Dominion's Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin will close this spring. (Photo by Lenka Reznicek via Creative Commons)

Dominion CEO: Despite Wisconsin plant closure, nuclear key to climate goals

©2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Hannah Northey

The president and CEO of Dominion said Wednesday that nuclear power will play a key role in meeting President Obama’s goal of lowering carbon emissions — despite the president’s silence on the energy source during his State of the Union speech.

“When President Obama … indicates his priority is decreasing greenhouse gases, we have to pay attention to this,” Thomas Farrell said at a Platts nuclear energy conference in Washington, D.C. “And when he establishes this national agenda without mentioning the role of nuclear power … we have to pay attention to that, too.”

Obama dedicated a significant portion of his address to energy and climate change but drew the ire of some industry groups and lawmakers for not mentioning coal, nuclear power or hot-topic issues like the Keystone XL oil pipeline project (E&E Daily, Feb. 13).

Any environmental movement that is “anti-carbon” will also need to be “pro-nuclear,” Farrell said, noting that activists like James Hansen of NASA are embracing nuclear energy.

Support for the industry on Capitol Hill is critical as developers try to compete with cheap natural gas, low power demand, a slew of new regulations and regional factors like the development of renewables. The nuclear industry is also bracing for the large-scale retirement of aging reactors while looking to the development of small modular reactors and new construction of larger units in Georgia and South Carolina.

Solar, wind and other renewable sources cannot meet the bulk of the country’s power demand in the coming decades and groups that believe they can are “engaging in absolutely fantastic thinking,” Farrell said.

“Can all that power be generated by renewable energy?” he said. “As a practical answer, no.”

Farrell said the United States hasn’t had a cohesive energy policy since World War II and currently has a “contradictory” and “overlapping” regulatory framework that is more akin to a tapestry, with parts overseen by various federal agencies and states. Crafting a cohesive policy should be a national security goal for the Obama administration, he said, and nuclear must play a part.

Farrell also touched on his company’s decision last year to shut down and decommission the Kewaunee Power Station near Green Bay, Wisconsin, which the company said was based purely on economics (Greenwire, Oct. 22, 2012).

Dominion bought the plant in 2005 — along with its purchase power agreement — and pursued several options in trying to sell the plant and power contract, Farrell said.

“We were unable to do all of that,” he said, adding that there is a plethora of wind and coal-fired generation in the area. “You have older coal plants there and a lot of wind coming on in the market, that’s creating a problem for base-load nuclear.”

The Midwest’s grid operator this week released a report that found closing the plant in the coming months will not jeopardize the regional electric grid’s reliability.

But the Obama administration has put forth funding for the development of small modular reactors and bolstered staff to look into export opportunities, and the president mentioned nuclear power in his State of the Union speech last year as part of his “all of the above” approach to energy.

Joe Zwetolitz, vice president of the American region at Westinghouse Electric Co., said he prefers to look to past years “when [Obama] referred to nuclear by name.”

10 thoughts on “Dominion CEO: Despite Wisconsin plant closure, nuclear key to climate goals

  1. Funny, Jeff Immelt, the head of General Electric, one of the world’s largest suppliers of nuclear power and weapons equipment disagrees. He said last year that because of the enormous costs of nuclear power, being far greater than other forms of energy, that nuclear power has become “really hard” to justify. It is time to bury our deadly nuclear age once and for all, figuratively and practically, and move forward to our Clean Energy Future! Wind (off shore, on shore and higher up in the atmosphere), Solar, Tidal, Geothermal, all maximized and operating in harmony are the mix that will lead us all to an endless supply of cheap, clean, green energy! Our Clean Green Future is Now!

  2. Immelt’s comment was specifically in comparison to natural gas, which is very cheap. At the moment, in the US.

  3. Dr. Chamberlain: What “deadly nuclear age” are you referring to? No one has ever been killed in the entire history of US commercial nuclear power.

    On the contrary, nuclear energy quietly provides a very stable and 20% of the electricity used in the US with zero carbon emissions (and, by the way, zero radioactive emissions). You can ramp a reactor’s output up and down depending on energy need, making it a perfect green complement to more variable renewable sources. An all-of-the-above energy policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions simply isn’t plausible without nuclear power.

  4. Especially exiatring gas prices. Historically gas prices have not been are remained in a cheap category for very long. So making a long term decison on based on current natural gas prices is a a fool’s folly. As far as this being the “time to bury our deadly nuclear age,” that is an uninformed description for the nuclear industry; but ending that industry would be a catastrophe for the nation’s electricity supply and costs.

  5. Dr. Lora,
    I am sure you are an intelligent woman, but misinformed on nuclear power. I don’t profess to be knowledgable about medicine, as I didn’t study it in college, so I won’t comment on Avoidable Health Care Act, or DO vs MD credentials. I have studied nuclear physics and engineering and worked in the industry for 34 years.
    Solar and WInd will never be base load supply. Tidal, Wind, Solar and Geothermal are all limited by local conditions. So if you are looking to continue to power you office, and home, especially in Chicago winters, you will need either a carbon emitting coal, gas, biowaste, or oil plant, or you will need a zero emission nuclear power plant.

  6. GE has not been a significant player in the nuclear business for decades. They’re mainly involved in gas and wind, so they have an incentive to talk down nuclear.

    As others have said, any notion that nuclear is “dangerous” or “deadly” is completely without basis. Non-Soviet nuclear power has never killed a member of the public, or had any measurable public health impact. Even Fuksushima is not projected to have any measurable health impact. In constrast, fossil power generation (mainly coal) causes ~1000 deaths every single day, worldwide, and ~20,000 deaths per year here in the US (alone). It is also a leading cause of global warming, whereas nuclear has no significant GW impact. Most studies actually show nuclear to be the safest of all energy sources, even safer than renewables, in terms of deaths per unit of power generated.

    All of the renewable sources Lora mentioned are more expensive than nuclear (wind being the only possible exception), and all such sources will only be able to provide a small fraction of our overall power, due to their intermittentcy. For the rest, you need nuclear or fossil, and it couldn’t be more clear which is better from a public health and environmental perspective. There is universal scientific consensus that the harm from fossil-fueled generation is vastly larger than any from nuclear.

  7. I’m all for eliminating our coal generation ASAP and also limiting our NG generation at least long term. Of course the question is how, and in particular for the midwest region. France has the highest percentage of nuclear generation at 90% of capacity. 2004 saw 78.8% of the total Mwh from nuclear with a capacity factor of 77% – low by industries standards because of load following , high during weekdays, low at night and weekends. Some plants are designed to be used for peaking. Most are water cooled via river or ocean but also evaporative towers. Some say France is over invested in nuclear and must sell power to other countries or dump onto market for space or water heat. The newest plant under construction is expected to produce power between 9.3 to 12 cents/kwh. They are upgrading the vital safety functions of existing plants and plan to extend life beyond the 40 year design life but still must build one new 1600 MW plant every year for 40 years.
    If we decide to build new nuclear generation in the midwest region there are a few must knows.
    1. Life cycle cost including:
    – cost of and a secure supply of uranium
    – accurate construction and operation cost based on
    existing plants or if thorium, breeder,modular or other
    new concept then based on operating pilot plant.
    – decommissioning cost or cost to replace old with new
    – accurate cost for waste reprocessing and geological
    storage including existing waste.
    – self insurance fund for any accident liability, like BP in the
    gulf. Once the fund is maxed out, yearly earnings can be
    used for share holders or other operating expenses. 2. Realistic analysis of load following capability to determine an accurate capacity factor. If we want a very high capacity factor, how will load following/peaking be managed – demand /response load control, NG or hydro (pumped or otherwise) backup, batteries,flywheel, etc.
    3. Can we use existing transmission or do we need more because of size or location of new plants.
    4. The absolute necessity of removing all existing “temporary” storage to secure geologic storage.
    5. If not air cooled where will cooling water come from – rivers ,Lake Superior or Michigan, ground water,others? At what cost and what are the water politics?
    6. Compare above to other options the most likely being wind from the Dakotas,Nebraska, Kansas, Montana and Wyoming,with a doubling down on efficiency and conservation. Besides the wind farms themselves the main cost would be transmission from those states to support 80 to 90% of the total yearly demand. The only practical way to generate the other 10 to 20% (back up/peak load) would be Natural Gas combined cycle plants. The cost for this NG backup would be the plants themselves and the gas pipeline if not already existing. The transmission in either 1-5 or 6 would not use eminent domain but royalties payed to land owners yearly at least until they sell the land. This would be done over the next 2-3 decades as our existing coal plants are shut down due to age. As NG gets more expensive a choice would need to be made between more wind or nuclear. By that time we would have real world knowledge from pilot plants about the cost of various nuclear technologies
    7. Careful cost estimates would need to be made for 1-5 and option 6.

  8. Tom Farrell is primarily motivated by the desire of Dominion Power to control the electric utility market, especially when it can outsource the negative costs of fossil fuels (carbon and conventional pollutants) and nuclear (radioactive wastes) onto the public. A new study directly challenges his statements (and those of some commenters) that renewable energy can’t replace fossil fuels and nuclear, by demonstrating that we can indeed power the entire grid 99.9% of the time with nothing but renewable energy and small amounts of storage, at a true cost below that of fossil fuels. A summary of the article and a link to it are available at