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Christopher Guith Nuclear Power, Byron IL

Ever since the “Shale Gale” put the brakes on the nuclear renaissance, much of the nuclear world has focused on Small Modular Reactor (SMRs) as the future of fission. SMRs are smaller, and therefore more versatile than their full sized Light Water Reactor brethren, and could be deployed in a wider array of situations ranging from secluded communities to industrial parks.

Last week witnessed the first tangible step, at least from a regulatory perspective, in the march towards advanced nuclear. On March 15th, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepted the design certification application for review from NuScale Power. This makes NuScale the first company to have its advanced SMR design docketed by the NRC.

As the CEO for NuScale and Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted:

This is a great next step for a new American nuclear technology and a step we see as affirming NuScale as a true leader in SMR technology development.

Merely “accepting” an application may not sound like a big deal, but it is. It represents more than seven years of design work and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. The NRC is nothing if it’s not zealous in its pursuit of safety, and NuScale’s application consisted of nearly 12,000 pages of technical information, supported by some 40,000 man-hours of pre-application discussions and interactions with NRC staff to get to this point. From here, the review process may last up to 40 months, but this necessary step is a milestone.

This also means it is time for the NRC, the Trump administration, and Congress to get busy on creating the regulatory structure that will be used for a future applicant, like NuScale, to license the construction and operation of an SMR in the U.S.

Matt Koch Pipes stacked

Today, President Trump announced that his Administration granted the cross border permit needed for the Keystone XL pipeline.

This decision signals that the President is serious about building needed infrastructure to help put Americans back to work and improve North American energy and economic security. After nine years of politicized processes and decision making on pipeline infrastructure by the Obama Administration, this is a welcome move forward for our entire nation.

With this major barrier removed, environmental opponents are intensifying their efforts to derail Keystone XL in Nebraska, where it still awaits state approval and a permit to begin construction. Montana and South Dakota have already awarded construction permits for the project, but Nebraska has recently begun its permit application review process and hopes to make a decision by September, 2017.

Keystone XL opponents and “keep it in the ground” activists, determined to stop this and other pipeline projects, will sue the federal government to stop Keystone XL . To stop the project in Nebraska, expect that they will utilize every tool available with a vengeance just as they have in other instances– endless lawsuits; appeals; demonstrations; and as highlighted by the U.S. Chamber’s Sean Hackbarth, utter lawlessness.

Nebraskans are quite familiar with this issue from the previous permitting efforts, and the business community is wasting no time making it clear where they stand.

Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Barry Kennedy today said: “The Nebraska Chamber fully supports the Keystone XL project because of the benefits it will provide to Nebraska’s families and the state’s economy, as well as America’s long term energy needs. Nebraskans will always be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Suppliers of all types of American energy continue to face tremendous opposition by “keep it in the ground” and “not in my backyard” extremists. Nonetheless, despite being restrained by over-burdensome regulations, politically motivated delays, and uncertainty during the last eight years, the outlook for building much needed energy infrastructure is vastly improved.

This morning, President Trump said “it is a new era for American energy policy” and added “today, we begin to make things right and to do things right.” This sentiment is welcomed and long past due.

This originally appeared on the Institute for 21st Century Energy's blog.

Heath Knakmuhs ele2

Each year, the Energy Institute issues an update of our annual retail electricity price map, based upon the year-end electricity price data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The prices shown on our map best reflect what business, industry, and consumers must pay for a given unit – or kilowatt hour (kWh) – of electricity.  This year’s map, with the most complete data for calendar year 2016, appears above.

Two years ago, our map illustrated that retail electricity prices rose in all but a single state.  Last year’s map identified a slight reprieve from escalating prices in twenty states and the District of Columbia, but the remaining thirty states continued to watch their electricity bills soar.  Given the repetitive and duplicative imposition of Federal policies seeking to limit our access to affordable, reliable, and domestic energy fuels and generation resources, the upward trend for electricity prices was not surprising.

However, 2016 brought some good news.  In spite of efforts to make energy less affordable by the Obama Administration, relief came to the pocketbooks of many electricity customers in 2016, and such relief is spelled S—H—A—L—E.  That’s right, in addition to the massive job and national economic benefits resulting from the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract previously inaccessible domestic natural gas deposits, the natural gas resulting from this advanced recovery technique contributed to lower electricity prices in 2016. 

Now for the results:

Hawaii and Alaska continue to endure the highest electricity prices, primarily due to their remote geography and limited access to a diverse supply of electricity generation resources.  In a little bit of good news, Hawaii continued its downward trend from last year by shaving more than 2 cents/kWh off its 2015 retail electricity prices.

Twenty-seven states, including perennial high-cost states such as California, New York, and many in New England, experienced declines in their 2016 average retail electricity prices.  Maine was the exception, but fortunately for Mainers –their 12.84 cent/kWh retail rate remains the lowest among its high-cost neighbors.  Vermont held steady at the exact same rate experienced in 2015, giving its residents a sentimental victory over the upward trend experienced in years prior.

Don’t get me wrong; the states that continue to chase energy-limiting policies continue to be burdened by the highest electricity prices in the nation.  These anti-consumer policies, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and California’s AB 32, are “highlighted” by the expensive electricity prices seen in New York, California, and New England.  However, the expansion of America’s vast shale resources has at least softened the blow of these policies due to the fact that these states are highly dependent upon natural gas for a large share of their electricity generation.  With respect to the Northeast, they could further moderate their high prices if they embraced the numerous benefits available through the enhancement of their currently limited natural gas pipeline infrastructure. 

Another group of states that generally saw a decrease in rates were those that produce natural gas, such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma.  In fact, eight of the top ten natural gas producing states saw a decline in their average electricity price. 

On the flipside, twenty-three states witnessed an increase in their electricity bills in 2016.  Among these were many low-cost leaders, such as Iowa, Kentucky, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  These specific states are traditionally reliant upon coal for a large share of their electricity mix, with the exception of Washington State, which depends primarily upon hydroelectric resources.  These energy profiles reduced the influence that natural gas played on their 2016 prices, yet they continue to enjoy some of the lowest electricity prices in the nation thanks to the historically reliable and low-cost nature of the resources upon which they rely. 

Overall, however, the decreases outweighed the increases, resulting in a lower national average 2016 retail electricity price of 10.28 cents/kWh.  This new average represents a modest – but quite welcome – .13 cent/kWh decrease from 2015’s national average electricity price.

With a new Administration in the White House, we expect state-level policies to play a greater overall role in the electricity prices consumers pay each month.  All indications are that the federal government will reduce its recently harmful intervention in energy markets while reducing the red tape that for many recent years has stymied our ability to produce and transport low cost and reliable sources of energy.  Thanks to the extraction of shale gas on primarily state and private lands, America’s vast energy resources have stemmed the tide of an upward spiral in electricity rates.  If this Administration enhances access to shale and the many other sources of energy available on Federal lands, the next few years have the potential to continue 2016’s trend toward lower retail electricity prices.

Note:  In order to eliminate any confusion that may arise when making a direct comparison of this year’s map to the 2015 rate map, it is important to note that we utilize the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) preliminary annual data, from the February edition of Electric Power Monthly, to develop our annual maps and rate comparisons.  The EIA’s preliminary data is then subject to modification in the subsequent months as EIA finalizes their price data.  We use EIA’s preliminary data in order to deliver timely information, but slight variances from the final figures do occur.  Please note, however, that for the purposes of comparing year-over-year trends, we have used EIA’s near-final 2015 numbers instead of the preliminary numbers used in our 2015 map to maximize the accuracy of our trend analysis.

You can see the full report here.

This originally appeared on the Institute for 21st Century Energy's blog.