In August, the Tennessee Valley Authority, a U.S. government-owned electric utility, announced it would finally complete work on unit 1 of its Bellefonte nuclear plant near Hollywood Alabama. According to Mike Rencheck, the Chief Operating Officer of Areva North America, which on September 15 won the contract to do the steam supply system work, this $5 billion project will create 2,800 high paid construction jobs. That’s an enormous injection of economic power into a part of the country that sorely needs it.
And when the plant is running, it will each year crank out more than 10.4 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, cheap, reliable electricity—an absolute requirement for a healthy modern economy. That’s enough to power 1.1 million homes—24 hours a day, seven days a week—for a full year. No amount of wind and solar energy can ever hope to do that.
The Bellefonte unit 1 construction project will be one of the biggest clean energy projects on the continent. If gas-fired plants, which television ads tell us produce clean power, were to generate those 10.4 billion kWh, they would, in a single year, dump more than 5.7 million tons of pollution into the air. Some clean.
The Ontario government could, with a stroke of the pen, give the provincial economy a similar jolt of economic power, by starting to build new reactors at the Darlington nuclear station. This would catapult Ontario into the lead as a job creating jurisdiction: it would immediately create over 3,000 jobs. And because it would build at least 2,000 MW of clean generation capacity, it would be the biggest clean energy project in North America.
(This is of course not how environment-related job creation is currently being touted in Ontario. In this province, it’s all about wind and solar jobs. This in spite of the gargantuan embarrassment south of the border involving the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which announced bankruptcy two weeks ago. Both the president and vice president of the United States talked up the “brighter and more prosperous future” and “permanent jobs” companies like Solyndra would create; video clips of these statements, juxtaposed with clips of early predictions of the company’s demise are going viral on the internet. Check out The Daily Show’s hilarious send up of the fiasco.)
I should clarify that by “biggest clean energy project” I mean new energy project. Bellefonte unit 1 has never run before, so it deserves its Number One billing. But when it comes to clean energy infrastructure projects, the biggest in North America is of course the Bruce A Restart in Tiverton Ontario, where 3,300 workers are helping to bring two 750-megawatt units back into service.
I say TVA will “finally” complete work at Bellefonte because the project tracks back to 1974, when TVA first received permission from the nuclear regulator to build the single 1,260-megawatt reactor. After more than a decade of start-stop progress on construction, because of uncertainty over future demand, TVA decided in 1988 to fully halt construction.
For those who followed the Darlington nuclear saga in Ontario, it’s a familiar story. Darlington’s tortured timeline from initial decision to power production was far more compressed than Bellefonte’s. The project began in 1979 and the last unit came online in 1994. But it was no less controversial, especially among those dedicated to portraying the project as a failure.
For a “failure,” Darlington sure delivers a lot of electricity. So far in 2011, the station has generated over 20 billion kilowatt-hours. Its average capability factor—the ratio of its generation output to its output capability over a given hour—has been 100 percent, over the same period.
And for a failure, Darlington sure delivers cheap electricity. The station’s output sells for 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s half the rate that the cheapest wind sells for. And the rates for the other “renewable” sources go up from there—the FIT rate for wind is 13.5 cents, and solar fetches between 42 and 80 cents. I put renewable in quotes because “renewable” sources like wind and solar require backup from fossil sources. They simply cannot power a grid on their own. In Ontario, fossil means natural gas. And the last time I checked, natural gas, an expensive, explosive fossil fuel which dumps more than half a kilogram of pollution into the air for every kilowatt-hour it generates, is not renewable energy.
The politicians who hold the power to start this project need to keep the above firmly in mind. They need to ignore the innumerate, self-interested pseudo environmentalists who want to increase Ontario’s dependence on natural gas, and look at the facts.
And they need to put Ontario into the lead in job creation and clean energy production.