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Roundtable: The Future Of Generation

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2004

next generation of nuclear power in the United States. As a matter of science, we can't afford not to continue the research toward building a better nuclear power plant. It is cleaner than any fossil methods and can produce huge amounts of power from relatively small stations. Therefore it can be located near load centers.

But a big impediment today is terrorism. Nuclear power faces a conundrum. Can we overcome the NIMBY and disposal issues in an era of terrorism?

Young, Exelon: The nuclear power industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to respond to homeland security concerns. A lot of that is being borne on the backs of ratepayers, but not for plants that aren't in a regulated structure. That eats into the margin of a non-regulated generator.

Fortnightly: In the near- and mid-term future, gas and coal seem likely to remain our most important fuels. What will happen to prices for gas and coal, as power demand grows?

Buehler, Energy Investors Funds: A ridiculously high percentage of what's been built in the past several years is gas-fired. It's a depleting resource, and is in shorter supply than coal. Over the next several years, we will see a rededication to building larger coal-fired power plants. They will be more environmentally benign than old coal plants, and will help alleviate the need for instant sourcing of gas.

On the gas side, you will see more dollars invested in importing LNG and in gas transportation and storage. You'll see increasing pressure on Congress to open up the east face of the Rockies to drilling.

Hunt, Global Energy Advisers: Coal prices traditionally have been much more stable and less volatile than gas prices have been. We've seen a fair amount of consolidation in the coal mining business, and that certainly has led to firming up of coal prices.

But coal reserves are abundant. We have something like 250 billion tons of coal in the United States, which is 200 years of supply at today's production levels. We are not running out of coal, but coal prices are high and are likely to remain high because of production levels.

We are seeing coal prices being pegged to gas prices. They tend to move more in tandem than they did in the past. The coal guys are trying to play in that market more effectively than they have in the past, when coal prices were tied to long-term contracts and you didn't have price volatility associated with them.

Young, Exelon: Looking into the future, international economic drivers-especially involving China and India-will have a tremendous impact on what we are seeing in oil prices, and increasingly that will affect our gas prices as well. It's no secret we are starting to stretch our gas resource and transportation. Siting LNG regasification facilities will be troublesome from an environmental and security standpoint. All those things will have an impact.

Fortnightly: What technology developments will be most instrumental in the future of power generation?

Learner, Environmental Law & Policy Center: The big winners will be renewables and energy efficiency.