Intermittent Power from “Baseload” Nuclear Plant Raises Prices for Consumers

March 28, 2013

If a unit of distributed electric generation, say a wind turbine, or a solar panel, has a problem, you can shut it down and replace it without pulling a huge amount of power off the grid. You certainly wouldn’t have to evacuate a city, or raise anyone’s prices.

Of course, WindBaggers like to say that renewable energy  is “intermittent” – as if EVERY  form of energy wasn’t intermittent. Nothing operates 100 percent – the question is, do you have a system that is cumbersome, expensive, and brittle, or resilient and forgiving when something goes wrong

Electric Light & Power:

The outages of both units at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), starting in January 2012, have created a persistent spread in wholesale power prices between Northern and Southern California.

Historically, wholesale power prices for Northern and Southern California tracked closely with one another, indicating minimal market differences between the two areas. However, after the shutdown of SONGS in early 2012, the relatively inexpensive nuclear generation produced by SONGS had to be replaced with power from more expensive sources.

Consequently, since April 2012 Southern California power prices have persistently exceeded Northern California prices, with the spread averaging $4.15/MWh, or 12 percent of the Northern California price.

Utility Dive:

Before Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) got shut down, wholesale power prices for Southern California (SoCal) and Northern California (NorCal) were essentially the same. However, since SONGS stopped producing power, SoCal has consistently seen higher wholesale power prices than NorCal. Here’s a graph illustrating the wholesale power markets in SoCal and NorCal:

Wind vs Baseload myths discussed here.

45 Responses to “Intermittent Power from “Baseload” Nuclear Plant Raises Prices for Consumers”

  1. Bruce Miller Says:

    Now charge your nano carbon super capacitors (Google these for the facts)to drive your car when you want, your fridge and lights when you need them, and all for the lower prices during surplus times. This is ‘ballasting’ and it works well with today’s technologies – even an Israeli electric car that goes 1000 km on a charge, Even the Chreos (Google this one) which does the same, even the ‘White Zombie’ dragster, beating all gasoline entries.
    We are witnessing the end of the fossil fueled 20th Century American Golden Age, supported by the Cheap Oil era, and the emergence in the Global Village of the 21st Century Electric Age, including of course the decade of successful electric bullet trains in China running at a blazing 320kph. while AMTRAC can hardly make top speeds of 130 kph and average speeds of 80 kph in the U.S. and with fossil fuel intensive engines and yester-year technologies.

  2. Right, and nuclear power plants have to be shut down for a couple of weeks every 12-18 months for refueling. They have to be shut down if the air temperature gets too warm for the cooling towers to work well. They have to be shut down during big storms to avoid risks of bigger problems. Earthquakes and floods require them to be shut down.

    When they get too old to be used safely, they require a lot of work to decommission and dispose of the materials.

    An array of wind turbines allow for maintenance to be done sequentially, leaving a majority of the turbines in operation.

    Renewable energy has no “feed stock” and will be totally reliable for the next Billion years or so – as long as the earth exists. They are the *ultimate* in dependable energy.


    • joffan7 Says:

      Refuelling is scheduled during low usage seasons. Air temperature has no effect on nuclear operation. Typically the hurricane response is to be ready to shut down if necessary; most plants will operate straight through. Similarly for earthquakes and floods – only shut down if damage is possible. Decommissioning and disposal is factored into the price of electricity produced by the plant.

      Weather-based systems have attractions too, but their intermittancy requires far more backup than nuclear. Their construction typically requires more material. Decommissioning might be less noticeable at present but effectively it involves moving just as much or more material.

      • kap55 Says:

        And following up on Neil’s final point, Weinberg 1959 computed that there is enough nuclear fuel in Earth’s crust to power the planet for 7 billion years (assuming a stable population of 7 billion during that time). Current estimates indicate that the Sun, expanding to its red giant phase, will boil the oceans in just 500 million years. So nuclear will be just as reliable in the long run as wind.

      • When you post specific information you should source your information.

        Ex “.Although new nuclear power plants are capital-intensive, it is important to recognize that capital costs are only the starting point for any analysis of new generating capacity. The only accurate measure of economic competitive-ness, and the one that is most important to regulators and consumers, is the cost of electricity produced by a particular project compared to alternative sources of electricity and to the market price of electricity when the power plant starts commercial operation. This generation cost takes into account not only capital and financing costs, but also the operating costs and performance of a project.”

        From The Cost of New Generating Capacity in Perspective
        or U.S. Nuclear Refueling Outage Days (Average, 1990-2011)
        “The ferocious April 27 tornadoes took out all of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power grid in Alabama and much of the grid in Mississippi. All three reactors at Browns Ferry in Athens, Ala., were forced into automatic shutdown.”

        “The shutdown marks the second summer in a row that TVA has had to shut down nuclear power as local rivers have reached record temperatures.
        Last year’s shutdown cost the company $50 million in replacement power, a cost it passed along to its customers. To forestall the same problem reoccurring in future years, TVA invested $80 million in a seventh cooling tower at Browns Ferry, which began construction last October.”

        • joffan7 Says:

          When you respond to a post, you should address the specific points made, rather than drown out the discussion in an avalanche of propaganda.

          Which of my specific points do you disagree with?

          • Almost all of it other than they typically schedule refueling during low demand.

            First point was I gave you a link to Statistical Information on NP.

            Second was your BS on operations in bad weather. Case in point was Browns Ferry April 27 super tornadoes outbreak. A near Fukushima event, the only difference was that Browns Ferry’s diesel generator worked for the 6 days until offsite power supplies to the plant were restored.

            Third “temperature has no effect on nuclear operation” again Browns Ferry had to shut down because of high temperature. It required them to construct a seventh cooling tower to forestall the problem. It is hot weather (air) that heats the water. FYI: The Tennessee is a very regulated river system it was not a flow problem.

            Lastly, you are confused about facts vs. propaganda. Facts are the links that I used to show that you were wrong. Propaganda was your post without facts to back up your fairy tale.

          • joffan7 Says:

            NPPs operate in extremely bad weather, but they are not magical – they cannot supply a grid that is down. Air temperatures are routinely different from water temperatures, showing different fluctuation rates, so my correction was valid and your mangled quotation of my comment was dishonest.

            Your hyperbole about “near-Fukushima” typifies the separation of my facts from your propaganda.

          • “Your hyperbole about “near-Fukushima” typifies the separation of my facts from your propaganda.”

            Let see, similar design to Fukushima.

            Transmission lines damage from the storms.

            It causes the reactors to trip. (Bill McCollum, the chief operating officer of Tennessee Valley Authority)

            No power to cool the units for ~6 days which required diesel generator power.

            EF5 coming within approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) of Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant and toppling nearly a dozen high voltage power lines snapping concrete power poles at their bases.

            (Sources Chattanooga Time Free Press April-May)
            Now the plant should take a direct hit and be ok, but what about the external fuel tanks? Could they take an EF5 too?

            Difference is that the diesel generator worked.

  3. […] If a unit of distributed electric generation, say a wind turbine, or a solar panel, has a problem, you can shut it down and replace it without pulling a huge amount of power off the grid. You certa…  […]

  4. petersjazz Says:


  5. joffan7 Says:

    So clearly, more nuclear power plants are needed to push the price of electricity down.

  6. kap55 Says:

    So the point is, nuclear is actually a cheap way to generate electricity. This represents a turnaround from Peter’s many previous posts which falsely imply that nuclear is expensive. So I guess we can be glad for this.

    As the post says, all forms of electric generation are intermittent to some degree, and that intermittancy creates costs for other generators on the grid. Producers have to adjust their generation to be able to match load with power, and those adjustments become larger as the intermittancy of producers increases. Those adjustments cause remaining producers to generate at suboptimal efficiencies, which adds additional cost, called “system costs.”

    The OECD recently studied system costs for various forms of electrical generation in various countries, and found that natural gas has the lowest system costs (about $.50 per MWh), and coal the next lowest (about $1 per MWh).

    Among non-fossil sources, nuclear is lowest (about $2 per MWh). For nuclear power, the system cost actually declines as market penetration increases.

    For onshore wind, system costs average about $18/MWh at 10% penetration, increasing to $28 at 30% penetration. For offshore wind, system costs are about $30/MWh at 10% market penetration, rising to $38 at 30%. And for solar — hold on to your hats — system costs average $38/MWh at 10% penetration, rising to $54/MWh at 30% market penetration.

    Click to access system-effects-exec-sum.pdf

    So yes, nuclear power does have system costs due to intermittancy, as do all other forms of power generation. But if we aim for a non-fossil future, we find once again that nuclear gets us there more cheaply than any other technology.

    • kap55 Says:

      Just to be perfectly clear: these system costs are over and above the cost to generate the electricity itself, the so-called LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Electricity).

    • greenman3610 Says:

      re nuclear costs.
      You misunderstand. there are a number of older nuclear plants around, legacies from the 70s and 80s, that in many cases, incurred huge costs to rate payers and tax payers when they were built. A number of utilities had to be bailed out, went bankrupt, etc — and many of these nukes were purchased by third party operators, who escaped the burden of that sunk cost.
      These plants, when properly operated, are superficially, pretty economical, sort of like older paid-for coal plants which are “cheap” since we don’t include the costs of lung disease etc.
      NEW nuclear plant costs do not stack up well. In fact, even with optimistic estimates, they cannot compete against wind, certainly not against gas (at the moment) Gas turbines are what is killing nuclear right now.
      and as I’ve reported here, the few nuclear plants that are actually under construction (owing to huge government loan guarantees that dwarf anything we’ve seen for renewables) are already running into the same old same old story of cost overruns, construction delays, and new costs that will have to be borne by ratepayers or taxpayers…
      Meanwhile, efficiency is the cheapest way to free up “new” energy, and as wind, and soon solar, keeps ramping up, there will be less rationale for nuclear by the month.

      • “don’t include the costs of lung disease etc.”

        I think you are treating coal plants too optimistically. (Your etc. is not that small)

        They require scrubbers and a number of other upgrades and ….

        Consider the emissions of Kingston Fossil Plant (excluding the big time clean-up of the ash spill in 08)

        Toxics Release Inventory (long list)

        Excluding Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen oxides and Sulfur dioxide in the total of 0.844 Pounds Released per MWh.

        Definitely not cheap at all! Most everybody has no clue just how bad it really is.

      • daryan12 Says:

        Its important when bringing Nuclear into the mix to consider the full life cycle costs. The decom costs of British reactors (being the first to build commercial plants they are further along than other nations) is working out at around $12-9 million per installed MW). Which on top of the installation costs of around $6-8,000 per installed kW, represents a hefty price tag.

        I discuss this in more detail here:

      • kap55 Says:

        I could buy that explanation if you were equally negative about the cost of solar, which is much higher than nuclear. But somehow, we never see any postings on Climate Crocks about the high cost of solar. Only nuclear gets the shaft, repeatedly. That makes it seem that cost is just a smokescreen for a (not-very-well) hidden anti-nuclear agenda. Fossil carbon is sinking the planet, and you’re punching holes in one of the lifeboats.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          I’m pointing to the hole. I didn’t punch it.

        • daryan12 Says:

          One of the problems with many LCOE studies on nuclear is that the fail to fully account for the costs of decommissioning. As I stated before, the UK, being further along than others is showing actual decom costs about 10 to 45 times higher than the estimated costs the nuclear industry would have you believe…and that doesn’t include final disposal of spent fuel!

          Installation costs for solar are falling (they are not nearly as high as you think) and they are rising for nuclear.

          decom costs for solar?…I’m guessing perhaps a hundred quid to get a guy with a ladder to spend a morning taking the panels down, compared to the army of men and robots spending decades slowly dismantling a reactor.

  7. rayduray Says:

    Oh oh. The Senate is showing a whole lotta love for the Keystone XL pipeline:

    Select quote:

    Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) put forward an amendment to the Senate Democratic budget resolution, which is non-binding, calling for approval of the pipeline. Unfortunately, this amendment was supported by 62 senators, including 17 Democrats (though 3 Democrats have since distanced themselves from their votes).

    Since there has been a vivid debate on this issue, often based on misinformation, here are the key facts on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
    THREE DOZEN JOBS: Proponents of the pipeline often claim it will create tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of jobs. This is simply not true. The most recent State Department assessment, written by contractors hired by the pipeline developer, found that constructing the pipeline would create 3,900 temporary jobs, but just 35 permanent jobs. Yes, you read that right, just 35 jobs. That’s about the same number of people who work in Hoeven’s Senate office.

    • daryan12 Says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the whole point of the Keystone pipeline (sorry toxic sludge line) to take the tar sands gunk to refinery’s in the Gulf of Mexico, load it onto ships and send the oil to China.

      How exactly does America benefit from that? It seems to me the deal is the US takes all the environmental costs and risks (from a spill), China gets the oil, and a couple of multinationals make a ton of money.

      • rayduray Says:


        Your economic analysis seems about right.

        I might add that due to the current bottleneck in the dilbit delivery system that the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains currently enjoys pump prices for gasoline and diesel that are about 20 cents per gallon below the national average. Keystone XL is designed to make sure these people end up paying more for their fuel, not less.

  8. List of things that shut down nuclear power

    Of the 253 nuclear power reactors originally ordered in the United States from 1953 to 2008, 48 percent were canceled, 11 percent were prematurely shut down, 14 percent experienced at least a one-year-or-more outage, and 27 percent are operating without having a year-plus outage. Thus, only about one fourth of those ordered, or about half of those completed, are still operating and have proved relatively reliable.[3]

    If you compare how many are ordered vs how many survive and produce, the return is low. Looking at the cost of those that survived without considering those that did not makes nuclear look cheap, but lenders are not fooled.

    • You should note that additional building of new nuclear plants is underway examples:

      TVA : Watts Bar Unit 2 (see
      The project is meeting targets for completion between September and December of 2015 and within the projected total cost range of $4 billion to $4.5 billion.

      TVA Bellefonte Nuclear Project
      TVA board of directors approved the completion of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant Unit 1 in Hollywood, Ala. Construction will start after the design phase is completed and after Watts Bar Unit 2, now being built, completes its first fuel load. When it begins commercial operation Bellefonte’s 1,260 megawatt reactor will be the largest in TVA’s nuclear fleet. Bellefonte’s output will be equal to the electricity needs of 750,000 homes, and its power will cost less than most other energy alternatives.

      FYI I live in the ten mile evacuation of Sequoyah Units 1 and 2. It like world war III every first Wednesday of the month (Emergency sirens)

      TVA is an odd duck you have:

      Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant -dependable capacity of 1,652 megawatts

      Green Power Switch –
      Green Power Providers 105,042 kWh
      which includes: Solar Power 303,047 kWh, wind Power 37,314 kWh, and biogas 19,359 kWh.

      Coal-fired power plants 48 units (~70% of power)

      106 natural gas-fired generators powered by combustion turbines

    • kap55 Says:

      List of things that can shut down wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro:
      * blizzard
      * hurricane
      * tornadoes
      * flooding
      * maintenance

      When the grid goes down due to storm, load drops to near zero and generation must drop to near zero in response. This is NOT an issue related to any particular generation technology, and you’re being deceptive to imply that it is.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        most outages, by far, are due to problems in the grid, not generation. For that reason, in an era of terrorism and climate change, rebuilding a grid that is decentralized and resilient, like the internet, is a priority for national security.
        That’s why, when climate deniers say, “going to renewables will cost trillions of dollars” – they lie because they leave out that we will be spending trillions on our energy system no matter what course we choose, unless developed nations wish to revert to third world status.

  9. daryan12 Says:

    This is a point I’m always making, energy demand is fairly variable, both daily and seasonally. Nuclear has an advantage over Wind power and other variable renewables for only a small fraction of the typical grid demand, and there are of course many forms of renewables that aren’t variable (solar CSP, Geothermal, tidal power, etc.)

    And its worth remembering that “electricity” represents just a small fraction of any nations overall energy consumption. Only 20% of the UK’s energy demand is electricity for example (I think its about 17% in the US, but don’t quote me on that). The bulk of the rest is a mix of heat (which tends to peak over the winter months) and transportation fuels (tends to peak in demand in many countries around summertime) plus embodied energy in products and food.

    As I discuss in the post below even if it were physically possible (or economic) to try and meet most of this demand via nuclear alone, it simply won’t be practical as you’d need to build a vast oversupply of reactors the bulk of which would spend most of their operating lives offline.

  10. daryan12 Says:


    Not sure if anyone has heard about this new technology they are developing in the UK called Liquid Air Energy storage.

    Iceland is also looking at using its geothermal reserves to crack water and carbon dioxide into Methanol fuels

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