Tag Archives: EIA

A Look at the Declining US Coal Production and Coal-fired Power Generating Industries

Peter Lobner

US coal production was strong from the 1990s until 2014, with coal production each year being near or above 1 billion short tons (a “short ton” is 2,000 pounds). The highest annual level of production was achieved in 2008: 1.17 billion short tons. Since then, the coal industry has seen a steady decline in production, and trends indicate that the decline will continue.

In their 10 July 2019 report, “Almost all US coal production is consumed by electric power,” the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that coal is still one of the main sources of energy in the US, accounting for 16% of the nation’s primary energy production in 2018. Nearly all of the coal consumed in the US is produced domestically, and most is consumed by the electric power sector to generate electricity, while some is exported.  The following EIA “coal flow” diagram shows where the coal comes from and (approximately) how it was consumed in 2018.  Total production was about 755 million short tons.  The electric power sector consumed about 84% of production, with only modest amounts being consumed by the industrial sector or exported.

You’ll find this EIA report here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39792

Electricity generation from coal has been on the decline in the US for almost two decades. On 26 June 2019, EIA reported that US electricity generation from renewables surpasses coal in April 2019. In the following EIA chart, you can see the long-term increase in generation from renewables, which contrasts sharply with the long-term decline of generation from coal due to the decommissioning of many coal-fired power plan and the commissioning of no plants since about 2014.

You can read this EIA announcement here:  https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39992

Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2019, US power companies announced the retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling about 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. Plant owners intend to retire another 17 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2025.  You’ll find the EIA’s 26 July 2019 report on decommissioning US coal-fired power plants here:  https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=40212

In April 2017, EIA reported that on the age of the US coal-fired generating plant fleet. The following chart shows the distribution of coal-fired plants based on their initial operating year.  EIA reported a fleet average age of 39 years in 2017.

You’ll find this EIA report here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=30812

The following table lists EIA data on the numbers of different types of generating plants in the US between 2007 and 2017.  In 2007, the US had 606 coal-fired generating plants.  By the end of 2017, that number had dropped to 359.

You’ll find the EIA data here: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_04_01.html

In another decade, coal-fired generation will be only a small part of the US electric power generation portfolio and the average fleet age will be about 50 years old.  

Critical Infrastructure: Oil and Gas Pipelines

Peter Lobner

Background on the oil and gas industry

In a 2013 report by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) entitled, “Economic Impacts of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry on the US Economy in 2011,” it was reported that:

“Counting direct, indirect, and induced impacts, the industry’s total impact on labor income (including proprietors’ income) was $598 billion, or 6.3 percent of national labor income in 2011. The industry’s total impact on US GDP (gross domestic product) was $1.2 trillion, accounting for 8.0 percent of the national total in 2011.”

Table 1 of this report, which is reproduced below, defines the scope of the U.S. oil and natural gas industry included in this analysis.

Composition of oil & gas industry

In the table footnote you can see that the API – PwC economic assessment was limited to the oil and gas industry itself, and their results did not include the economic value of the many downstream businesses whose operations are dependent on one or more of the various products delivered by the oil and gas industry (i.e., plastic and synthetic material manufacturers, airlines, trucking, power plants, etc.). If we counted the economic values of these oil and/or gas dependent businesses, then the overall contribution of the oil and gas industry to the U.S. economy would be significantly higher than stated in the API – PwC report. You can get this report at the following link:


U.S. oil and gas pipeline infrastructure

Pipeline systems are a key element of the oil and gas industry infrastructure, enabling timely and efficient transportation of the following products:

  • Crude oil
  • Petroleum products from crude oil and other liquids processed at refineries, including transportation fuels, fuel oils for heating and electricity generation, asphalt and road oil, and various feedstocks for making chemicals, plastics, and synthetic materials
  • Hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL), including natural gas liquids (paraffins or alkanes) and olefins (alkenes) produced by natural gas processing plants, fractionators, crude oil refineries, and condensate splitters, but excluding liquefied natural gas (LNG) and aromatics
  • Natural gas

The U.S. has over 200,000 miles of liquids pipelines that, in 2014, transported 16.2 billion barrels of crude oil, petroleum products and HGL. More than 17,000 miles of liquid pipelines were added to the network in the five-year period from 2010 thru 2014. The U.S. has over 300,000 miles of interstate and intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines. That’s adds up to more than a half million miles of major oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.

Most pipelines are installed underground, with pumping / compressor stations at grade level. The Trans-Alaska pipeline system is a notable exception, with its above-grade pipeline in permafrost regions.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) maintains the U.S. Energy Mapping System, which is a geographic information system (GIS) that can display a great deal of energy infrastructure information. The user can select the map area to be viewed, the map style, and the data to be displayed on the map. Once you’ve created the map of your choice, you can zoom and scroll to explore map details. You can access the U.S. Energy Mapping System at the following link:


The following maps prepared using the U.S. Energy Mapping System show the distribution of oil and gas pipeline systems in the U.S. (except Alaska & Hawaii) and Canada. The source of pipeline mileage data is the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA). The source of liquid capacity data is the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL).

Crude oil pipelines:

  • 73,300 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)
  • Delivered 9.3 billion barrels (bbl) of crude oil nationwide in 2014 (AOPL)

Crude oil pipelines

Petroleum product pipelines:

  • 62,588 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)
  • The petroleum product pipelines and the HGL pipelines together delivered 6.9 billion barrels (bbl) of products nationwide in 2014 (AOPL).

Petroleum product pipeline 

HGL (natural gas liquids) pipelines: 

  • 67,577 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)

 HLG pipeline

Natural gas pipelines:

  • 2,509,000 total miles of natural gas pipelines in 2015 (PHMSA)
    • 301,242 miles of interstate and intrastate transmission pipelines
    • 1.28 million miles of gas distribution main lines (smaller than the transmission pipelines)
    • 913,085 miles of gas distribution service lines
    • 17,727 miles of gathering mains that collect gas from wells and move it through a series of compression stages to the main transmission pipelines
  • Natural gas transmission pipeline capacity was approximately 443 billion cubic feet per day in 2011 (QER 1.1)

Natural gas pipelines

All of the above maps combined, including international border crossings:

Combined map

The high density of pipeline systems in many parts of the nation is evident in the last map. On the EIA’s U.S. Energy Mapping System website, you can recreate and explore any of the above maps.

Pipeline safety

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), acting through the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), administers the DOT national regulatory program to assure the safe transportation of natural gas, petroleum, and other hazardous materials by pipeline.

PHMSA has collected pipeline incident reports since 1970. PHMSA defines “significant incidents” as any of the following conditions that originate within the pipeline system (but not initiated by a nearby external event that affects the pipeline system).

  • Fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization
  • $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars
  • Highly volatile liquid releases of 5 barrels (210 gallons) or more, or other liquid releases of 50 barrels (2,100 gallons) or more
  • Liquid releases resulting in an unintentional fire or explosion

PHMSA data are available at the following link:


A summary of all reported pipeline incidents over the past 20 years is presented in the following PHMSA table.

PHMSA significant events table

The 20-year averages (1996 – 2015) are:

  • Incidents: 560
  • Fatalities: 18
  • Injuries: 69
  • Total cost: $343,109,598

The latest data for 2016 (possibly not final) are:

  • Incidents: 620
  • Fatalities: 17
  • Injuries: 82
  • Total cost: $275,341,057

Clearly, the oil and gas pipeline business is quite hazardous, and the economic cost of pipeline incidents is very high, even in an average year. Since the mid-1990s, the number of incidents per year has almost doubled (367 average for 1996 – 2000 vs. 641 average for 2011 – 2015) as has the total cost per year ($128.4 million average for 1996 – 2000 vs. $331.6 million average for 2011 – 2015).

In June 2015, Jonathan Thompson posted the article, “Mapping 7 Million Gallons of Crude Oil Spills,” on the High Country News website, at the following link:


In this article, High Country News mapped the last five years of PHMSA data, which included more than 1,000 crude oil pipeline leaks and ruptures. Key points made in the High Country News article are

  • Over the five-year period, 168,000 barrels (more than 7 million gallons) of crude oil were spilled as a result of reported incidents. That’s an average of about 1.4 million gallons (33,600 barrels) per year leaking or spilled from 73,300 miles of crude oil pipelines that delivered 3 billion barrels of oil annually in 2014. That annualized amount of leakage also is equivalent to the amount of oil carried in about 47 DOT-111 rail cars.
  • Commonly reported causes included poor material condition (corrosion, bad seals), weather (heavy rains, lightning), and human error (valves being left open, people puncturing pipelines while digging).
  • Many of the spills were small, releasing less than 10 barrels (420 gallons) of oil, but a few were much larger. For example, a 2013 lightning strike on a North Dakota pipeline caused a 20,000-barrel (840,000 gallon) leak.

Cleanup after these spills and leaks is included in the PHMSA total cost data.

Aging infrastructure

Is August 2014, Jordan Wirfs-Brock posted the article, “Half Century Old Pipelines Carry Oil and Gas Load,” on the Inside Energy (IE) website at the following link:


Using PHMSA data, the author mapped the age of the U.S. pipeline infrastructure and determined that, “About forty-five percent of U.S. crude oil pipeline is more than fifty years old.” The following chart shows the age distribution of U.S. crude oil pipelines.

Crude pipeline age

In April 2015 Administration issued the First Installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER 1.1). This report included the following chart showing the age distribution of U.S. natural gas transmission and gathering pipelines. It looks like more than 50% of these natural gas pipelines are more than 50 years old.

Gas pipeline age

Source: QER 1.1 Summary

The high percentage of older pipeline systems places the overall integrity, reliability and safety of the critical national pipeline infrastructure at risk.

Pipeline modernization

In a previous post, I described the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) initiated by the Obama Administration in January 2014. The first QER report, QER 1.1, released in April 2015, provides a good overview of issues related to oil and gas pipeline system risks and opportunities to modernize this critical infrastructure.

One positive step was taken on 16 April 2015 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) when it announced a new policy, Cost Recovery Mechanisms for Modernization of Natural Gas Facilities. This policy sets conditions for interstate natural gas pipeline operators to recover certain safety, environmental, or reliability capital expenditures made to modernize pipeline system infrastructure.

Given the scale of the national oil and gas pipeline infrastructure, and the age of significant portions of that infrastructure, it will take decades of investment to implement system-wide modernization. The political climate, economic climate, and maybe the stars need to be in alignment for this enormous, long-term modernization effort to deliver the needed results.

U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Early Release of a Summary of its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) Provides a Disturbing View of Our Nation’s Energy Future

Peter Lobner

Each year, the EIA issues an Annual Energy Outlook that provides energy industry recent year data and projections for future years. The 2016 AEO includes actual data of 2014 and 2015, and projections to 2040. These data include:

  • Total energy supply and disposition demand
  • Energy consumption by sector and source
  • Energy prices by sector and source
  • Key indicators and consumption by sector (Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Transportation)
  • Electricity supply, disposition, prices and emissions
  • Electricity generating capacity
  • Electricity trade

On 17 May, EIA released a PowerPoint summary of AEO2016 along with the data tables used in this Outlook.   The full version of AEO2016 is scheduled for release on 7 July 2016.

You can download EIA’s Early Release PowerPoint summary and any of the data tables at the following link:


EIA explains that this Summary features two cases: the Reference case and a case excluding implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

  • Reference case: A business-as-usual trend estimate, given known technology and technological and demographic trends. The Reference case assumes Clean Power Plan (CPP) compliance through mass-based standards (emissions reduction in metric tones of carbon dioxide) modeled using allowances with cooperation across states at the regional level, with all allowance revenues rebated to ratepayers.
  • No CPP case: A business-as-usual trend estimate, but assumes that CPP is not implemented.

You can find a good industry assessment of the AEO2016 Summary on the Global Energy World website at the following link:


A related EIA document that is worth reviewing is, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2015, which you will find at the following link:


This report presents the major assumptions of the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) used to generate the projections in AE02015. A 2016 edition of Assumptions is not yet available. The functional organization of NEMS is shown below.


The renewable fuels module in NEMS addresses solar (thermal and photovoltaic), wind (on-shore and off-shore), geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, and conventional hydroelectric.

The predominant renewable sources are solar and wind, both of which are intermittent sources of electric power generation. Except for the following statements, the EIA assumptions are silent on the matter of energy storage systems that will be needed to manage electric power quality and grid stability as the projected use of intermittent renewable generators grows.

  • All technologies except for storage, intermittents and distributed generation can be used to meet spinning reserves
  • The representative solar thermal technology assumed for cost estimation is a 100-megawatt central-receiver tower without integrated energy storage
  • Pumped storage hydroelectric, considered a nonrenewable storage medium for fossil and nuclear power, is not included in the supply

In my 4 March 2016 post, “Dispatchable Power from Energy Storage Systems Help Maintain Grid Stability,” I addressed the growing importance of such storage systems as intermittent power generators are added to the grid. In the context of the AEO, the EIA fails to address the need for these costly energy storage systems and they fail to allocate the cost of energy storage systems to the intermittent generators that are the source of the growing demand for the energy storage systems. As a result, the projected price of energy from intermittent renewable generators is unrealistically low in the AEO.

Oddly, NEMS does not include a “Nuclear Fuel Module.” Nuclear power is represented in the Electric Market Module, but receives no credit as a non-carbon producing source of electric power. As I reported in my posts on the Clean Power Plan, the CPP gives utilities no incentives to continue operating nuclear power plants or to build new nuclear power plants (see my 27 November 2015 post, “Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation,” and my 2 July 2015 post, “EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction.”). With the current and expected future low price of natural gas, nuclear power operators are at a financial disadvantage relative to operators of large central station fossil power plants. This is the driving factor in the industry trend of early retirement of existing nuclear power plants.

The following 6 May 2016 announcement by Exelon highlights the current predicament of a high-performing nuclear power operator:

“Exelon deferred decisions on the future of its Clinton and Quad Cities plants last fall to give policymakers more time to consider energy market and legislative reforms. Since then, energy prices have continued to decline. Despite being two of Exelon’s highest-performing plants, Clinton and Quad Cities have been experiencing significant losses. In the past six years, Clinton and Quad Cities have lost more than $800 million, combined.“

“Exelon announced today that it will need to move forward with the early retirements of its Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear facilities if adequate legislation is not passed during the spring Illinois legislative session, scheduled to end on May 31 and if, for Quad Cities, adequate legislation is not passed and the plant does not clear the upcoming PJM capacity auction later this month.”

“Without these results, Exelon would plan to retire Clinton Power Station in Clinton, Ill., on June 1, 2017, and Quad Cities Generating Station in Cordova, Ill., on June 1, 2018.”

You can read Exelon’s entire announcement at the following link:


Together the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants have a combined Design Electrical Rating of 2,983 MWe from a non-carbon producing source. For the period 2013 – 2015, the U.S. nuclear power industry as a whole had a net capacity factor of 90.41. That means that the nuclear power industry delivered 90.41% of the DER of the aggregate of all U.S. nuclear power plants. The three Exelon plants being considered for early retirement exceeded this industry average performance with the following net capacity factors: Quad Cities 1 @ 101.27; Quad Cities 2 @ 92.68, and Clinton @ 91.26.

For the same 2013 – 2015 period, EIA reported the following net capacity factors for wind (32.96), solar photovoltaic (27.25), and solar thermal (21.25).  Using the EIA capacity factor for wind generators, the largest Siemens D7 wind turbine, which is rated at 7.0 MWe, delivers an average output of about 2.3 MWe. We would need more than 1,200 of these large wind turbines just to make up for the electric power delivered by the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants. Imagine the stability of that regional grid.

CPP continues subsidies to renewable power generators. In time, the intermittent generators will reduce power quality and destabilize the electric power grid unless industrial-scale energy storage systems are deployed to enable the grid operators to match electricity supply and demand with reliable, dispatchable power.

As a nation, I believe we’re trending toward more costly electricity with lower power quality and reliability.

I hope you share my concerns about this trend.

Dispatchable Power from Energy Storage Systems Help Maintain Grid Stability

Peter Lobner

On 3 March 2015, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced the delivery of the world’s largest energy storage system, which has a rated output of 50 MW and a storage capacity of 300 MWh. The battery-based system is installed in Japan at Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Buzen Power Plant as part of a pilot project to demonstrate the use of high-capacity energy storage systems to balance supply and demand on a grid that has significant, weather-dependent (intermittent), renewable power sources (i.e., solar and/or wind turbine generators). This system offers energy-storage and dispatch capabilities similar to those of a pumped hydro facility. You can read the Mitsubishi press release at the following link:


The energy storage system and associated electrical substation installation at Buzen Power Plant are shown below. The energy storage system is comprised of 63 4-module units, where each module contains sodium-sulfur (NaS) batteries with a rated output of 200 kW. The modules are double stacked to reduce the facility’s footprint and cost.

Buzen Power Plant - JapanSource: Mitsubishi

The following simplified diagram shows how the Mitsubishi grid supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system matches supply with variable demand on a grid with three dispatchable energy sources (thermal, pumped hydro and battery storage) and one non-dispatchable (intermittent) energy source (solar photovoltaic, PV). As demand varies through the day, thermal power plants can maneuver (within limits) to meet increasing load demand, supplemented by pumped hydro and battery storage to meet peak demands and to respond to the short-term variability of power from PV generators. A short-term power excess is used to recharge the batteries. Pumped hydro typically is recharged over night, when the system load demand is lower.

Mitsubishi SCADA

Above diagram: Mitsubishi BLEnDer® RE Battery SCADA System (Source: Mitsubishi)

Battery storage is only one of several technologies available for grid-connected energy storage systems. You can read about the many other alternatives in the December 2013 Department of Energy (DOE) report, “Grid Energy Storage”, which you can download at the following link:


This 2013 report includes the following figure, which shows the rated power of U.S. grid storage projects, including announced projects.

US 2013 grid  storage projectsSource: DOE

As you can see, battery storage systems, such as the Mitsubishi system at Buzen Power Plant, comprise only a small fraction of grid-connected energy storage systems, which currently are dominated in the U.S. by pumped hydro systems. DOE reported that, as of August 2013, there were 202 energy storage systems deployed in the U.S. with a total installed power rating of 24.6 GW. Energy storage capacity (i.e., GWh) was not stated. In contrast, total U.S. installed generating capacity in 2013 was over 1,000 GW, so fully-charged storage systems can support about 2.4% of the nation’s load demand for a short period of time.

Among DOE’s 2013 strategic goals for grid energy storage systems are the following cost goals:

  • Near-term energy storage systems:
    • System capital cost: < $1,750/kW; < $250/kWh
    • Levelized cost: < 20¢ / kWh / cycle
    • System efficiency: > 75%
    • Cycle life: > 4,000 cycles
  • Long-term energy storage systems:
    • System capital cost: < $1,250/kW; < $150/kWh
    • Levelized cost: < 10¢ / kWh / cycle
    • System efficiency: > 80%
    • Cycle life: > 5,000 cycles

Using the DOE near-term cost goals, we can estimate the cost of the energy storage system at the Buzen Power Plant to be in the range from $75 – 87.5 million. DOE estimated that the storage devices contributed 30 – 40% of the cost of an energy storage system.  That becomes a recurring operating cost when the storage devices reach their cycle life limit and need to be replaced.

The Energy Information Agency (EIA) defines capacity factor as the ratio of a generator’s actual generation over a specified period of time to its maximum possible generation over that same period of time. EIA reported the following installed generating capacities and capacity factors for U.S. wind and solar generators in 2015:

US renewable power 2015

Currently there are 86 GW of intermittent power sources connected to the U.S. grid and that total is growing year-on-year. As shown below, EIA expects 28% growth in solar generation and 16% growth in wind generation in the U.S. in 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 1.22.06 PMSource: EIA

The reason we need dispatchable grid storage systems is because of the proliferation of grid-connected intermittent generators and the need for grid operators to manage grid stability regionally and across the nation.

California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program has required that utilities procure 33% of their electricity from “eligible renewable energy resources” by 2020. On 7 October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill (SB 350) that increased this goal to 50% by 2030. There is no concise definition of “eligible renewable energy resources,” but you can get a good understanding of this term in the 2011 California Energy Commission guidebook, “Renewables Portfolio Standard Eligibility – 4th Edition,” which you can download at the following link:


The “eligible renewable energy resources” include solar, wind, and other resources, several of which would not be intermittent generators.

In 2014, the installed capacity of California’s 1,051 in-state power plants (greater than 0.1 megawatts – MW) was 86.9 GW. These plants produced 198,908 GWh of electricity in 2014. An additional 97,735 GWh (about 33%) was imported from out-of-state generators, yielding a 2014 statewide total electricity consumption of almost 300,000 GWh of electricity. By 2030, 50% of total generation is mandated to be from “eligible renewable energy resources,” and a good fraction of those resources will be operating intermittently at average capacity factors in the range from 22 – 33%.

The rates we pay as electric power customers in California already are among the highest in the nation, largely because of the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program. With the higher targets for 2030, we soon will be paying even more for the deployment, operation and maintenance of massive new grid-connected storage infrastructure that will be needed to keep the state and regional grids stable.

Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation?

Peter Lobner

In my 2 July 2015 post, I commented on significant deficiencies in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan proposed rule. On 3 August 2015, the EPA announced the final rule. You can read the final rule for existing power plants, the EPA’s regulatory impact analysis, and associated fact sheets at the following link:


The Institute for Energy Research (IER) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets. The IER home page is at the following link:


On 24 November 2015, the IER published an insightful article entitled, Is EPA Fudging the Numbers for its Carbon Regulation?, which I believe is worth your attention. The IER’s main points are:

  1. U.S. Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) is the data source usually used by federal government agencies in their analysis of energy issues.
  2. EPA stands out as an exception. It frequently chooses not to use EIA data, and instead develops it’s own duplicative, different data.
  3. In the case of the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s own data significantly underestimates the number of coal plants that need to be retired to comply with the Plan. The result is a much lower estimate of the economic impact of the Plan than if EIA data had been used.

It appears to me that the EPA created and used data skewed to produce a more favorable, but likely unrealistic, estimate of the economic impact that will borne by the U.S. power industry and power customers as the Clean Power Plan is implemented. Form your own opinion after reading the full IER article at the following link:


Update 19 Feb 2016

On 8 February 2016, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) released their, “Nuclear in the States Toolkit Version 1.0 – Policy Options for States Considering the Role of Nuclear Power in Their Energy Mix.” The toolkit catalogs policies related to new and existing nuclear reactors for state policymakers to consider as they draft their Clean Power Plan compliance strategies.   The Toolkit identifies a range of policy options that individually or in aggregate can make nuclear generation a more attractive generation alternative for states and utilities.

You can download this document at the following link:


On 9 February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issues a stay on implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) pending the resolution of legal challenges to the program in court.

The ANS noted that, “….the stay provides them (the states) an opportunity to take a new look at the carbon offsets that existing nuclear plants provide, which they weren’t encouraged to do under the CPP rules.”

Building a Modern Wind Turbine Generator

Peter Lobner

MidAmerican Energy Company, Iowa’s largest energy company, began installing wind turbines in 2004. In May 2013, MidAmerican Energy announced their latest plan to invest up to $1.9 billion to expand its wind generation fleet and add up to 1,050 MWe of wind generation in Iowa by year-end 2015. Once this expansion is complete, approximately 3,335 MWe, or approximately 39%, of MidAmerican Energy’s total owned generation capacity will come from wind-powered generation from 1,715 wind turbines.

MidAmerica Energy wind turbines Source: MidAmerica Energy

You can visit the wind energy page on the MidAmerica Energy website at the following link:


Fact sheets on this site provide details on the two types of wind turbines currently being installed:

  • 1.5 MWe General Electric wind turbine (most common in the MidAmerica fleet)
  • 2.3 MWe Siemens wind turbine (largest in the MidAmerica fleet)

The impressive dimensions of the larger Siemens machine are shown in the following diagram:

MidAmerica Energy 2.3 MWe wind turbine Source: MidAmerica Energy

MidAmerican Energy Company has posted a 5+ minute time-lapse video on YouTube showing their three-week construction process for the Siemens wind turbine. This is worth watching to get a better understanding of the modest site preparation work required, the very large scale of the pedestal and rotor components, and the short time frame required to complete a wind turbine generator and have it ready to be put into revenue-generating service.  You can view the video at the following link:


Now complete this process several hundred times and you have a respectable sized wind farm.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) defines “capacity factor” as follows:

“Capacity factors describe how intensively a fleet of generators is run. A capacity factor near 100% means a fleet is operating nearly all of the time. It is the ratio of a fleet’s actual generation to its maximum potential generation”.

EIA reports average monthly and annual capacity factors for utility generators. For utility generators not primarily using fossil fuels, the results are at the following link:


Here are average capacity factors reported by EIA:

EIA capacity factors 1

As a renewable power source, wind has a significantly higher capacity factor than solar. However, over the long term, a wind farm delivers only about one-third of it’s “nameplate rating.” This statistic, of course, does not capture the real-time variability in electrical output as wind conditions constantly change.

As a point of comparison, you can find the EIA capacity factor results for utility generators primarily using fossil fuels at the following link:


Here are average capacity factors reported by EIA for selected fossil generators (I only included those that are likely to be base loaded):

EIA capacity factors 2

EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Peter Lobner

On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed what they called, “a common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants.”  You can access the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule and many related documents at the following EPA link:


This Plan proposes to limit carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel fired electric generating units, including steam generating, integrated gasification combined cycle, or stationary combustion turbines (in either simple-cycle or combined-cycle configuration) operating or under construction by January 8, 2014. Main points of the Clean Power Plan include:

  • Wind and solar power are the preferred EPA options.
  • Natural gas is an interim solution.
  • New nuclear capacity is not a compliance option.
  • The EPA allows compliance credit for:
    • New nuclear plants currently under construction, and
    • Preservation of existing nuclear plants that might otherwise be retired

I’ve already formed my opinion on the Clean Power Plan. To help you form your opinion, I recommend that you refer to the following recent analyses by four respected government and industry organizations that have reviewed the Clean Power Plan.

Institute for Energy Research (IER)

On 15 June 2015, the IER issued the results of their analysis entitled, EPA’s Clean Power Plan Ignores New Nuclear as a Compliance Option. IER concluded that the compliance formulae in the Clean Power Plan are biased toward new wind and solar power development. Deployment of these technologies, which currently are not capable of delivering reliable capacity, will decrease the reliability of the electric grid. IER also concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in much higher electricity prices for all American consumers, while having only a marginal impact on global temperature based on EPA’s computer models.

You can read the IER analysis at the following link:


National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA)

On 21 May 2015, the NACAA issued a report entitled, Implementing EPA’s Clean Power Plan: A Menu of Options, containing 25 chapters, each of which explores a particular approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction in the electric power sector.  NACAA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association of air pollution control agencies in 41 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and 116 metropolitan areas.  Each chapter of their Menu of Options includes a brief descriptions of: (1) the option and it’s pros and cons; (2) the regulatory backdrop, policy underpinnings, implementation experience, and GHG reduction potential associated with the option; and (3) benefits of the option to society and the utility system, including costs and cost-effectiveness. In the last chapter, a variety of emerging technologies and other policy options for reducing GHG emissions are addressed.

An interesting table and two figures included in Chapter 6 of the Menu of Options are reproduced below.

NACAA Table 6-1 Source: NACAA

In 2012, electric power generation technologies with zero or low GHG emissions accounted for 31.4% of the USA’s total generating capacity. The data in Table 6-1 shows that 82.2% of the zero or low GHG emission generating capacity came from nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. The remaining low-emission generation capacity came from biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar power plants.

NACAA Figure 6-3Source: NACAA

In Figure 6-3, “life cycle GHG emissions” include those associated with operation as well as construction, fabrication, and fuel processing.  While nuclear power is not included among the “technologies powered by renewable resources”, it’s clear in Figure 6-3 that nuclear power meets the GHG reduction performance of the other technologies using renewable resources.

NACAA Figure 6-7  Source: NACAA

In Figure 6-7, note the relative cost-of-energy differential between nuclear power and fossil power. This difference makes it difficult for nuclear power plants to compete head-to-head with coal and natural gas merchant power plants and encourages the early retirement of some nuclear power plants on economic grounds.  While most renewable power sources have even higher costs-of-energy, various financial schemes subsidize their power generation.

You can download individual chapters or the entire NACAA Menu of Options at the following link:


U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

On 22 May 2015, the EIA released their analysis of the Clean Power Plan. The EIA analysis supports the IER finding that the Clean Power Plan will result in much higher electricity prices for all American consumers, even in a scenario that allows GHG reduction credit for new nuclear generation.

You can read the EIA press release at the following link:


You also can download a PDFs copy of the May 2015 EIA report, Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan, at the following link:


Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI)

To address the “clean power” attributes of nuclear power, I refer you to an NEI Knowledge Center webpage: Environment: Emissions Prevented, which you will find at the following link:


Here you’ll find a link to data on the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide emissions avoided in the U.S. during the years 1995 to 2014 by virtue of having about 20% of U.S. electric power generated by nuclear power plants instead of fossil power plants. NEI reports the total avoided emissions for this period as follows:

  • Sulfur dioxide: 57.75 million short tons (52.4 million metric tons)
  • Nitrogen oxides: 22.92 million short tons (20.8 million metric tons)
  • Carbon dioxide: 13,063.6 million short tons (11,851 million metric tons)

On this website, NEI states:

“Nuclear energy facilities avoided 595 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014 across the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from nearly 135 million cars, which is more than all U.S. passenger cars. The U.S. produces more than five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Without the emission avoidances from nuclear generation, required reductions in the U.S. would increase by more than 50 percent to achieve targets under the Kyoto Protocol.”

2013 paper, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power”.

Supporting the above NEI position on the GHG reduction merits of nuclear power, there is a related 2013 article by NASA scientists from Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University entitled, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power”.  You can read a short article on this paper on the Scientific American website at the following link:


You also can read the complete paper at the following link:


In their study, authors Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen used historical production data from 1971 to 2009 and calculated that global nuclear power has prevented an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2-eq) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning. From their analysis, the authors drew the following conclusion:

“In conclusion, it is clear that nuclear power has provided a large contribution to the reduction of global mortality and GHG emissions due to fossil fuel use. If the role of nuclear power significantly declines in the next few decades, the International Energy Agency asserts that achieving a target atmospheric GHG level of 450 ppm CO2-eq would require “heroic achievements in the deployment of emerging low- carbon technologies, which have yet to be proven. Countries that rely heavily on nuclear power would find it particularly challenging and significantly more costly to meet their targeted levels of emissions.”

So, what do you think about the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan? Is this the “common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants” promised by EPA; a politically motivated piece of crap designed to kill the nuclear and coal power industries; or something in between?