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The Right Agenda

April 29, 2011

If nuclear power is dying, what can replace it?

There are only two alternatives that can provide base-load power at low cost.

They are coal-fired and natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants.

Both are under attack by the EPA and environmental organizations.

When it comes to coal, we should have an agenda of building the newest and best coal-fired power plants – ultra-supercritical (USC) plants that operate at very high temperatures and pressures.

China has around 20 such plants under construction, while we have one.

Incredibly, an Arkansas supreme-court judge (Chief Justice Jim Hannah) said that the only USC plant being built in the United States couldn’t sell the electricity it produced to Arkansas customers, because the plant was experimental.

The fleet of traditional coal-fired power plants has a thermal efficiency of only 32% HHV*, while USC plants have an efficiency of 43% HHV.

USC plants are 35% more efficient than traditional coal-fired power plants.

In addition, properly equipped USC units have much lower emissions. Emissions of SOx are cut by over 95%, NOx by over 85%, particulates by over 98%, while 90% of Hg is removed.

These plants should be the flag bearer for “clean coal”.

The cost of building the Arkansas USC plant is about $2,800 per KW. It’s expected that the cost of electricity from an USC plant will be around 6 cents per kWh.

Natural gas, NGCC, power plants are less costly to build. They cost around $1,200 per KW. The cost of producing electricity from an NGCC plant depends, to a large degree, on the cost of natural gas. Fracking has resulted in a surplus of natural gas which has cut the price of natural gas in half over the past few years, so the cost of producing electricity by an NGCC plant is now lower than from a USC plant.

If fracking is constrained or prohibited by the EPA, the price of natural gas will rise. At the moment therefore, building a USC or NGCC plant is not a clear choice.

The cost of producing electricity from wind or solar is three to eight times more costly than producing electricity from USC or NGCC power plants. In addition, wind and solar are unreliable and cannot provide the base load power essential for keeping the lights on in our homes or equipment running in our factories.

Our national agenda should encourage using coal and natural gas, and the construction of both USC and NGCC power plants. Market forces should determine which type of plant is built.

Note: (HHV refers to higher heating value as opposed to LHV, or lower heating value. LHV is used elsewhere in the world and gives a higher efficiency for an identical plant.)

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[To find earlier articles, click on the name of the preceding month below the calendar to display a list of articles published in that month. Continue clicking on the name of the preceding month to display articles published in prior months.]

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