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NUCLEAR PLAYS UP STABILITY AS COLD SNAP ENTERS WEEK TWO: The nuclear energy industry is touting its role in providing heat to much of the East Coast and Midwest during the prolonged cold snap.
The Nuclear Energy Institute was quick to point out that the cold is increasing the cost of electricity but that nuclear-based power is moderating those increases for consumers.
Supply insurance: “Nuclear power, which produces 20 percent of America’s electricity, moderates the price risk by providing bulk supplies whose cost is not affected by short-term fuel prices,” said John Keeley, director of media relations for the trade group, in an email to the Washington Examiner.
“It also provides insurance against fuel supply interruptions, because our fuel is in the reactor vessel, ready for use.”
Demand on natural gas: Prices are rising because of the pressure on the nation’s natural gas supply, which has become a dominant fuel for power plants over the last three years. The shale boom has made the once-expensive fuel almost as cheap as water in some regions, which has driven the shift to gas-fired electricity production.
Keeley points out that a similar cold snap in early 2014, referred to as the “polar vortex,” “shut down many electricity generators,” including natural gas. But even without any shutdowns this go-around, “electricity prices are up very sharply, because demand is up, driven by electric heating requirements, and the price of natural gas is up too, because so much is being used for home heating, leaving less available for electricity generation,” Keeley said.
Prices soaring: On Tuesday, the first business day of the year, prices were $180 per megawatt hour in the mid-Atlantic, he said. By comparison, Dec. 1 prices were $27 per MW hour. In energy-constrained areas such as New England, the electricity price has risen above $210, compared to Dec. 1 prices of $32.
On the East Coast, nuclear power has provided a steady 35,000 megawatts of electricity during the cold snap, which has moved into its second week of bitter temperatures. One megawatt can provide 750-1,200 homes with power, depending on how much demand there is on the system, according to experts.
All 99 nuclear reactors in the U.S. are operating.
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DRONE SUBS AND SATELLITES ARE THE FUTURE: A fleet of drone ships would be a key part in staving off another major offshore oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report issued Wednesday by a task force created after the worst oil spill in the energy industry's history.
Robotic ships, and subs, and gliders, oh my: The report from the National Academies of Sciences' Gulf program calls for the creation of a fleet of robotic ships, miniature drone-like submarines and underwater gliders to track oil flows along the Gulf's sometimes unpredictable underwater currents.
Deepwater tragedy: Tracking oil's movements under the water, not just at the surface, became a key problem after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Since the spill came from a massive oil-rig blowout deep under the sea, the oil collected in plumes extending from the sea floor, not just as a slick on the ocean's surface. That made it difficult to track the oil's migration and to remove it from the water table, according to the study.
Long-term benefits: The study’s recommendations are meant to enhance the offshore energy system's safety, protect human health and the environment, and advance science and the ability "to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation," according to the national academic research program.
TRUMP READIES NEW FIVE-YEAR DRILLING PLAN: The task force’s report comes as the Trump administration is expected to issue its updated version of the Interior Department's five-year offshore drilling plan any day. The plan is expected to include expanded drilling off the Atlantic coast and the Arctic, as well as additional opportunities in the Gulf.
The Obama administration had excluded a number of areas, such as the Atlantic Ocean, from its drilling plan, which went into effect last year.
Offshore drilling in wake of tax law: The new report's recommendations also come as the new tax law gives Gulf states a bigger share of offshore drilling revenue from federal leases. The bipartisan measure would help fund the Gulf's expensive restoration and maintenance efforts.
Show me the money: That increased revenue could be necessary to fund the National Academies' high-tech policy recommendations, which include maintaining a fleet of drone ships to serve as deployment and data retrieval platforms, the release of 20 devices called gliders that fly through the water table using the ocean current to collect data, as well as underwater drones with their own propulsion systems.
ZINKE TWEETS VICTORY LAP: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke marked the 59th birthday of Alaska statehood Wednesday by tweeting out a photo of himself and and Sen. Lisa Murkowski riding on the backs of motorcycles on Memorial Day.
The photo follows a string of tweets by Zinke in recent days on the department’s 2017 accomplishments, which include opening up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in passing the tax legislation.
The motorcycle picture could be seen as a veritable victory lap for the administration’s energy dominance agenda.
Murkowski, who is chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, spearheaded the measure in the tax bill to begin drilling in ANWR.
PENNSYLVANIA REGULATORS SUSPEND PIPELINE: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday issued an order suspending construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Construction will be halted until the developer, Sunoco, meets certain conditions, such as addressing its effect on private water wells.
The $2.5 billion pipeline would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia.
PERRY ANNOUNCES NEW FUNDS FOR FRACKING: The Energy Department announced Wednesday that it is giving $30 million each to six projects to conduct research and development on new ways of fracking for oil and natural gas.
The projects, selected under the Office of Fossil Energy’s Advanced Technology Solutions for Unconventional Oil and Gas Development, will address “critical gaps in our understanding of reservoir behavior and optimal well-completion strategies, next-generation subsurface diagnostic technologies, and advanced offshore technologies,” the department said.
DOMINION TO BUY TROUBLED SOUTH CAROLINA UTILITY AFTER FAILED NUCLEAR PROJECT: Virginia-based Dominion Energy said Wednesday it will buy Scana Corp. for $14.6 billion in a deal that includes rate cuts and partial refunds for customers of the South Carolina utility for a failed nuclear project in the state.
The average customer of Scana’s South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. subsidiary would receive a $1,000 refund and save $7 a month on bills if the deal wins approval from company shareholders, and state and federal regulators, the Post and Courier reported.
Customers still on the hook: But the sale to Dominion, one of the largest utilities in the country, hinges on allowing Scana to continue receiving at least some payments from 700,000 customers for the two unfinished nuclear reactors that cost $9 billion.
Customers would pay about $20 a month on average for the reactors if the sale is approved by Scana and Dominion shareholders, the Federal Trade Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Utility commissions in North Carolina and Georgia also must approve the deal, because Scana also sells natural gas in those states.
Nuclear blast: Last July, South Carolina utilities announced it would cancel the plan for the unfinished V.C. Summer nuclear reactors because of cost overruns after Westinghouse, the designer of the reactors, went bankrupt.
EPA TOUTS PROGRESS ON CLEANUP OF SEVEN SUPERFUND SITES: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that the agency has removed all or parts of seven Superfund sites from the National Priorities List, which includes locations that most urgently need cleanup of toxic chemicals.
Completed cleanup: The EPA says three sites have been completely removed from the priority list, meaning the agency says no further cleanup is needed at them.
Not quite there: EPA also designated four sites as “partially completed,” where progress has been made, but cleanup efforts are continuing.
Stacking up: Pruitt said he has made more progress on cleanups than predecessor Gina McCarthy did last year. The EPA says the agency removed one full site from the priority list in 2016 and portions of another.
But the EPA in previous years achieved similar or higher cleanup records. The EPA removed seven sites from the priority list in 2015, 15 sites in 2014 and 12 sites in 2013.
More than 1,300 Superfund sites exist nationwide.
Wall Street Journal As Trump weighs new tariffs, imports of washers and solar panels jump
Bloomberg Oil's famous five: people who could define the market in 2018
Associated Press U.S. coal mining deaths surge in 2017 after hitting record low
New York Times China, moving to cut emissions, halts production of 500 car models
Reuters More than half of new Norway car sales now electric or hybrid
New Yorker A floating house to resist the floods of climate change
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 3
2 p.m., teleconference. The Federalist Society hosts a call to discuss the Clean Power Plan. With the comment period closing on Jan. 16 on the administration’s plan to scrap the climate rule, the call will discuss a number of important legal and policy questions.
SUNDAY, JAN. 7
All day, Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Transportation Research Board holds its 97th Annual Meeting, Jan. 7–11, where the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is planning to issue a new report on how roads contribute to climate change. A number of sessions and workshops will focus on the spotlight theme for the 2018 meeting: “Transportation: Moving the Economy of the Future.”
MONDAY, JAN. 8
TUESDAY, JAN. 9
Noon, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. The American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard delivers the 2018 “State of American Energy” event, previewing the U.S. oil and natural gas industry’s top priorities for the year ahead.