IHS Markit, a London-based research firm, warned in a report released Thursday that severe grid stress, plus dire environmental and financial consequences will result from the economic closures of five of the 19 nuclear plants contributing to the PJM Interconnection Energy Market, the world's largest wholesale electricity market that serves all or part of 13 Mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C.
The IHS report reinforces a recent announcement by PJM regarding the critical need to value fuel security in the region, noted Nuclear Matters, which sponsored the report.
“The 19 existing nuclear power plants in PJM are a cost-effective, emission-free source of electric energy and capacity, greatly diversifying the PJM power supply portfolio,” the report says.
However, closures prompted by economic headwinds, have already pushed operators of five of the 19 plants in the region to announce premature closures long before their operating licenses are set to expire. The plants set to retire prior to 2026 include Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey, Three Mile Island, Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station (both in Pennsylvania), Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and Perry Nuclear Generating Station (both in Ohio).
There are 65 million customers in the PJM catchment area who will be affected by the closures. The impacts include “Less resilient PJM capacity availability, especially during extreme weather events; 9 percent to 18 percent cost increases in the average retail price of electricity …; 100 million additional metric tons of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere each year (added emissions equal to two-thirds of the vehicles on the road in the PJM today); annual environmental costs of $4.3 billion due to the increase in CO2 emissions; a total decline in consumer annual net benefit from PJM grid-based electricity of $5-12 billion per year.”
“The bottom line is that the uneconomic retirement and replacement of PJM nuclear power plants reduces the consumer annual net benefit from PJM grid-based electricity by about $8 billion per year over 2013-2016. This translates into a consumer net benefit per kilowatt-hour of PJM nuclear generation of about 3 cents per kWh.”
.The report concludes: “The primary finding of this analysis is that the 65 million consumers who rely on PJM grid-based power supply are better off if something is done to prevent the uneconomic closures of PJM nuclear resources because the PJM power supply portfolio is more efficient, more resilient, and environmentally responsible with the continued contribution of cost-effective nuclear resources.”
The report notes that closing the five nuclear power plants is comparable to Germany's withdrawal from nuclear power, which caused them to forfeit their 2020 climate control goals.
The report also analyzed the five closures with respect to the 2014 polar vortex, which prompted an era of colder weather in the region and the 2017/2018 “bomb cyclone” which is a weather pattern of unexpectedly fast barometric pressure drops – 24 millibars in 24 hours, according to The New York Times, which also defines it in layman's terms: “essentially, a winter storm.”
However, a winter with extreme weather systems impacts customers and the impact will be exagerated by the nuclear plant closures, according to the IHS report. “The bomb cyclone episode indicates that if the PJM net dependable nuclear capacity had been replaced by an equivalent amount of net dependable natural gas-fired capacity and the gas supply infrastructure had also been proportionately expanded … then the available capacity on 7 January 2018 would have been 5.2 GW lower. Therefore, under these conditions, PJM would have had to exercise the remaining emergency operating procedures and would likely have been pushed beyond its limits and forced to shed load during the bomb cyclone.”
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