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Changing the Fuel Mix: Time for a Nuclear Rescue?

Gas-fired power is king today, but fuel diversity needs and new technologies may open the door for nuclear and coal.
Fortnightly Magazine - September 1 2002

Also, almost 70 percent of capacity coming online are fueled by natural gas combi ned-cycle plants.

But Burt points to signs of a slowing industry that began in the summer of 2001. "Since June 2001, research conducted by Industrialinfo.com has identified over eight hundred power units at 275 new an d existing plants that have been canceled or delayed." He says it represents 114,254 megawatts of cap acity that was scheduled for completion through 2010. Mirant, Reliant, NRG Energy, and Calpine are s ome of the major developers to announce delays or cancellations. "Many experts agree that a great num ber of these units will be required over the next two decades to replace capacity from units schedule d for retirement and to meet the projected growth in electricity demand," he says.

On July 11, 2002, Energy Venture Analysis, Inc. (EVA) of Arlington, Virginia, selected by the Nort h American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) to help track construction, released a report, "Tracki ng the Boom of New Power Plants in the U.S.," which finds the plant construction industry in the midst of a downturn. The report finds the industry in a "bust" cycle, despite construction or development i n the second quarter of 2002 of a total of 241,000 megawatts of new gas-fired capacity, with 7,000 m egawatts that began operating in that same quarter. Over the 1998 to 2007 time period, 335,000 megaw atts of capacity either began operating or will be under development.

EVA found that further cancellations and/or delays will occur as the year advances, so that only 294,000 megawatts of the industry's planned capacity will be built. "The bust phase has, to date, mai nly affected the long lead time activities such as engineering services and turbine orders," said Mic hael Schall, EVA senior analyst. But he added that "the level of construction activity can be expecte d to decline significantly over the next several quarters, as projects currently under construction a re completed at a faster rate than ground is broken at new sites."

  1. Restructured Electricity Markets, Three States' Experience in Adding Generating Capacity, May 20 02., available on the GAO's Web site, http://www.gao.gov.

Here Comes Coal It's cheap and it's abundant, but can it overcome the environmental hurdles?

Despite bad press over dirty emissions, coal is not easy to dismiss in the energy planning mix, s ince it supplies over 50 percent of the nation's electricity. An expected increase in demand for electr icity, combined with little baseload generating plant added in the last twenty years, finds the power in dustry looking with renewed interest toward coal-based generation. Bolstered by advances in technology t hat reduce emissions, and by the Bush administration's energy plan that includes $2 billion for clean co al research over the next 20 years, coal is making inroads in the planning process.

But while coal-fired plants operate at relatively low costs, they tend to be older plants. It rema ins to be seen whether the costs of technologies aimed at reducing emissions will make coal-fired pla nts less competitive. The Environmental Protection