Burrillville that would be among New England’s largest.
Ouch! Invenergy, the company behind the 1,000 megawatt Clear River Energy Center, has the right to appeal through the courts. However, like nuclear power fans in New Jersey, fossil energy fans in New England are facing a double whammy: local opposition plus the availability of an alternative, that being offshore wind power.
Friday’s ruling came down on the basis of failure to show need, but — as with the Oyster Creek situation — opponents also had a strong environmental argument. Aside from its contribution to the global climate crisis, the project would take up 67 acres of forest in a “vital wildlife corridor.”
The Town of Burrillville also brought its legal guns to bear against the project. That’s interesting because in past times, a large new power plant would get a favorable reception from local stakeholders as a matter of economic development. According to Kuffner, labor unions did support the project but the locals joined a chorus of opposition from environmental organizations.
Speaking of offshore wind as an alternative, Rhode Island is already planning the next phase of its offshore ventures, and Ørsted’s New Jersey project is just part of that state’s 2030 offshore wind energy goal of 3,500 megawatts.
The nearby states of New York and Massachusetts are also working on ambitious renewable energy plans that include offshore wind.
Whither Nuclear & Natural Gas?
Nuclear stakeholders are working overtime to focus attention on the zero emissions aspect of nuclear power plants, but as the Oyster Creek closure demonstrates, other environmental considerations can thwart the growth of the nuclear industry here in the US.
Similarly, the Clear River rejection illustrates how natural gas stakeholders are losing their grip on the “clean” title as public awareness grows over both global warming and local environmental concerns.
Though small in size, New Jersey and Rhode Island are having an outsized impact on the US energy landscape. No wonder US natural gas and nuclear energy technology stakeholders are looking to the export market for relief.
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Photo (screenshot): US Offshore Wind Initiatives via energy.gov.
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