Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Dion should have pushed nuclear in Calgary

This isn't a follow up to Thursday's post but rather to Far and Wide's entry about Stephane Dion's speech on energy in Alberta during the week. I was posting in response to another comment by someone called "Sceptical Environmental":
Answer me this: if Dion were sincere in wanting us to use less gas, why did he vote against California-style mandatory emissions standards last year? Dion also said his solution to climate change in the oil sands is to have nukes power the whole thing. Who says this guy's an environmentalist??
Dion said the absolute opposite - that while energy generation is a provincial matter, he does not believe nuclear is a viable option. I disagree. Given the size of the comment my disagreement seemed to be generating, I opted to move it here.

Please note at this point - I believe in aggressive conservation, supply management and innovations like Deep Lake Cooling but this is a province where peak demand has grown 20% or 1646MW in the four years from 2001-05 due to the oil sands but also to inward migration. Treading water would be a superb achievement at this point. Putting multiple small baseload reactors in Alberta would
  • remove the need to use fossil fuels to produce heat for bitumen extraction and processing
  • facilitate electrification of high speed intercity, freight and commuter rail and the expansion of existing urban light rail in the Calgary-Edmonton-Fort Mac corridor
  • backstop the Alberta wind power industry which will be limited by the need to provide reserve balancing power, which displacing base load gas generators to reserve would provide
  • co-fund the next generation of reactors with Ontario to lower both provinces costs
  • kill existing plans to expand or add coal generation and close all existing coal generators
  • sell low-GHG power into the interconnectors to MT, SK and particularly BC grids, given Gordon Campbell's insane rush to coal
  • reduce or reverse Alberta's energy deficit (net electricity imports about $125m in 2005 alone)
Alberta Generating Capacity [MW]
Coal 5,840; Gas 4,335; Hydro 900; Wind 287; Biomass 183; Fuel Oil 12 - Subtotal 11,557
Planned expansions include: 170MW bitumen in Fort Mac, 30MW + 160MW coal plant upgrades, 900MW coal in Luscar, 450MW coal at Keephills No.3.

Coal is the primary enemy - in addition to carbon dioxide, conventional power stations release mercury, radioisotopes, particulates and sulphur oxides, and despite "clean-coal" promises the same kind of coal plants keep being built. If I were Dion I would advocate building six or seven 700MW ACRs and maybe an 1200MW or two and if really ambitious some SLOWPOKE-3s in the 2-10MW range for distributed power. By using Canadian uranium and using AECL designs adding to Canada's national energy deficit is avoided.

If you don't want to throw the Alberta coal miners out of work (though more for the impact on their communities than the lack of labour opportunities elsewhere in the province) but don't want to send the product to China to end up as a beige-stained cloud on the Pacific Ocean jetstream heading back towards Canada, use the reactors to power syngas processes. This would produce SNG or low-sulphur diesel out of the coal but without releasing the radioisotopes, sulphur and mercury from burning it.

In addition to producing nuclear energy such stations should facilitate other energy options such as wind and solar power, biogas/waste-to-energy, pumped storage and so on to leverage grid connections and provide peak load capacity.

Dion is going to have to face facts - he can oppose nuclear power and fail utterly or he can follow the lead of ex-Greenpeace founder and president and now hated apostate Patrick Moore and realise that while it would be nice to wake up one morning to find the world powered by deuterium-tritium or (p + 11B) fusion or better still vacuum energy that we can't leave things as they are.

No matter what people say in surveys, they answer more truthfully in their purchases of 50" plasma screen TVs. Even with conservation of residential and industrial power, the electrification and expansion of public transit and railfreight and the Liberal policy of 1% immigration per annum will continue to increase net power requirement even as residential per capita use drops. Simply pushing up electricity pricing tends to impact disproportionately on low income communities housed in ageing facilities where electricity is both ambient heat and water heat.

The long term goal should be a fully interconnected National Electricity Grid where provinces with abundant hydro and wind and with the money to invest in nuclear, displace both coal and baseload gas, from other Canadian provinces but also the US, whose coal plants are also expanding and whose exhaust also tracks over Canada.
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