Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Opportunities and Obstacles for nuclear in Alberta

The prospects for new nuclear reactors has been a hot topic this summer, particularly following Ontario’s announcements exploring new builds of large reactors and additional consideration of smaller (modular) reactors (SMRs). Ontario had been exploring SMR’s with other provinces, initially with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, and more recently Alberta joined the group. Alberta’s electricity mix last week became a second hot topic. The current Canadian government is also a topic as it threatens to force, "a net-zero electricity system by 2035."

This seems an appropriate time for me to revisit Alberta’s electricity system in search of a route to nuclear power in that province.

Alberta’s electricity system underwent radical changes since I wrote on a former government’s activities in 2017’s Alberta.Bound. In this post I’ll concentrate on data from the Alberta Electricity System Operator (AESO) in this post, mostly from their Annual Market Statistics data visualization which currently contains data from 2015 thru to June 2023. The AESO's data indicates rapidly declining potential for nuclear in the AESO’s market in recent years.

Alberta’s coal generators saw the wish for them to disappear grow for over a decade. In 2012 I wrote on the rapid opposition to federal regulations that would see emissions from new coal-power plants limited to something impossible with any operational technology, and a maximum lifespan of 50-years mandated, then, through emissions regulation, the goalpost essentially moved to 40 years within Alberta, and then a 2030 death data was mandated, and other generation sources incented. Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) of 2017 noted the, "drive toward the development of 30 per cent of electricity generation capacity from renewable sources connected to the grid by 2030." [emphasis added] While the CLP itself spoke of efforts to remove, "policy barriers of the conversion of coal units to natural gas," many of the people that set policy had already created an understanding that ,"Two-thirds of the coal-generating capacity (4200 MW) will be replaced by renewable energy, and one-third (2100 MW) by natural gas."

Summarizing the changes in generation capacity since 2016 by grouping fossil fueled generators together (gas, coal, dual fuel), “green” together (wind, solar and storage), displaying co-generation alone and lumping everything else in under “other” (including hydro), the decline in generating capacity of firm generators fueled by coal and/or gas is apparent, as is the, related, meteoric rise of “green” ones.