Xcel CEO pushes nuclear to hit utility's 100% clean energy by 2050 goal
- Utility executives at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York City voiced support for existing nuclear plants on Monday, as part of broader calls for decarbonization.
- In separate panels, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said the resource "is foundational" while Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke said losing nuclear would be taking "a step back" in becoming carbon free. Fowke highlighted the potential gains from advanced research and development, along with the need for a different regulatory approach and a solution to the waste problem for nuclear.
- Last winter, Xcel committed to eliminate its carbon emissions by 2050 — similar to targets being considered by states where it operates, such as Colorado.
The potential for a federal bailout of existing coal and nuclear plants resurfaced last week when the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report to President Donald Trump calling for a strategic electricity reserve that could keep plants from retiring.
In addition, states have taken their own steps to maintain the competitiveness of nuclear power, most recently through a bipartisan bill introduced in the Pennsylvania House.
Xcel plans to continue the operation of its Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear plants in Minnesota, in order to maintain its high levels of clean generation.
"I think nuclear plays a role in our carbon-free future," Fowke said. "It's 20% of [Xcel's] energy mix today, it's just under 60% of carbon-free energy, so if we lose that, we're going to take a step back."
He also highlighted the potential of advanced nuclear technology.
"I think there's another [type of] generation out there that is smaller, less a capital bet for somebody like me sitting in a boardroom ... and is safer, and has passive safety controls," he said. "But it will also need a different regulatory construct and we also once and for all have to solve the issue of what to do with nuclear waste."
Fowke plugged an increase in government research and development funding for decarbonization technologies, specifically calling the Department of Energy's national labs a key resource to advancing nuclear.
"We've got to be open to anything that mitigates the rise in climate change," Fowke said. "Maybe it's carbon capture, it hasn't worked today, doesn't mean it won't."
Meanwhile, Duke generated 33% of its net output from nuclear in 2018, which made up 18% of the capacity it owns.
But the "economics of new nuclear are challenging," Good said.
Duke canceled its 2.2 GW Lee Nuclear Station construction in 2017, after Westinghouse Electric, which was supposed to create a couple of reactors for the project, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Among other factors creating the challenging economics, the global supply chains for new nuclear capacity are still rebuilding, she said.
The earliest of Duke's nuclear plants facing retirement is in 2030, and the utility is a proponent of renewing the license "for as long as it makes sense economically."
"But we also have to recognize with that foundation, how do intermittent resources sit on top of it? And what are the resources that we need to absorb that intermittency, to have some greater ramping capability," she said.
To address this, Duke is adding more storage to its system and plans to expand pumped hydro storage, as well as "working with cycling times on our combined cycle plants" and flexibility around nuclear.
"I have an eastern Carolina nuclear plant where we are experimenting on flexibility," she said.
Good also told Bloomberg Radio that Duke, one of the partners on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, "remains committed" to the construction of the 600-mile project that remains halted. However, the project "was sized and designed with a time frame to meet the needs of our customers," and the company will have to find another way to move its liquefied natural gas. Good said a potential alternative to the pipeline's current north-to-south path could run from eastern to western North Carolina.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the length of the Atlantic Coast pipeline. It is 600 miles.
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