IES 2016 Highlights

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Energy Summit 2016 Audio File Collection

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National Public Radio host Steve Curwood told attendees at the Intermountain Energy Summit on Wednesday that climate change is about to become a “runaway reaction.”

The “Living on Earth” host urged the 250 power executives and researchers in the room to prioritize zero-carbon energy sources — though he stopped short of endorsing nuclear energy as part of the solution.

“We have to realize we don’t have any time to mess around,” Curwood said. “The one thing that needs to be added to this is urgency.”

He was not the only one to address climate change and possible energy solutions to the problem Wednesday. Top U.S. Department of Energy officials and even two Republican lawmakers — U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter — weighed in on the topic.

The two-day Idaho Falls summit organized by the Post Register ended Wednesday. This year’s theme was “Innovations and Opportunities in Clean Energy.”

In his morning speech, Curwood gave examples of the already-visible impacts of climate change: millions of acres of forest burned in Alaska, and rising sea levels threatening major American cities such as Boston and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He said there is a “vicious feedback loop” being created. Warming temperatures are causing the thawing of permafrost and ice. This releases previously frozen methane and carbon dioxide, which traps more heat in the atmosphere, he said.

“We’re rapidly losing the ability to reduce our emissions enough to stop this (climate change) juggernaut,” Curwood said, adding that scientific projections of global warming have often turned out to be overly conservative.

Curwood said traditional renewables such as wind and solar could make up the majority of the nation’s low-carbon energy solution — a position with which many of the conference’s pro-nuclear speakers and attendees disagree. He advocated for building more high-voltage transmission lines around the country to better transport clean energy where it’s needed.

In a speech largely focused on congressional budgeting, Simpson argued spending on climate change research and mitigation was necessary, but it needed to be focused only on certain agencies. Simpson is the chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I’m not a climate change denier,” Simpson said. “Climate change is happening. I happen to think climate change is real, and we need to do something about it.”

“Renewable energy is a part of our future; it’s a wise part of our future” Simpson said, adding that nuclear should be included with wind, solar and other energy sources that are considered renewable energy sources.

Otter also mentioned climate change. He said the planet is warming, but he would not acknowledge humans’ well-established role in the phenomenon.

“I remember when it was colder than a dead Eskimo,” Otter said of Idaho winters. “So yes, it’s changed.”

Otter then said Idaho could combat climate change by logging more trees, in order to thin out the forest and prevent wildfires that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He said thinning forests would also help the remaining trees defend themselves against pests.

The governor did not mention frequently cited research on how climate change itself is fueling larger and more frequent wildfires. Climate change is also contributing to growing bark beetle infestations, as the beetles survive through milder winters.

Emissions must be cut by 80 percent by 2050 to stabilize the effects of climate change, said David Friedman, DOE’s acting assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

He praised massive growth of wind and solar development in the U.S. in recent years as part of the solution. The big reason for growth, he said, was dropping prices for solar panels and other components.

“When it comes to clean energy in general, we’re just getting warmed up,” Friedman said of DOE.

But Friedman said more could be done to push renewable energy innovations more quickly from the research and development phase to the marketplace. Grid modernization should be another priority, he said, to help accommodate all the new renewable energy sources coming online.

“It’s not enough to focus on individual technologies in a piecemeal fashion,” Friedman said. “We’re going to need to think of all these technologies in a world of systems, so the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.”

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth


By LUKShellenbergerE RAMSETH
The seemingly bleak future for the U.S. nuclear industry was a key focus Tuesday at the Intermountain Energy Summit.

Experts noted older nuclear plants closing prematurely, and new ones facing expensive regulations. They lamented lingering public fears about safety, and the industry’s inability to shift the conversation toward nuclear’s benefits.

“There needs to be a revolution within the nuclear power industry,” said Michael Shellenberger, founder of two pro-nuclear environmental think tanks. “I don’t think the technology is going to survive without it.”

In its third year, the two-day energy summit kicked off Tuesday with speeches and discussion panels focused on nuclear energy and renewables such as wind and solar power. This year’s theme is “Innovations and Opportunities in Clean Energy.” The event is organized by the Post Register.

With his morning address, Shellenberger set the tone for the day. He mentioned recent nuclear plant closures in California, where wind and solar power have thrived in large part because they are included in state renewable energy standards.

“People are just afraid of it, they just don’t like it very much,” Shellenberger said. He mentioned polling that shows that nuclear is only more favorable than coal plants among the public.

But Shellenberger said it was all a “giant misunderstanding” about the dangers of nuclear power and the waste it produces. He said the industry has not focused on the right message — that nuclear produces large amounts of steady electricity while being carbon-free.

He said the nuclear industry needs to put a human face on the benefits of the technology, and generally take a “radically different form of engagement” with the public.

Others echoed Shellenberger’s concerns.

“It doesn’t make sense in the marketplace right now to build nuclear power,” said Maria Korsnick, chief operating officer for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Nuclear plants often don’t get state and federal financial incentives other renewable energy sources receive, she said. They also face mountains of expensive regulation through the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, officials noted.

Meanwhile, existing U.S. reactors are closing rapidly. Korsnick showed a list of 10 plants producing 12,000 megawatts that either closed recently or are scheduled to close. Many are facing economic challenges such as renewable energy competition and cheap natural gas plants.

Still, there were a few bright spots Tuesday.

NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems officials discussed progress on the small modular nuclear reactor proposed for eastern Idaho.

And Sen. Mike Crapo talked about legislation he recently co-sponsored that could assist private nuclear innovators and cut down on regulatory red tape.

Nuclear power in the U.S. may be struggling. But Crapo said it does have one unusual thing going for it: bipartisan support in Congress.

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth


Jackie and MikeBy LUKE RAMSETH
A Utah-based energy consortium has identified a “preferred site” to build a nuclear reactor west of Idaho Falls.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems CEO Doug Hunter said Tuesday the organization hopes to build the small modular reactor on a 35-acre plot of land south of the U.S. Highway 20 and 26 junction, on the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site.

Hunter gave an update on the Carbon Free Power Project at the Intermountain Energy Summit on Tuesday in Idaho Falls. He was joined by Idaho Falls Power General Manager Jackie Flowers and Mike McGough, chief commercial officer for NuScale Power, the company designing the reactor.

In February, DOE granted a site-use permit to UAMPS for the reactor, which allowed the organization to start examining properties on the 890-square-mile desert site. UAMPS identified four possible sites before publicly saying it had narrowed it down to one.

The property is about six miles southeast of the Lost River Rest Stop. Hunter said the location is ideal because it would not interfere with any Idaho National Laboratory facilities or research, and the geology is stable.

If successful, the first-of-its-kind power plant will include include a reactor building, turbine building, storage area for spent nuclear fuel, administration facilities and several other buildings surrounded by a fence.

Using 12 individual “power modules,” the plant could put out a maximum of roughly 570 megawatts, which is enough to power around 425,000 homes. Officials say fewer modules may be installed initially, with more added as electricity demand grows.

Idaho Falls Power is one of 45 community-owned utilities in the West that operate under the UAMPS umbrella, and would benefit from the reactor’s power production. Flowers said the city wants to use 10 megawatts from the plant.

“We once again find ourselves on the leading edge relating to new nuclear technology,” Flowers said of eastern Idaho.

The reason UAMPS is motivated to build the plant, Hunter said, is because it needs to add new sources of clean energy as its coal plants are forced to close in coming years, due to economic challenges and increased environmental regulation.

Officials say they hope the reactor’s first power module is up and running by summer 2024.

“That’s an important date for us, because that’s when our coal plants start shutting down,” Hunter said.

Two UAMPS coal plants in Utah, totaling 1,800 megawatts, will shut down in 2025, with more closures expected before the end of the decade, he said. He argued the cost of the nuclear plant can be “competitive” with natural gas facilities, which are popping up around the country as coal plants close.

There are still many federal environmental and Nuclear Regulatory Commission steps to navigate before the proposed site has final approval, Hunter said. Meanwhile, McGough said NuScale is nearly ready to submit its reactor design certification to the NRC, a review process that will take more than three years.

Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director for the watchdog group Snake River Alliance, said there are many questions about the project that still need to be answered. She said more specifics are needed on water rights for the plant, as well as storage of the spent nuclear fuel.

She said she’s also curious how the financing will end up working out; the project is estimated to cost more than $3 billion. Its development has been partially funded by DOE grant dollars.

Images from the 2016 IES

Steve Curwood of National Public Radio's "Living on Earth" delivers the keynote speech Tuesday morning at the Intermountain Energy Summit at the Keefer's Island Convention Center inside the Shilo Inn.Steve Curwood of National Public Radio's "Living on Earth" delivers the keynote speech Tuesday morning at the Intermountain Energy Summit at the Keefer's Island Convention Center inside the Shilo Inn.

Steve Curwood of National Public Radio's "Living on Earth" delivers the keynote speech Tuesday morning at the Intermountain Energy Summit at the Keefer's Island Convention Center inside the Shilo Inn.

The Intermountain Energy Summit got underway Monday morning at the Keefer's Island Convention Center inside the Shilo Inn with keynote speaker Michael Shellenberger. , Camera NIKON CORPORATION NIKON D3S, Lens 17, Aperture 5.6, Shutter 1/50, ISO 3200,

The Intermountain Energy Summit got underway Monday morning at the Keefer's Island Convention Center inside the Shilo Inn with keynote speaker Michael Shellenberger. , Camera NIKON CORPORATION NIKON D3S, Lens 78, Aperture 2.8, Shutter 1/80, ISO 3200,