Study: Replacing nuclear power with renewable energy could save Northwest ratepayers over $260 million
PORTLAND — A new study says Pacific Northwest utility ratepayers could save hundreds of millions of dollars if the Bonneville Power Administration and Energy Northwest close the region’s only commercial nuclear power plant in Richland, Wash., and replace its output with renewable energy.
The Portland-based McCullough Research consulting firm estimated savings from $261.2 million to $530.7 million over 10 years due to historically low renewable energy prices at the aging plant, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
“The rapid drop in renewable energy costs in recent years has been shocking to everyone,” economist Robert McCullough said. “It is now possible to affordably replace aging facilities … without increasing the region’s carbon footprint.”
The report was commissioned by the anti-nuclear group Physicians for Social Responsibility and is the latest in a salvo against the economic feasibility and reliability of the aging Columbia Generating Station.
The station is all that’s left of a plan to build five nuclear plants in the Northwest, a debacle that led to one of the largest municipal bond defaults in history. The Richland facility was the only one completed. It is an older design that has had a variety of operating issues. Federal regulators recently cleared it to run through 2043.
Energy Northwest, a public utility consortium that operates the plant, criticized the report and told the newspaper that the 1,200-megawatt plant has set generating records in four of the past five years.
The consortium markets the power through the Bonneville Power Adminstration.
The study cited the low cost and abundant supply of renewable power. But the plant’s supporters point out that supply differs from capacity — making sure that power is there when you need it.
“The report faults CGS for what makes it so valuable: We make electricity around-the-clock,” said Mike Paoli, a spokesman for Energy Northwest. “With wind and solar, a lot of the generation happens at off-peak times. When peak demand comes, you have to have baseload generation to cover that.”