Will the PQ shut down Quebec’s largest and cleanest electricity generator?

The Canadian media is today mildly abuzz with reports that the new Parti-Quebecois government in Quebec will not go ahead with the refurbishment of Gentilly-2, a 635-MW CANDU power plant that came into service in 1983. The PQ has for some reason adopted an anti-nuclear position over the years. Apparently the PQ thought leaders are influenced more by Germans, who lead the world in talking the talk on global warming and greenhouse gases while dumping obscene amounts of GHGs into our air, than the French, who actually walk the walk and power almost their whole country with nuclear energy, putting comparatively tiny amounts of GHGs into the air.

Why would PQ thought leaders consciously choose a path different from France’s? France, after all, is their original homeland, and the country to which they look to draw moral support for their separatist project.

Even more bizarre is that the PQ, in a province with a long and proud environmentalist tradition, would consciously abandon a proven carbon-free source of export revenue. Gentilly-2 can generate over 5 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, cheap electricity every year. The new PQ premier has vowed to cut GHGs from fossil fuel. Well, if G-2’s output were replaced with natural gas—which is exactly what will happen in Quebec’s biggest export market in New England—then that would mean that upwards of 2.7 million tons of GHGs would get dumped into the atmosphere the PQ says it cares about.

Odd that the new premier’s first move would be to throw away not only Quebec’s single biggest carbon-free energy source, but a huge source of export revenue to boot. New England has paid good money, for decades, for G-2’s output.

But this is Canada. Is it possible that the news reports on the demise of G-2 are the first salvo in a federal-provincial negotiation scenario that has played out numerous times in the past? The refurbishment will cost money. Quebec loves to get federal money to pay for these kinds of things. And in this case, why shouldn’t the province get federal support for a clean energy project? After all, as recently as 2011 the feds promised loan guarantees to Newfoundland-Labrador for a major hydro project, which for the first time in the history of electricity dealings between Newfoundland and Quebec will not involve Quebec. The new PQ government could legitimately demand similar treatment in the case of the G-2 refurbishment. G-2, just like the Newfoundland-Labrador hydro project, is also clean energy. Cleaner, actually.

Those who support closing G-2 are trotting out the familiar nag. Physicians for Global Survival, yet another group of quack doctors who don’t mind parading their inability to interpret public health data in front of the world, are citing an equally cockamamie documentary which alleges the existence of cancer clusters around G-2. The same group successfully campaigned against a uranium mine near Sept-Iles a few years ago; apparently they have never heard of Ramsar, Iran, where average background radiation dose is thirteen times as high as it is in Canada and the residents are hale and healthy. Ramsar is in fact a spa resort, a destination for tourists who want to return home healthier than when they left.

Other anti-nuclear lobbyists claim the need for mid-life refurbishment proves the CANDU is inferior to light water reactors. (Are they advocating G-2’s replacement with an LWR?) This line of argumentation neglects to consider the fact that CANDUs refuel while at power, while LWRs are batch-refueled and require shut down for one or two months. During that time, the utility has to buy replacement power.

Over 25 years, the LWR will have been shut down for 25 to 30 months. How long does a CANDU require for refurbishment? G-2 is a CANDU 6, a hugely successful model that was built en masse in Canada, South Korea, Argentina, and Rumania. There have been two CANDU 6 refurbishments: Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, and Wolsong 1 in South Korea. The first went over schedule and budget; the second took just under 28 months.

There is now a crack refurbishment team capable of turning around CANDU 6 refurb projects in ever-shorter periods. I will wager a bet that they can turn around a CANDU 6 refurbishment in less than 25 months.

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Claude Boucher
8 years ago

I do have a problem with Mr. Alpin’s analysis, which obviates the main reason for closing Gentilly-2. As Bill Clinton famously said: “It’s the economy, stupid”! Let me explain.

In the last decade, Hydro-Québec has increased its supply with the addition of 2,400 MW of new hydro capacity with the commissioning ot the Rocher de Grand-Mère, Toulnustouc, Peribonka, Chute-Allard/Rapide des Coeurs, Eastmain-1-Sarcelle-Rupert projects. To this picture, add the on-going construction of a new 1,500 MW hydro complex on the Romaine River and 2,500 MW of new wind, biomass and small-scale hydro PPA, to be commissioned in the next few years, to get a sense of the upcoming glut of electricity on the Quebec grid.

At the same time, domestic electricity demand remained basically flat since 2007 at ~170 TWh, and successive updates to the supply plan forecast minimal growth in the next decade (less than 1%/year). The new supply-demand balance already allowed HQ to shut down the Tracy oil-fired peaker (660 MW) while the Cadillac gas turbine (162 MW) will be taken out in 2014. The utility also mothballed Quebec’s only natural gas power plant, the brand new 547 MW Trans-Canada Energy cogen unit in Bécancour, since 2008.

As for exports, there is a trend towards lower electricity prices even in the prized New England market where higher export volumes yield declining revenues. In recent years, exogenous factors, primarly the lower price of natural gas, is the main driver of lower spot prices in neighboring markets. The scarcity of electric transmission is another bottleneck. Hydro-Québec already has ample summer capacity to sell to surrounding NPCC zones but this extra energy is stranded due to transmission constraints. As you probably know, Quebec, like Texas, is an island in the North American power grid, which means interconnections rely on expensive HVDC converters (the new 1,250 MW HQ-Hydro One back-to-back HVDC interconnection has cost over $700 M, with HQ footing 80% of the bill). New international power lines are also difficult to build and face widespread NIMBY opposition, a case in point being the Northern Pass project between the Des Cantons substation and Franklin, NH.

So, how does the refurbishment of Gentilly-2 fit in this context? The original price tag of the refurb was $1.9 billion (7.2¢/kWh) but according to public statements by Hydro-Quebec officials and leaked informations since the 2008 announcement, the project cost has increased in order to meet the more stringent security requirements required in the aftermath of the Fukushima tragedy. Numbers floating aroung peg the project in the $3 billion range and the Point Lepreau refurb has done nothing to alleviate cost overruns concerns. With current numbers indicating that a kWh from the CANDU plant would be more expensive than a kWh from the Romaine project (with both project having a higher marginal cost than what the market is willing to pay in the next decade), and considering the short (25 years) life expectancy of a refurbished nuclear plant compared to a new hydro unit, the final decision on the fate of Gentilly becomes obvious.

The new PQ government is well aware of all these facts, since Martine Ouellet, a former senior engineer with Hydro-Québec who headed the due diligence review on the failed NB Power-HQ merger two years ago before taking a leave of absence to run in a by-election, is slated to become the next Natural Resources Minister next week. In a view of maximizing Hydro-Québec’s profits, the choice is quite clear.

Steve Aplin
8 years ago
Reply to  Claude Boucher

Claude, thanks. With respect, I don’t think we can or should base an estimate of G-2’s post-refurbishment per-kWh cost on the Lepreau refurbishment or pre-Lepreau projections. As I said, the CANDU refurbishment game has changed. Wolsong is a more recent and better marker than Lepreau. Just like CANDU 6 new builds got successively shorter and cheaper as the build teams got practice, CANDU 6 refurbishments will also drop in duration and cost.

There may be a trend toward lower costs in New England, and that does dampen HQ’s export revenue projections if things stay as they are. Right now the downward trend is based nearly entirely on currently-cheap natural gas. Gas won’t stay cheap.

As for the more stringent security requirements because of the Fukushima “tragedy” (no casualties so far, after 551 days of National Enquirer coverage), what are they exactly? Put water level sensors into the spent fuel pools, eliminate common-mode failure possibilities from emergency cooling pumps. Not exactly a bank breaker.

Claude Boucher
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Steve,

Cost overruns: Considering the media revelations of the last few years regarding the public works sector (and the upcoming the hearings of the Charbonneau commission, starting next week in Montreal), everyone east of the Ottawa River is wary about rosy estimates by engineering firms and construction companies.

Natural gas prices: You’re right, prices could go up and forecasters are often wrong. However, it is difficult to summarily dismiss the EIA long-term forecasts showing a moderate (2.1% per annum) increase in gas prices in the next 20 years.

Scope of the project: Any post-Fukushima nuclear plant would go through a thourough assessment of its seismic integrity and upgrade the structure to current building standards. Raising seismic standards in buildings has been a priority lately in Quebec, with a rush upgrade of hospitals in the Quebec City area and the upcoming reconstruction of the Baie-Saint-Paul hospital due to seismic concerns. Even if Gentilly is not particularly exposed to earthquakes (the seismic risk is listed as ‘moderate’), HQ likes things over-engineered (like this 5 MW diesel plant in Kuujjuaq with a $50 million price tag).

Steve Aplin
8 years ago
Reply to  Claude Boucher

Speaking of seismic standards and the price of gas-fired electricity: how about upgrading gas-fired plants so that they can handle a moderate earthquake. Exactly such an earthquake struck Ontario, California back in August, ruptured a gas line and caused an explosion that sent a man to hospital. See http://canadianenergyissues.com/2012/08/28/california-earthquake-causes-gas-explosion-and-more-casualties-than-fukushima/

Compare that to the Fukushima earthquake, which was ten thousand times as powerful. The nuclear plant survived it better than the California gas line did — still zero casualties.

Engineer gas lines so they can handle a decent earthquake, and what happens to the price of gas-fired power?

Claude Boucher
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

I don’t deny that Steve. Same thing goes for dams by the way.

seth
8 years ago
Reply to  Claude Boucher

Actually contradicting the EIA which is under Obama’s Big Oil lobbyist’s thumb, we have the real experts at Forbes seeing gas costs rising to $8/mmf this winter which is close to the current cost of production. Is Big Oil willing to subsidize gas production at $6/mmf for 20 years just to fight nuclear.

Google “were-headed-to-8-00-natural-gas”

Keep in mind that US gas it is only a $2/mmf ride to a $18/mmf world market. Do you think Big Oil is going to prevent that happening as well.

Google “spectra-bg-make-big-pipeline-bet-in-the-race-to-bcs-coast”

seth
8 years ago

Note that real science shows that hydro dams are immense GHG sources from rotting vegetation based methane – as bad as coal.

Google “dn7046-hydroelectric-powers-dirty-secret-revealed”

The first of a kind VCSummer AP-1000 project comes in at 4 cents a kwh if it was financed by public power like Hydro Quebec. The American cost is based on primitive last century construction techniques while the Chinese are building the same plants now 90% complete in China using a lot of modern factory based construction for half the price.

The refurb price will have to be a hell of a lot less if Candu Energy wants to stay in business.

Joffan
8 years ago
Reply to  seth

seth, I think I recall that the reservoirs implicated in significant GHG production are tropical and sub-tropical. Temperate and cooler reservoirs don’t have the same impact.

I’m hopeful of the progress at Vogtle and Summer. I’m a little annoyed about TVA’s missteps at Watts Bar 2 though.

Claude Boucher
8 years ago
Reply to  seth

Seth,

On the subject of boreal hydroelectric reservoirs and GHG emissions, you should probably read Tremblay et al. (2010), a wide-scale 7-year empirical study of the Eastmain-1 reservoir contradicting the 2005 statement by Mr. Duchemin.

seth
8 years ago
Reply to  Claude Boucher

Actually Tremblay has been debunked as reported here.

http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Environment/2012/01/18/CarbonEmissions/

Once again with methane emissions from Siberia coming to light as a severe global warming forcer, HQ’s messing with similar sub arctic climate zones had better get some real science behind it real fast. The massive destruction of land these Hydro project require are simply unconscionable in this day and age.

I’d also question HQ’s costing as BC’s Site C is now up to $12B/Gw average, six times the cost of the Chinese first of a kind AP-1000’s and the 3 times the American ones. That’s excluding Hydro’s enormous double size transmission costs. Note the land use by these nukes is similar to any small factory in an industrial park.

Claude Boucher
8 years ago

I just want to raise one last point. Contrary to what some people will say (I think about an exchange between the NDP and the liberal energy minister this morning in the Ontario legislature), what passes for sound public policy in Quebec doesn’t necessarily apply to other jurisdictions, such as France or Ontario where nuclear remains a sensible alternative considering the particular circumstances.

Dwight Zerkee
8 years ago

Couple of points:

LWRs do shut down every 18 months for refuellling; however, the normal refuelling outage duration is 21 to 28 days. CANDUs on the other hand shut down for maintenance every 2 to 3 years with durations around 2 to 3 months. Not much difference.

The “planned” duration for Darlington’s refurbishment is 3 years per unit. Experience at Point Lepreau and Bruce A would indicate we can expect longer, at least for the first unit or two.

James Greenidge
8 years ago

Ever bemuses me why people are so hell-bent on eliminating the cleanest reliable smallest-footprint/enviro impact energy source around for the complete opposite just to feel morally good. Does fear thriumph reason and reality so easily?

Canada, like here in the U.S. (not holding breath), you need some SERIOUS _real educational_ nuclear PSAs flooding the airwaves up there like yesterday!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

George Carlin
8 years ago

I agree with James. The complete lack of nuclear PSA’s is astounding. I watch CNN and every commercial break I see at least 1 coal/gas/oil commercial telling me how bright our future is with domestic “clean” coal or our 100 year supply of domestic natural gas.

Where is the nuclear industry promoting all of the benefits that nuclear power brings? The time is over for trying to fight the good fight here with modesty. Promote nuclear shamelessly and with passion. The anti-nukes will hate us either way, why not at least try get some positive PR going in the main stream media?

M
8 years ago
Reply to  George Carlin

I agree that more should be done but think most of the problem is getting someone to pay for the PR.
Many people working in the Canadian nuclear industry are tremendous and vocal supporters of the technology. However, the big players in the Canadian nuclear industry are (or were) government companies with little spare cash, or utilities who probably don’t feel it is their job to educate the public. Societies (such as the Canadian Nuclear Society or Canadian Nuclear Association) which probably would love to do more to educate the public are also under funded I presume.