PNWER Panelists Look to Nuclear, Clean Coal
by Zach Hagadone
Looking at regional power demand projections over the next two decades, Energy Northwest CEO Vic Parrish is a little uneasy.
Citing Northwest Power Conservation Council estimates, Parrish told an audience at the 19th annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region in Boise on July 14 that by 2030 regional demand is expected to grow from nearly 20,000 megawatts to more than 27,500 MW - enough power to supply around 4.8 million homes.
Parrish said that while the NPCC and other energy planners expect to meet that need largely with conservation efforts and wind power, it causes him "some concern."
"We don't see wind resources coming close to meeting load," said Parrish, whose organization supplies power to 25 utilities in Washington State. "So we're working on solar, biomass, nuclear and some peaking turbines to fill in the gaps. ... [But] one of the things that has captivated our members... is nuclear."
Enthusiasm for nuclear power was shared by fellow presenters Dave Hill, deputy lab director for Science and Technology at the Idaho National Laboratory, and Milt Wakefield, who was representing Ontario, Canada-based nuclear developer Bruce Power.
Hill said nuclear power is "the name of the game" when it comes to steady, low-cost, emissions-free energy, and that advancements in smaller, modular reactors are reducing the high up-front capital investment that has been a limiting factor in the industry's development. He also said recent legislation targeting carbon emissions from fossil fuels like coal and oil may make for a regulatory climate favorable to nuclear power.
"If you penalize carbon and do nothing to hamper the nuclear energy industry... you'll see a massive increase in nuclear energy," he said. On the other hand, if nuclear power is "artificially constrained," fossil fuels will fill the gap, he added.
Hill was quick to point out the region canc't rely solely on nuclear power. Referring to "the ultimate holy grail" of energy solutions, he described the goal of a hybrid system in which high-temperature nuclear reactors provide industrial heat to reduce the carbon footprint of hydrocarbons, while at the same time connecting with renewable sources.
"We see a range of types of energy for different applications and using more and different energy sources together to see what they can offer," he said. "In the end you're going to be using all of them because the energy problem is so severe."
That feeling was echoed by speakers at a subsequent panel on the Western Energy Corridor, led off by Mike Haygood of the Idaho National Laboratory, who described that the western Canadian provinces and northwestern U.S. states hold some of the richest supplies of energy resources in the world.
"Canada is a world-class source of coal and oil. Montana and Wyoming have tremendous potential for wind energy," he said. The headwaters of the Snake, Colorado and Missouri rivers are well suited for hydroelectric generation, and "geothermal, especially in Idaho" holds promise, he said.
Paul Kjellander, administrator for the Idaho Office of Energy Resources, pointed also to Montana and Wyoming's vast coal reserves and express support for the development of clean coal technologies.
Paraphrasing Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, Kjellander added: "We can do one of two things: We can either stand here and clap as the parade goes by, or we can be in the parade and lead it."
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