Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why not to Trust City Utilities Judgment

This is a copy of some e-mail between myself and the KNAPPSTER -- it started as the CU is now going to present us with a water shortage, unless something unusual happens. The pipeline to Stockton lake, which is only ten years old, was supposed to insure the city of water into the forseeable future. The pipeline was designed by an outside contractor. But the pumps, the most important part, were designed in-house at CU. Now they have failed, and it's no surprise, considering the poor design.

Now they come to us and ask us to pony up 3/4 billion dollars so we can do another, much more complicated, in-house design of a power plant. A coal fired plant that will face major regulatory changes in CO2 emissions on almost the day it opens.

Below, Tom's mail is in yellow, mine in white.

They're kind of up against the wall on the plant issue, aren't they?

Nuclear is probably out -- unpopular and far too expensive for the
scale ... and I'm not sure Springfield's voters would foot the bill
against the prospect of CU becoming a major regional provider with
the excess production. Let alone the fact that it's been what, 30
years since NRC approved an application for a reactor license?

There's no geographically convenient hydroelectric possibility.

That means a non-nuclear plant of some kind, or buying power on the
grid market.

I can understand why CU would want to produce their own, and why the
voters would want them to (everyone remembers the California crisis,
few remember that it was caused by the government requirement that
public utilities buy high-priced power within a short period of use
instead of bidding more than 30 days out when it was cheap).

I like wind, but I doubt if it's feasible on that scale yet.

Natural gas has had supply reliability problems that lend themselves
to wild price fluctuations in recent years.

Is the biomass market in the area sufficient to sustain a plant at
reasonable prices? Sounds like a speculative endeavor -- maybe give
the poultry industry a sweetheart deal for disposing of waste and
such, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.

What's your alternative to coal?


Res Publica Delenda Est

As an aside .. the west coast problems disappeared when Enron disappeared … it was because Enron was manipulating the market … not regulation … although California did something stupid by deregulating.


Coal – dirty, pollutes (carbon is most important), old technology, will have much pressure to capture CO2 emissions in the future which will eventually cost as much as the plant itself … so spending now is false economy … land use problems…

Hydro – where for new sources – maybe tides but that’s about all…

Geothermal – my cousin, David Blackwell, is the emeritus chair of the Geology Dept at SMU … this is one of his areas of interest
viewdepartment.asp#geology even he is not entheusiastic at this time … all sorts of problems, mostly with the highly corrosive nature of geothermal …. Hard on equipment and environment … need new materials first. Then there is the problem of where … there are only a few areas (out west) that are feasible…

Biomass – same problems as coal but appears to be better because it uses garbage, food crops, etc …

Wind – good only in some areas…

Natural Gas – OK for peak power turbines, but a bad idea to place yourself in the tender hands of those sharks for baseload power ….

Buying from the grid – OK idea, but CU hates it, they want to sell all their excess to the grid … and they have even now excess 300 days a year …. They don’t play well with the other children so other power companies really screw them when they go out to buy, don’t blame them. They need to repair their relationships…

Costs – by the time you add up the initial costs, the operating costs, the costs of future regs – nukes and coal are going to be pretty damn close. Putting a debt load of $750,000,000 (minimum) on a city of 150,000 is one hell of a load for a single purpose … it had better be done right or we are in for a real tax shock down the road.

They have somewhere around $200 million in their pocket … setting some of it aside for emergencies, that will make a great start on a consortium of suppliers to build a nuke.

As a note to Curbstone Critic readers: Almost all the current reactors in operation in the US are water moderated (slow neutron) reactors. Far better, are fast neutron reactors, using liquid sodium, magnesium, or even lead, as a coolent. These reactors use 90% of the fuel, opposed to 20%, and have by-products with half-lives measured in the hundreds of years, rather than the tens of thousands of years with slow neutron reactors, thereby minimizing the waste problems. There are drawbacks to these reactors, for instance: they require huge amounts of energy to start up, but on balance, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.


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