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Virginia Energy Policy: Electricity Production & the Nuclear Option

On September 12, 2007 Governor Kaine released the Virginia Energy Plan (VEP), a proposal that promotes the Commonwealth’s energy independence and educates consumers on energy conservation and efficiency. As required by the 2006 General Assembly, it seeks to reduce the rate of growth in energy use by 40 percent, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent and increase in-state energy production by 20 percent.

The VEP states:

Virginia is at the southern end of the Mid-Atlantic area which is projected to violate electric reliability standards as early as 2011. With no increase in conservation, Virginia would need to add an additional 5,098 megawatts of capacity through a mix of electric generation or imports. If the 10 percent energy-efficiency and conservation goal set in 2007 legislation is met, the state would still need to add an additional 2,358 megawatts of capacity. Additional electrical infrastructure growth will be needed if any current capacity must be retired. This capacity will need to serve electric growth in the northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and central Virginia areas.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported that Virginia’s fuel use in 2005 for electricity was 44 percent coal, 34 percent nuclear, 10 percent petroleum, 8 percent natural gas, 2 percent hydroelectric and 2 percent renewable. On average about 80 percent of the electrical energy used by Virginia was generated in-state, while about 20 percent was imported.

As the numbers indicate Virginia will need to add significant capacity based on growth and reducing imports even if energy conservation works. Add to this a 30 percent reduction in GHGs and you have an interesting dilemma: how clean can you make coal production, how much can renewables contribute, what is the nuclear option and when can these various alternatives come on-line?

Coal fired power plants emit GHGs (among other pollutants). Carbon sequestration, when proven, will make coal a viable power source under the VEP. The big question is when will that technology be available? That is a tough question but I predict it will be toward the end of the near-term (5-15 years) to have a proven technology.

The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research (VCCER) prepared a report in 2005 entitled Increased Use of Renewable Energy in Virginia. VCCER defines renewable energy is as the energy derived from sunlight, wind, falling water, sustainable biomass, waste, wave motion, tides, and geothermal power. The report concludes that while there is significant renewable potential, only 930 MW could be economically developed in the near-term (5-15 years). The report identified a number of significant impediments including the lack of class 3 (<14 mph) or better wind areas in Virginia and the concerns about intermittency and land intensity of solar power. Also, because renewable technologies such as solar and wind power rely on variable and uncontrollable sources for energy affected by the weather, they are generally viewed as inappropriate for base-load or peaking generation.

Nuclear power generation started in the late fifties with the so-called Generation I reactor (early prototype and power reactors). The industry has organized reactors by design classification of Generation I, II, III and IV. Generation II are commercial reactors built up to the end of the 1990’s. Generation III reactors incorporate evolutionary improvements in design which have been developed during the lifetime of the generation II reactor designs. Generation IV reactors are theoretical designs currently being researched and generally not expected to be available for commercial construction before 2030. The goals of Generation IV are to improve nuclear safety, improve proliferation resistance, minimize waste and natural resource utilization and to decrease the cost to build and run such plants.

Virginia obtains 34 percent of its electric energy from 4 units located in the Dominion Virginia Power (DVP) Surry and North Anna systems. Both Surry and North Anna were planned for 4 units. DVP is currently in the licensing process for unit 3.

Virginia needs to plan and implement now to provide adequate and reliable electrical energy well into the twenty first century. For economic growth to continue Virginia needs to expand energy production. Virginia also needs to add 20 percent additional capacity to free itself from having to import energy from other states.

What actions should Governor-elect McDonnell take in reference to using nuclear power to attain needed electrical power production to ensure continued economic growth and energy independence for Virginia?

  1. Make the expansion of nuclear power to 50 percent of Virginia’s electricity needs by 2025 and 75 percent by 2050 a Virginia energy policy (North Anna 3&4 get production to 50 percent)
  2. Act as an advocate with DVP to expedite the process (in Virginia and federally) of approval and getting unit 3 on-line
  3. Take action to have DVP start the process for unit 4
  4. Have a study completed to look for potential Virginia locations for future nuclear power plants to meet the 50 percent and 75 percent goals (include both DVP and AEP areas)
  5. Have DVP conduct a feasibility study to expand Surry and North Anna and to extend the useful life of the current reactors
  6. Work with other like minded governors to fast track nuclear development and approval

The window of opportunity may appear quite extensive looking at 2025 and 2050 as production dates. However, the system for planning through construction and startup is a multiyear process that can easily last 10 to 15 years. Thus if Virginia wants to produce 50 percent of our electricity using nuclear power by 2025 we need to start in 2010 to ensure that North Anna 3 is far enough along to make a 10-year window and start the process for North Anna 4 to make a 15-year window. At the same time it is important to perform studies for more potential sites or the expansion of Surry and North Anna to meet the 2050 date. Governor-elect McDonnell will need to act quickly to produce and implement an energy policy that can be one of the premier achievements during his administration.

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