Palo Verde generator helps Southwest meet climate goals, but future of nuclear is debated
PHOENIX – The rising demand to eliminate fossil fuels has left some researchers and activists skeptical that nuclear energy can be part of the solution to meet climate goals. But a recent study finds that the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station outside Phoenix may be key to eliminating carbon emissions from utility grids across the Southwest.
In a joint study called the LA100, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that LA could eliminate fossil fuels from the power supply as soon as 2035. That’s one of four scenarios envisioned by the federal laboratory, which specializes in renewable energy research.
The city would need to make large investments in building infrastructure and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal power, along with help from nuclear and hydropower plants, the study said.
In Arizona, utility regulators are pushing to achieve similar goals by 2050.
It’s the first study the lab, known as NREL, has conducted to explore the reliability of 100% renewable energy in LA with detailed solutions to the “clean energy transition,” said Jaquelin Cochran, a lead researcher with NREL.
“We’re building a lot of resources that both simultaneously meet increasing demand, hotter temperatures and renewable energy targets,” Cochran said. “This is not a light effort, it is an investment, but it’s the investment that we’re showing is reliable – you can make a renewable system reliable.”
Two scenarios highlight LA’s continued 5.7% stake in the Palo Verde nuclear plant west of Phoenix to meet energy demands while eliminating fossil fuels.
Across state lines, Arizona Public Service, Arizona’s largest utility and operator of the Palo Verde plant, plans to transition to 100% carbon-free power generation by 2050 and eliminate all coal-generated power by 2031 – a goal largely attainable due to the output from Palo Verde.
“We’re already starting, we’re making this commitment to 100% clean (energy) by 2050, and we’re already halfway there,” said Jill Hanks, spokesperson for APS. “We’re at 50% clean and that is in large part due to Palo Verde, and we believe that there is no path to a cleaner energy future without nuclear energy.”
One uranium pellet, called fuel rods, used at the Palo Verde plant generates about as much power as a ton of coal or 149 gallons of oil, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration proposed its $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which included a Clean Energy Standard to eliminate carbon emissions from the power industry by 2035 to fight climate change.
Federal officials say Palo Verde and other nuclear plants can serve the country’s long-term goals, and the administration has signaled that breakthroughs in advanced nuclear plants will help achieve national climate initiatives, a departure from the climate policies of the Trump administration.