The cost of power from a small nuclear reactor — viewed by Montana lawmakers and utility commissioners as a potential lifeline for the Colstrip power plant — has nearly doubled, according to reports from early adopters in Utah and Idaho.
Once projected to cost up to $58 per megawatt-hour, energy from the small modular reactor being developed by Oregon-based NuScale Power and utility partners is now expected to be closer to 100 MWh, significantly higher than anything customers are currently paid in the basic tariffs of the Montana energy supplier.
Bear Prairie, general manager of Idaho Falls Power, told the Idaho Falls City Council on Nov. 10 that the cost does not look very good and would likely exceed the 58 MWh price agreed upon by the participating utilities. Prairie told the council that federal subsidies were already burned into the inflated price. He pointed out that the participating utilities could end the project.
Two other communities had similar discussions. All are members of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, which has partnered with NuScale on the Carbon Free Power Project, whose goal is to build six small modular reactors to replace available power from fossil fuel sources.
Diane Hughes, NuScale’s vice president of marketing and communications, said in an email Monday that construction costs were to blame.
“From wind and solar power to hydrogen and nuclear power, there have been price increases due to a changing financial market and inflationary pressures on the energy supply chain that have not been seen in more than 40 years. and addressing these challenges, which are also faced by other similar technologies and generation options,” said Hughes.
Elected officials in Montana have eyed the development of small modular reactors for a number of years. Republican lawmakers in 2021 overturned a 44-year-old law that requires a public vote of approval before nuclear plants can be built in the state. The legislature also commissioned a study by the Interim Committee on Energy and Telecoms to examine the possibility of small modular reactors. From the beginning, the suggestion was that a nuclear reactor could replace the surviving two units at Colstrip, Units 3 and 4, in southeast Montana.
No energy company, including Colstrip’s six current owners, has publicly expressed interest in investing in nuclear power in Montana, but politicians have been adamant on the issue. Just Tuesday, Montana Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson commented on “the potential that the small modular nuclear weapons offer to Montana, particularly in the area of potential 3 and 4 retrofits to bring this deployable generation to the state and region.” to obtain.”
Members of the Interim Committee on Energy and Telecommunications traveled to Idaho to tour reactors at the Idaho Nuclear Laboratory near Idaho Falls. In September, an ETIC bill creating a Montana Nuclear Advisory Board fell through after consumer-focused lawmakers changed safeguards in the proposal to ensure Montans didn’t have to foot the bill for unexpected costs.
The nuclear legislature’s main supporter, Republican Senator Terry Gauthier of Helena, resigned just before Thanksgiving, telling the Helena Independent Record that he would be going on a two-month motorcycle tour next March.
Earlier this year, economist David Schlissel, director of resource planning and analysis at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told lawmakers that new-era small modular reactors are likely to be just as vulnerable to cost overruns as the large nuclear reactors of 50 years earlier. He confirmed this assessment in an interview last week.
“What I have been saying to people is that no one should be under the illusion that this will be the last cost increase on the project. It could take seven, eight years to complete,” said Schlissel, who reckons that within eight years, the development of more efficient batteries will provide a more affordable source of viable energy than nuclear power.
“The problem with nuclear weapons is that they are so expensive and you have to commit to them now to have them in 10 years. Nobody should tell you with a straight face that the cost of nuclear weapons is going down.”
On Tuesday, Utility Dive magazine reported that the Nuclear Energy Commission had identified several challenging, significant issues with the design of NuScale’s small modular reactor. Federal officials said it did not receive enough information from NuScale to evaluate the reactor’s core design.