BPU And Council Discuss Carbon Free Power Project

  • Carbon Free Power Project To Be Discussed At Town Hall Meeting 6 p.m. today

DPU Deputy Manager Steve Cummins

By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
kirsten@ladailypost.com

The deadline for Los Alamos County Council to decide whether to continue with the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) is approaching.

During a joint council and Board of Public Utilities meeting Tuesday night, Council Chair Sara Scott reported that the decision is expected to be made sometime in August.

Before a decision is made, a series of discussions are being held on the CFPP, she said. For instance, a virtual town hall on the project is scheduled for 6 p.m. today.

Additionally, Department of Public Utilities Manager Philo Shelton said comments are being collected on Open Forum, which can be accessed here.

Public comment has only been accepted since July 27, but Shelton said already 32 comments have been issued on the project.

According to agenda documents, the CFPP is being pursued by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which Los Alamos DPU is a member.

The project entails a nuclear generating station at Idaho National Laboratory. The nuclear station would generate 720 megawatts of electricity using 12 small modular reactors. The County has subscribed 11.186 megawatts.

The CFPP has been a project under serious consideration since the 2017 Integrated Resource Plan was adopted, Shelton said. There are 36 of the 47 UAMPS members, all small public utilities, participating in the development of the CFPP.

In fact, Deputy Manager Steve Cummins said the CFPP started back in 2015 with a study phase. Then in 2016, he said the County hired an independent contractor to do the Integrated Resource Plan. The idea behind the plan, Cummins said, was to explore how the County could meet its goal to be a carbon neutral electrical energy provider by 2040.

In 2017, the preferred option to accomplish this goal was solar with storage, he said.

“At that time, the Carbon Free Power Project was fixed at $65 per megawatt hour; it came in second and it was only 3.5 percent higher than the solar storage option over a 20-year planning horizon. Today the CFPP with the assistance of additional DOE funding is programmed to cost $55 per megawatt hour,” Cummins said.

A lot has happened in the past five years, he said, and the project purposefully moved slowly and cautiously as it sought additional funding to help de-risk this project.

The most recent development, Cummins said, is that the Department of Energy (DOE) approved a multi-year award in the nominal amount of $1.4 billion, which represents approximately 23 percent of the estimated development and construction cost of the project, spread over a period of nine years, concluding with the commercial operation of the CFPP.

Cummins said that cost-to-date for the County, DOE and Los Alamos National Laboratory is $258,673. He further reported that the County’s share for the 11.186 megawatts would be $1,046,849 for the next phase.

In comparing costs, Cummins pointed out that the money spent on the hydroelectric stations in Abiquiu and El Vado cost more on a dollars per megawatt hour basis than the target price of the CFPP.

Furthermore, Cummins said the CFPP is worth pursuing given it fits within the Integrated Resource Plan parameters.

“With an annual budget of about $35 million for electric production and we think the cost for this next phase is reasonable and we should keep it open as an option,” Cummins said. “It will help mitigate the risk of future generation uncertainty and keep a diverse portfolio … In seeking a diverse portfolio, hopefully this year we will secure or finalize a contract for a firm solar and wind product at a very attractive price.”

If the County decides the CFPP is not viable, there are still opportunities to leave the project, Cummins said. One will be in 2023 and the final chance will be 2025. Construction of the CFPP is expected to begin in 2026 and go through 2030.

BPU Board Member Steve Tobin questioned whether receiving nuclear power from Idaho would strengthen the County’s power grid.

“One of the great benefits of nuclear is that it is firm power but the disadvantage it is up from Idaho so it doesn’t really strengthen our local grid,” he said. “Steve (Cummins) alluded to potentially swapping other people’s power that is more local, in particular hydro power. Hydro power has risk in terms of availability … where do we rank in the priority to have access to hydro power …. where are we in the priority list of who get access to that power – the hydro?”

Cummins said the County’s power isn’t at risk because it is ensured through firm power contracts. He added he doesn’t see any additional risks with nuclear power.  The only way to eliminate the transmission risk it to have the generating resources on site behind the meter.

Tobin said the grid is changing, more energy is coming from renewable energy. He pointed out that the cheapest power is wind and solar but those are not fixed sources; they are less stable.

Cummins said the utility department is required to provide firm power.

“We always are looking at how we can keep our lights on,” he said. “If we ever move forward with a renewable project we are going to have something there to back it up whether it is battery storage, excess capacity from our nuclear facility … or some other firm resource.”

To attend the town hall Aug. 3, click: https://zoom.us/j/93175998603 or joining by phone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your location): US: +1 346 248 7799 or +1 408 638 0968 or +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923. The webinar ID is 931 7599 8603. The meeting also will be streamed on the county website and recorded for later viewing. Visit https://ladpu.com/CFPP and click on the link for the Aug. 3 Town Hall meeting.

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