Utilities that are transitioning away from coal are starting to view the creation of a natural gas “bridge” to renewable energy as an unnecessary step. Last week utilities in Arizona, Colorado and Florida announced plans to close one or more of their coal plants and build renewables without adding any new gas-fired generation.
Separately, staff at the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission recommended a similar gas-free transition when assessing the future capacity needs of the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).
Renewable energy economics have been challenging the competitiveness of coal for a while now, but these latest moves indicate a greater confidence that the switch from coal to renewables can be done cost effectively and reliably without the construction of new gas fired generation as an interim step.
“Up until recently, the easy option for utilities would have been to propose using gas to replace coal. But not any longer. Rising concerns about climate change and continuing reductions in wind, solar and battery storage costs coupled with improved performance have altered the playing field,” Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said.
Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) both outlined their plans to skip the gas bridge as they transition away from coal in their resource plans. Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light (FPL) and Jacksonville’s municipal utility, JEA, entered into an agreement under which they will rely on existing natural gas and new solar generation to retire their jointly-owned facility, Unit 4 at Plant Scherer, the largest coal-fired plant in the US.
According to the IEEFA, to replace JEA’s share of the unit’s output, the two utilities signed a long-term, fixed-price power purchase agreement under which FPL will sell electricity to JEA from one of its exiting gas-fired generation units. Under the agreement, JEA can opt to switch to solar power at the 10-year mark.
TEP’s proposal calls for closing all of its coal-fired generation by 2031 and replacing this capacity with 2,457 MW of new wind and solar generation and 1,400 MW of battery storage. Similarly, CSU’s plan also calls for replacing coal capacity with wind, solar and storage generation. It plans to add 500 MW of new wind generation, 150 MW of new solar and 400 MW of battery capacity. To enable the early retirement of its 208 MW Martin Drake Power Plant in 2023, CSU will be installing temporary natural gas generators at the site “to ensure system reliability.” CSU said that it will remove these generators as its new renewable and storage projects are completed.
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The complete way to eliminate this natural gas dependency in most places is to embrace nuclear power. It provides the best possible backup power source for intermittent renewables. While many may feel nuclear is only a baseload source that can’t coexist renewabes, advanced nuclear and/or colocating thermal industrial processes can transform them into flexible dispatchable power sources, a perfect green compliment to renewables.
(Kris). I live in AZ, we have Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station…..although its given priority to get it’s utilization factor much higher than conventional generation(65%), it’s much more expensive than Solar/Wind, still uses/loses billions of gallons of precious water needed for agriculture/human consumption and requires expensive transmission infrastructure, experiences 8% energy transmission loss. And although low, there’s the risk of a catastrophic meltdown. Perhaps new smaller reactors would be better, or COLD fusion.
Living in AZ, you should know Palo Verde uses local sewage water for cooling. It is a shining example of how traditional nuclear power can work despite lack of cooling water.
Palo Verde utilization factor is greater than 92%.
The loss factors are not unique to nuclear, rather it suffers some of the least. A renewable-only scenario has greater transmission losses from longer lines required to reach distant hydroelectric sources and optimally distributed territories for solar and wind farms. Nuclear power can be situated next to populations. The risks from catastrophic meltdown are always comically overblown, the risk to life per unit of energy based on all historical disasters firmly places nuclear power as the safest energy source bar none.
New reactors ARE the way forward for nuclear power, smaller/cheaper/faster modules that consume legacy “nuclear waste” for fuel, don’t rely on water cooling, and can’t physically meltdown or explode. But legacy reactors are a precious resource that must be preserved until all fossil fuels are phased out.
TEP is adding 500mw of gas fueled generation, Gila river 2…methane released when ng is mined traps 84 times more heat than co2 negating their retirements of coal to support their efforts to reduce negative environmental impacts, increase temperatures and electricity for air conditioning, TEP revenues. Their IRP also acknowledges that natural gas costs increase 400%, increase ratepayers charges.
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