Replacing the aging US baseload capacity

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Below are excerpts from a report by Build Energy America on U.S. baseload capacity.



Only 44 baseload plants are currently under construction in the continental U.S. If all 44 projects are completed, which may well not happen, the projects would add no more than 24,000 MW of baseload generating capacity - less than 4% of generation. 


At this rate of construction, the baseload fleet would not be modernized for some 68 years, not until the year 2079. This rate of modernizing the baseload fleet is actually more alarming when other factors are taken into account like demand growth for power, expiring licenses of the oldest

nuclear plants and air emissions of the oldest coal plants.


Only 18 baseload plants were completed during the January 2010 – February 2011 period adding just 13,000 MW. The coal component of the baseload fleet added 11 plants in 2010; an unusual spike. 


The last decade, prior to 2010, saw a total for all 10 years of about 8,200 MW come

online, of which approximately 3,300 MW or 40% were completed in 2009. 


The National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that we will not see anywhere near this number of coal plants completed through the year 2035. Indeed it sees a virtual shutdown in coal construction in the next two years with very few projects under construction (12 projects, 7,600 MW), near construction (1 project, 300 MW), or even in the permitting stage (8 projects, 6,400 MW). Notably, of these 21 projects that are progressing to some extent, 15 of them plan to employ the advanced coal technologies of pulverized coal supercritical, integrated gasification combined cycle, and circulating fluidized bed. 


The last nuclear baseload plant (Watts Bar 1) was completed by the Tennessee Valley Authority,

an entity of the U.S. government, over 15 years ago in early 1996. Only one other plant has been completed in the last 21 years since 1990; that one was brought on-line in mid 1993.


The Tennessee Valley Authority has resumed construction at a long-suspended project and may complete this plant (the Watts Bar 2 reactivation project) in the next couple of years. And the Southern Company could commence construction to build the first of the second generation nuclear plants (Vogtle 3 and 4). 


Watts Bar 2 and Vogtle 3 and 4 would mean the addition of three nuclear plants by the end of this decade. However, four plants are threatened with early retirement by the end of the decade. Exelon has slated Oyster Creek, the oldest of the 104 operating reactors in the U.S., for retirement by the decade’s end. The states of Vermont and New York are planning to retire the Vermont Yankee and India Point 2 and 3. 


"Four plants, Dresden 2, Ginna, Nine Mile Point 1 and Point Beach 1, are around the same age as Oyster Creek. Their 60th birthday would be, at that point in 2021, just nine years away. So unless a number of second generation nuclear plants come on-line in the 2020’s, the nuclear component of the baseload fleet will begin to shrink," the report by Build Energy American declares. 


Even the construction of combined cycle baseloaded plants is not keeping up with requirements. 

Suppose 5,000 MW of combined cycle capacity is brought on-line in the U.S. each year for the 40-year life of such plants. Over the course of the 40 years, 200,000 MW of new combined cycle capacity would be able to take the place of 200,000 megawatts reaching their retirement dates. There would be no provision for handling added responsibilities, such as producing electricity for a growing nation or taking up the slack if/as the coal and nuclear components of the baseload fleet eventually lessen their total production.


The pace of bringing online 200 GW of combined cycle capacity over the course of 40 years would not even replenish the current combined cycle component of the baseload fleet. At present, the U.S. has combined cycle capacity of about 226,000 MW.