Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Giving Back to the Community With Nuclear Energy

I started my career at Entergy’s Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Southwest Michigan 11 years ago as a security officer. After seven years, I moved on to become a supervisor of Document Control and Records Management. Now, I’m a senior emergency planner, thanks to the encouragement of my nuclear mentor, Otto Gustafson.


In emergency planning, I’m proud to be on the front lines to ensure the safety of my plant and community. I help organize and facilitate our emergency response organization. I enjoy my job because it allows me to help Palisades be prepared for emergency situations. I know that my coworkers have the knowledge and procedures to secure the plant and keep the community safe, in the case of an emergency. My position challenges me in ways I never dreamed of prior to joining emergency planning and I learn new things every day.

My vision for the future of nuclear is continuing to provide clean energy to my community and state. Nuclear offers great benefits to my community, not just through the economic stability of employing more than 600 people, but also through the many programs that support the community in various ways. I see nuclear continuing to be a huge part of my community and the country as a whole.

I love how my career in nuclear has afforded me the opportunity to give back to my community. I am the president of Entergy Women in Nuclear (WIN) at Palisades. Through WIN, I have participated in Feeding America where we provide food to those in need. Every fall, I help fill 1,200 backpacks that we hand out to underprivileged children. And, I have planned and instructed nuclear activities for two local schools to educate young people about the possibilities of nuclear.

I am bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry by keeping my eyes open to all opportunities for change. I ensure that all projects I am included on are following proper regulations. I enjoy challenges and strive for superior quality in all of my work. I like to look to other fields and see what can transition to nuclear and keep the path to new ideas fresh.

To me, Delivering the Nuclear Promise is helping define what is necessary to keep nuclear power sustainable, safe, reliable and affordable.

The above post was written by Entergy’s Kelly Howard for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this story of nuclear’s benefits with your network using #whynuclear. To learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

A Nuclear Family Ensuring Our Clean Energy Future

When Marian Kellett first moved to Tri-Cities, Wash. while in her 20s, she wasn’t too sure about nuclear energy.

“I was so negatively biased toward nuclear power growing up. Our landlord, a Ph.D. at Battelle Northwest, was a good guy who was clearly smart,” Kellett said. “The fact that he chose to raise a family here challenged every (negative) preconception I had about nuclear energy.”

She came to realize that people who were a lot more knowledgeable than she was on the subject were quite comfortable with nuclear energy.

Laura Pickard and her mother, Marian Kellett
“It was a clarifying moment, and I started to learn more about nuclear instead of just giving in to what I knew from movies and the press.”

Good thing for Marian. That change in perspective led to a nearly 26 year career at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, located 10 miles north of Richland, Wash. She started as a temporary clerk seeking a stable working environment and an opportunity to advance if she worked hard. She certainly did that and now is assistant to the vice president for operations and spearheading the station’s Delivering the Nuclear Promise effort, an industry initiative to reduce costs through greater efficiencies.

But more than that, Marian is also a colleague to someone she knows very well – her daughter Laura.

“More than anything, it's a real treat to see her as an adult who fends for herself, makes her own way, has a great sense of style and humor, and will occasionally call me ‘momma’ when I see her on site,” Kellett said.

Laura Pickard works as nuclear security officer at Columbia. She joined the Marine Corps after high school and spent five years serving her country, training at the Defense Language Institute to become a Korean linguist. When she left the service it was back to school and a degree from Washington State University in Pullman. Even though her degree is in communications, nuclear security seemed a good fit.

“My military background has been extremely helpful in my job working security, where so much of the focus is on regulations and tactics,” Pickard said. “I really enjoy the annual training, which is even more extensive than the training I received in the military. This is such a great career for veterans like me, because my previous training has only been enhanced by the nuclear aspect of this job.”

Marian is looking forward to her daughter having a long career in nuclear energy, just as she has. But she knows the industry has faced hardships, both internal and external. Delivering the Nuclear Promise will address some of those hardships and, hopefully, pave the way for future generations to find meaningful employment providing carbon-free electricity to homes and businesses.

“From a personal perspective, I've been given so many opportunities in this industry to grow and advance, it's astounding. I was seeking a stable working environment with benefits,” Kellett said. “Today, I have earned a degree that was supported and financed by Energy Northwest, I've had the opportunity to work my way up in the company and had meaningful and rewarding work along the way, and I'm looking ahead at a retirement complete with the satisfaction of having worked with some of the most talented people I've ever known.”

It’s not hard to see why her daughter Laura feels similarly.

“I really appreciate that I’m able to have a stable job with great benefits in an industry that provides a service to my community. I’m also proud to be part of creating safe and clean energy for a huge part of Washington,” Pickard said.

We know momma is proud too.

The above post was written by Energy Northwest’s John Dobken for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this story of nuclear’s benefits with your network using #whynuclear. To learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Monday, August 01, 2016

5 Facts About Electricity and Summer Heat (Bumped)

The past two weeks have seen record temperatures grip the nation as a "heat dome" has descended over most of the continental U.S. While it isn't news that summer is hot, it is when the temperatures are 15-20 degrees higher than average for this time of year.

But life must go on and the electricity must flow. Without the sort of reliable baseload power that nuclear energy provides, our electric grid would be in a tight spot, as grid operators would be forced to juggle intermittent source of energy (like wind and solar) with others that could be vulnerable to supply constraints (like natural gas). In California, the independent system operator recently asked consumers to conserve electricity in the face of high temperatures during a period where the supply of natural gas is constrained due to the Aliso Canyon methane leak.

Put it all together and you could be looking at grid reliability being compromised, prices skyrocketing and electric utilities being forced to use dirtier and less efficient means of generating electricity like coal, oil and even jet fuel. With that in mind, we've put together this short list of facts about Summer heat and electricity.

1. An Extra 20 Degrees of Summer Heat Makes a World of Difference: According to a 2012 study by OPWR, total daily electricity use was 22% higher when Summer temps rose 20 degrees above the seasonal average. In the late afternoon when electricity demand peaked, usage was a whopping 40% higher, which doubled the wholesale price of electricity during that part of the day.

2. Your Air Conditioner Is Your Lifeline: When the heat goes up, people can't help but turn up the air conditioner. That has a significant impact on the electric grid. A Spanish university study found that air conditioning consumes one-third of peak electric consumption in the Summer. This isn't just a matter of convenience, in many cases, it's a matter of life and death. During a 2003 European heat wave, France suffered nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mostly among the elderly who simply couldn't cope with the extreme temperatures.

3. Summer Heat Drives More Extreme Weather Events and Higher Energy Prices: On Monday, July 25, the New York Independent System Operator issued a thunderstorm alert at 2:00 p.m. That's not unusual in the middle of the Summer, but when it comes in the midst of a heat wave when the grid is already running at full capacity, fears that a lightning strike could cut the ability to import power from the Upstate to New York City sent a shockwave through the market. Power prices that clocked in at $50 per megawatt-hour earlier in the day rose to $1,000 less than 90 minutes after the thunderstorm alert.

4. Wind is MIA, while Solar Comes on Strong: We asked NEI's Michael Purdie to take a closer look at the performance of renewables on the grid, comparing seasonal performance between Summer and Winter from 2010-2015. Based on data from the ABB Velocity Suite, the capacity factor for wind dropped an average of over 15% from Winter to Summer. In some area, that variability can be problematic, like in Texas last Summer, when ERCOT reported that the grid's wind turbines dropped to 20% of capacity as the temperature topped 100 degrees all over the state. In August 2006, a late Summer heat wave in California saw the state's wind assets drop to just 4% of capacity. Of course, solar power's capacity factor rises almost 35% in the Summer, but that seasonal increase is more than offset by capacity factors that crater nearly 77% in Winter.

5. Nuclear Performance is High Because Plants Prep in the Spring: Between July 23-28, in the midst of the nationwide heat wave, the average capacity factor of the U.S. nuclear fleet didn't drop lower than 96.6%. That's an incredible performance—99 reactors producing electricity at maximum output nearly every minute of the day and night. That isn’t possible without the dedication of outage workers who descended on plant sites throughout the Spring to perform needed maintenance and repairs to ensure this performance when it is needed most.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Even when the mercury tops 100 degrees, it's good to know that you and your aren't completely at the mercy of extreme weather. Just as is the case in the winter, there are a number of common sense rules you can follow to limit the size of your electric bill. Be sure to check out these tips from PG&E to learn more. And please, when you're outside, pay attention to these guidelines from the Mayo Clinic to keep cool and healthy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks
Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency and streamline many of our processes and practices. Vogtle Unit 3 will be the first fully digital nuclear unit in the country. That affords many innovative approaches to how we operate and maintain the plant. One thing that will never change is that the nuclear industry will always hold paramount the health and safety of the community we serve.

When I was a shift supervisor at Plant Farley, I was often asked exactly what it is that I do every day. My favorite response: "I make clouds for a living." This would generally result in a look of confusion on the face of the person I was talking to, but it would give me an opportunity to explain how a nuclear power plant works. It brings me joy to watch expressions soften as I explain the tremendous amount of electricity that we produce, how we produce it, and that the only impact to the environment is the release of water vapor clouds from the cooling towers.

As I transition to my new role in the Work Management organization, one of my responsibilities will be the implementation of a process to allow our work activities to be carried out completely electronically. Paperless work management is a common practice in other industries and will be a huge step forward in improving efficiency in nuclear power.

Delivering The Nuclear Promise to me means taking a very hard look at the way we do business in this industry and challenging ourselves to think outside the box. The industry has previously been stagnant in the area of leveraging new technology to improve processes. It can be easy to become complacent and settle for "how we've always done it," but for our industry to remain viable, we must evolve. The paperless work management process is a perfect example of this principle in action. Eliminating paper will allow work to be completed more efficiently with less potential for error and fewer resources needed for filing and archiving documents.

The above post was written by Southern Nuclear’s Donell Banks for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this nuclear ingenuity story with your network or to learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Germany Gets Realistic about Renewables

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

The German parliament voted on July 8 to slow the growth of renewable energy, by ending lavish subsidies intended to develop as much wind, sun and biomass as quickly as possible. Instead, the government will pick and choose which energy projects make sense for the system based on reliability, cost, and other criteria.

The German electric system is suffering a more extreme version of some of the same problems seen in in the U.S.

In Germany, the burden of aggressive renewable subsidies falls on households, because the government exempted major industrial consumers, to avoid damaging their international competitiveness. Per kilowatt-hour, households pay 29.5 European cents (about 32.6 U.S. cents, roughly triple the average price in the U.S.) The price is 30 percent higher than the European average, according to European Union statistics.

And in Germany, a lot of this energy, especially wind, comes at times of low demand, and is produced in areas far distant from load centers, so it is not useful. We have the same problem here; surplus energy pushes prices to zero or even below, but subsidies make developers profitable anyway.

And subsidized renewables are not always the best way to reduce carbon emissions. The National Academy of Sciences recently found that the cost of Federal subsidies for renewables, for each ton of carbon saved, is a stunning $250. Some states provide added subsidies, or force electricity customers to subsidize renewable energy by setting quotas for utilities, called renewable portfolio standards. Renewable sources of electricity displace electricity from fossil-fired plants, saving fuel and carbon emissions. But they also threaten to displace nuclear generators, which are highly reliable (operating over 90% of the time), and are also emissions free. (Also, U.S. nuclear plants get no compensation for being carbon-free.)

Policies insisting on a high proportion of renewable energy, rather than on simply non-emitting generation, create distorted market conditions that are forcing premature retirement of non-emitting, highly reliable nuclear reactors that are generating electricity at very low costs. Such policies have the unintended consequence of increasing emissions (due to the use of natural gas for replacement power) rather than cutting them.

While the United States hasn’t yet reached the same situation as Germany, the Federal government and the states could avoid some of the same missteps.

UPDATE: On August 1, when the New York Public Service Commission approved a plan to recognize nuclear power’s contribution to carbon emissions reductions, and to keep several reactors running, the Commission took note of Germany’s situation. The order, available here, said in part, “New York can look to another leader in renewable power – Germany – for a lesson in the unintended consequences of losing zero-emissions attributes from all its nuclear plants. Germany’s abrupt closure of all its nuclear plants resulted in a large increase in the use of coal, causing total carbon emissions to rise despite an aggressive increase in solar generation.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What to Watch for in Nuclear Energy Policy at the 2016 Conventions

The 2016 Republican National Convention got underway in Cleveland last night, kicking off a two-week period of non-stop political coverage that typically keeps "inside the Beltway" types like us glued to the television (we will be similarly riveted when the Democrats meet next week in Philadelphia).

Just as is the case with the annual State of the Union address, we pay close attention just in case our industry gets mentioned. So what are we keeping an eye out for? To give you a hand, we've developed the following checklist when it comes to what matters to the nuclear energy industry.

Thanks to Donkey Hotey for the Creative Commons license image.
Feel free to play along at home.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Diablo Canyon Closure

Diablo Canyon
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made national news when it announced last week that it will operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant through its original license period and then retire the facility in the mid-2020s. Some parties are suggesting—wrongly—that the agreement is a blueprint for nuclear plant retirements in other states.

Don't buy that argument. To be clear: The convergence of policies and events that drove the Diablo Canyon agreement is not desirable and should not be replicated. California residents now confront a risky experiment based on an unbalanced energy future. As NEI's Revis James wrote yesterday at Real Clear Energy:
The anti-nuclear lobby says that a future primarily powered by renewable sources of energy is upon us. We’ve done the math, and the equation doesn’t balance. Rather, this seems more like a flawed experiment that will put greater pressure on consumers through higher electricity prices while increasing, not decreasing, CO2 emissions. It’s not a gamble that others should try.
Some proponents of the agreement wrongly believe they can replace one carbon-free source of electricity with another instead of working to maximize carbon reduction by seeing all zero-emissions sources work together. But there is no guarantee that the anticipated increase in renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage will fully replace Diablo Canyon—which provides 24 percent of the state's carbon-free electricity—by 2025.

In Wisconsin, greenhouse gas emissions jumped more than 15 percent after the premature closure of the Kewaunee nuclear facility. In 2015, New England's emissions jumped by 7 percent because of the shutdown of Vermont Yankee the year before. Emissions will climb even higher when the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts closes in 2019.

A study by IHS Energy found nuclear energy's inclusion in a balanced energy portfolio lowers the cost of generating electricity by more than $93 billion per year compared to an energy portfolio limited to renewables and natural gas.

With that in mind, it's better to think of California as an anomaly rather than template for future energy policy.