Today’s American nuclear power industry is in a state of upheaval. Four new, large-scale nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States, helped by large federal subsidies. All are being built by Westinghouse, and all have faced massive cost overruns and delays. Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba, recently posted a $6 billion loss due to Westinghouse’s nuclear woes. (For context, that loss is half a billion more than Toshiba spent to buy Westinghouse a decade ago.) Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection on March 29.
Westinghouse’s bankruptcy shines a spotlight on nuclear power’s role as an electricity source – currently providing about 17 percent of our electricity in the U.S. – and raises issues concerning whether we can count on low-carbon electricity from nuclear power. The Energy Information Administration projects nuclear power’s share of electricity generation will decline slightly through 2040, but these projections don’t reflect current trends.
Existing plants face challenging economics
Nuclear plants have long been very expensive to build, and the continued low price of natural gas has only increased cost pressure. Many nuclear plants are losing money, leading utilities to consider retiring them. Total nuclear capacity is declining, and will continue to decline in the near future as plant retirements exceed the capacity of Westinghouse’s Vogtle and Summer plants, expected to come online in 2019-2020. Read More
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is still deciding whether to approve bailouts for FirstEnergy’s and Dayton Power & Light’s (DP&L) old, inefficient coal plants. The Ohio-based utilities want their customers to shoulder the costs of keeping these unprofitable coal plants running.
Coal plants aren’t cheap to operate. And as natural gas, wind energy, and solar energy have become increasingly affordable in recent years, coal can’t compete anymore. Moreover, subsidizing coal plants is not just a matter of higher electricity bills. We need to take into account the hidden costs of coal, which we all have to pay. Read More
After a century in use, the American electric grid is on the precipice of transformation. The technology is here and customers are ready, but we need a modernized grid to unlock the clean energy future. Fortunately, utilities like AEP Ohio are taking advantage of the potential to lower pollution and customers’ energy bills by updating – and upgrading – their operations.
For the past several years, AEP Ohio has been thoughtfully implementing grid modernization, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today approved a settlement in the utility’s program. In a win-win for the environment and customers, AEP Ohio’s grid modernization plan will result in less energy waste, as well as significant customer benefits that greatly exceed the program costs: Every dollar spent will produce nearly three times as much in savings. Read More
Another year, and another Ohio utility is sidling up to the trough for a bailout.
Dayton Power & Light (DP&L) is asking for $1 billion over seven years, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will soon hold a hearing on the application. And like its fellow Ohio subsidy-seeker, FirstEnergy, DP&L is veiling its billion-dollar request with talk of making the grid smarter and more modern.
No doubt grid modernization is a worthy investment. The only problem is, DP&L will not commit to spending any of the requested funding on grid modernization, but only offers that it may do so. Since DP&L won’t commit to modernizing the grid, it’s more likely the utility wants to spend the funds for other purposes, such as shoring up its balance sheet, paying off old debt, and operating its old power plants.
Although Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) supports grid modernization, we do not support DP&L’s proposal because the utility could divert the funding for these other purposes, which would be harmful for customers and the environment. Read More
Each year, dozens of utilities across the U.S. embark on a complicated process called a “rate case.” Presented to a state public utility commission (PUC), a rate case is a utility’s pitch for higher electricity prices for customers. For most utilities, a rate case only happens once every several years. So, all sides argue for the rules of the road by which the utility will operate until the next rate case. A rate case is also where state and local governments, along with consumer and environmental advocacy groups, seek cleaner, cheaper, and more customer-friendly prices, products, and policies.
The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PPUC) is currently hearing a rate case for Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed), which serves 560,000 residential and commercial customers, and represents one of the Pennsylvania utility branches of Ohio-based mega company FirstEnergy. Last month, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed testimony in the case urging Pennsylvania to modernize its grid with both voltage optimization and customer data access. The PPUC should require Met-Ed to implement both programs so Pennsylvanians can benefit from a clean, modern electric grid.
UPDATE: Since the March 2016 publication of this original blog post, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) last week issued an order officially approving a settlement agreement Environmental Defense Fund, along with several other stakeholders, helped negotiate for Duke Energy’s grid modernization plan. The IURC’s order approved the settlement (details of which are outlined in the post below) without change. Now Duke Energy can proceed with the $1.4 billion plan, which will bring many clean energy benefits to Duke’s 800,000 customers.
Help is on the way to reduce harmful pollution in Indiana, which has the seventh highest level of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) joined a settlement filed this week for Duke Energy’s grid modernization plan. The settlement calls for Duke – the largest utility in the country, which serves over 800,000 Indiana households – to invest $1.4 billion over the next seven years to improve its electric grid. Doing so will deliver major benefits for Duke’s customers. Read More