August 9, 2010 - new nuclear, flywheel storage, China energy efficiency crackdown

Monday, August 9, 2010

Nuclear power is a hot topic -- specifically the construction of new nuclear plants, something that most countries in the world have been slow to do in recent years.  Now the United Kingdom says it anticipates building its first new nuclear plant in 2018,  most likely on-site at existing nuclear facilities.

Meanwhile, in midcoast Maine, where the spent fuel from the decommissioned Maine Yankee nuclear plant has been stored on-site in Wiscasset, an editorial in the Brunswick Times Record calls for the nuclear waste to be shipped away.  The editorial notes that citizens were told that waste would be removed by 2010 -- and with Yucca Mountain no longer viable as a storage site, area residents see no prospect of the waste being taken away as promised.

Just as oil and natural gas tank storage capacity can be used to smooth out swings in the availability and market price of fuel, energy storage can play a major role in ensuring power service while dampening price swings.  Frequency regulation -- keeping the alternating current at 60 Hz, which essentially requires smoothing out the gap between supply and demand on an instantaneous basis -- is an important service that all electric grids need.  As more and more intermittent generation resources come online, like wind, grids need more and more frequency regulation.  Massive mechanical flywheels can provide this service. In today's news, Beacon Power Corporation has closed on a $43 million DOE-backstopped loan, completing the financing for the 20 MW flywheel energy storage plant Beacon is building in Stephentown, New York.  The plant, which is under construction and on budget, is projected to cost $69 million, about 80% of which represents direct facility costs.  The Federal Financing Bank, part of the U.S. Treasury, provided the $43 million loan. NYSERDA provided a $2 million grant, with Beacon putting up the remaining $26 million in cash, in-kind assets, and project costs.  Beacon is also planning two more 20 MW flywheel projects: one in Glenville, NY, and one in the PJM Interconnection.

Supporting renewable and energy efficiency projects through grant funding programs is one way to improve a state's energy efficiency and emissions.  In China, the world's largest energy consumer, the government is taking a different approach: ordering 2,087 industrial manufacturers rated as having low energy efficiency to close.  Affected facilities, which produce steel, concrete, paper, coke, and forest products, will lose their emissions licenses next month.  Just to be sure, the government will order utilities and banks to cease dealings with the sanctioned businesses.  The government's stated motivations include slippage on its five-year plan energy efficiency plan, as China's economic recovery and booming construction industry drive energy consumption up.

Maine is moving forward with PACE financing -- but municipalities need to take a bit of action to open the door to residential energy efficiency in their communities.

Two quick links to Lewiston Sun Journal pieces about wind.  First, a story by Naomi Schalit critical of the results of Governor Baldacci's pro-wind efforts.  Second, a letter from my friend and Leadership Maine classmate Paul Williamson providing a counterpoint to last month's Jonathan Carter column critical of Maine mountaintop wind.  More to follow on these stories soon.

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