Rural Missouri - April 2011 - (Page 12)
ighter government regulations — and the high cost to comply with new rules — may signal lights out for many of the nation’s older coal-fired power plants at a time when forecasters predict energy demand will eventually outpace supply. “Americans could see power shortages by the end of the decade if new generation sources don’t materialize,” cautions Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the Arlington, Va.-based service organization of the nation’s more than 900 electric cooperatives. To meet the challenge, electric co-ops are using energy-efficiency measures and innovative technology to reduce electric demand. But these measures will only go so far. Eventually, the need to build new generation to “keep the lights on” will take center stage.
by Magen Howard firstname.lastname@example.org
An investment of time, money
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the bulk power grid watchdog for the United States and most of Canada, estimates the country will need to build 135,000 megawatts of new generation by 2017 to meet demand. Facilities on the drawing board, however, will only deliver 77,000 megawatts — leaving an energy gap. Planning, building and launching a baseload power plant is no small feat. Even if the permit process goes smoothly (meaning there are no significant objections to a facility), a coal-fired generating station takes six to seven years from start to finish. A combined-cycle natural gas plant takes three to four years, while a nuclear power plant requires 10 years at minimum, notes John Holt, NRECA senior manager for generation and fuels. Wind farms and large solar projects, in many cases, need only about two years to complete, but they are handicapped by intermittency issues. Even with good location and plenty of breezes, wind generation is available at most 40 percent of the time and seldom operates (due to a lack of wind) during periods of peak consumption such as hot, humid summer weekday afternoons or cold winter nights with below-zero wind chills. Solar power systems operate only during daylight hours and are affected by cloud cover. Wind and solar resources are essential parts of today’s generation mix, but they must be backed up by around-the-clock sources such as natural gas, coal or nuclear power.
photo courtesy of Associated Electric Cooperative
Associated’s Chouteau 2 Power Plant, now under construction, should add sufficient power to meet electric cooperatives needs until around the year 2020. The project is expected to be completed sometime this year.
Building an affordable, reliable energy future
are now available to meet America’s demand for safe, reliable and affordable electric energy — natural gas, which is priced in rapidly changing commodities markets; or nuclear power, which requires nearly a decade for construction and continues to bump up against ghosts of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and issues involving disposal of spent fuel. Natural gas at present seems like an attractive option to satisfy our nation’s energy appetite because the fuel is relatively cheap, power plants that use it can be brought on-line more quickly, and burning natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal. “But right now, we’re in a natural gas price bubble,” Holt cautions. “While economics today favor natural gas, my concern is just two or three years ago natural gas was three times as expensive. So it could easily and rapidly go up in cost. Over the long term, I expect nuclear power — since it only emits water vapor into the atmosphere — will make a comeback. But there are a lot of ifs.”
Federal rules impact energy prices
Rulemaking by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will impact electric bills and put affordability and reliability at risk. According to the report, Potential Resource Adequacy Impacts of U.S. Environmental Regulations, commissioned by NERC, four pending EPA rules would place new and costly hurdles on power generators. In fact, regulations impacting cooling water intake, coal ash disposal, interstate transport of air pollutants and using Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) to curb emissions from power plants could force electric utilities to retire or retrofit 33,000 to 70,000 megawatts of generating capacity by 2015. A fifth hurdle, reducing power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, presents an even greater challenge since no viable, commercially tested solution exists. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an electric utility research group that includes electric co-ops as members, contends if the EPA designates coal ash, a residue produced by coal-fired power plants that is used as a cement substitute, as hazardous, it could cost utilities and their consumers between $5.32 billion and $7.62 billion annually. “Because of these new rules, we’re expecting a number of existing coal plants be shut down,” says Kirk Johnson, NRECA vice president of energy and environmental policy. “The cost of compliance will simply be too much.” Only two alternate baseload generation options
Working to keep electric bills affordable
To reduce the need for new power plants, electric co-ops are fashioning a variety of innovative solutions to reduce load during times of peak demand — the electric utility industry’s equivalent of rushhour traffic when wholesale power costs skyrocket. Those include direct control of electric water heaters, air conditioners, electric thermal storage units and other appliances in the homes of volunteer consumers; interruptible contracts with commercial and industrial accounts, such as irrigation pumps,
large retailers and factories that are able to temporarily shut down or run emergency generators; calling on consumer-owned generation to start up; and the new kid on the block, personal energy management — notably in-home displays, web portals and smart thermostats that inform consumers (in real time) when load peaks are happening, allowing them to voluntarily decide when and how to curtail electric use to save money. Most electric co-ops also are ramping up energyefficiency programs. According to NRECA Market Research Services, nearly all electric co-ops offer efficiency educational resources to their consumers. In 2008, wholesale power supplier Associated Electric Cooperative (AECI) kicked off the “Take Control & Save” energy-efficiency program for the more than 850,000 customers to which it provides power. The assistance offered by AECI includes educational resources, services and rebates for various upgrades that not only save on residential and commercial electricity consumption but also saves home and business owners on electricity costs. Other programs include residential and commercial energy audits to improve building energy performance; incentives for switching to highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs); and rebates for Energy Star appliances and heating and cooling equipment. To find out about energy-efficiency programs in Missouri, call your local electric cooperative or log on to www.TakeControlandSave.coop. Howard covers consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Arlington, Va.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - April 2011
Rural Missouri - April 2011
Memories of that Mountain Music
Best of Rural Missouri
Hearth and Home
Prairie passage pit stop
Valley of Many Deer Gallery
Rural Missouri - April 2011