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Rick Mills – “How stupid is BC’s Energy Policy? We Could be the Saudi Arabia of Electricity for the Price of One $16-billion Site C Dam”

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Rick Mills – “How stupid is BC’s Energy Policy? We Could be the Saudi Arabia of Electricity for the Price of One $16-billion Site C Dam”

 

 

 

 

In British Columbia, the cost of building a Site C, a massive hydroelectric dam on the Peace River, is now estimated at CAD$16 billion, following numerous cost overruns.

 

 

BC taxpayers will also cough up $5.3 billion worth of tax breaks for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and pipeline called LNG Canada — three more LNG projects are proposed, all connected by pipelines, to ship natural gas fracked from BC gas fields to customers in Asia.

 

Source: British Columbia Energy Regulator

 

Shell’s LNG Canada includes two processing trains, with room to add two more. The first two trains would have capacity for 6.5 million tonnes of LNG per annum, with four trains producing 26Mtpa. As of July 2023, the project was 85% complete.

 

The estimated cost is $42 billion, making it the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.

 

That’s $58 billion for Site C and LNG Canada put together.

 

NB’s plans for nuclear energy

 

 

Meanwhile in New Brunswick, the provincial government is working with two private-sector companies, ARC Clean Technologies and Moltex Energy, to progress small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technology in the Maritime province.

 

New Brunswick has committed $20 million for ARC Energy and $10 million for Moltex Energy Canada. The latter has also received $50.5 million from the federal government, for a total of ~$60 million.

 

NB Power plans to build and operate the ARC SMR on the Lepreau Peninsula, west of the existing Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. According to NB PowerThe ARC SMR is a modular, sodium-cooled fast reactor that will generate at least 100 megawatts of electricity for the electrical grid. The unit is expected to connect to the New Brunswick grid in 2030 and operate for 60 years.

 

 

Meanwhile, Moltex Energy’s proposed Stable Salt Reactor-Wasterburner (SSR-U), also to be located at Point Lepreau, would generate 300 megawatts of electricity. It’s not expected to be running by 2030, although the company states that it has completed the Vendor Design Review phase 1 (VDR1) with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and will soon move on to VDR2 and then to the application for the necessary licences.

 

 

“The Moltex stable salt reactor technology is a perfect fit for New Brunswick’s power needs,” Moltex CEO Stephen Haighton said in a press release. “It uses spent nuclear fuel, which could help solve the province’s future spent-fuel disposal challenge. It is a physically small modular reactor but is able to store energy, so can double or triple its output at peak demand times during the day. Most importantly, the stable salt reactor technology produces very low-cost, clean energy and can reduce the cost of electricity to consumers while achieving low-carbon targets.”

According to Thorium Energy World, SSR technology is able to store grid-scale energy, allowing the power plant to output peak power to the grid for several hours, at three times the reactor’s power, during periods of peak demand.

 

 

In a technical paper, Moltex says A typical site contains several individual reactors, each with the thermal power of 40MW. As an example, an array of 32 units may be deployed in combination with the thermal storage facility (Grid Reserve) to deliver 512 MWe of reactors supporting a 1.5 GWe x 8 hours/day electricity peaking plant. 

 

Drawing of Moltex’s SSR-U reactor. Source: Moltex Clean Energy

 

The SSR reactor generates power through convection, from static vertical tubes in the core, to convey heat to the steam generators.

Unlike conventional nuclear reactors, under Moltex’s design, SSR reactors do not need expensive containment structures. They are also safer, because they do not contain harmful gaseous by-products like caesium-137 and iodine-131, which escaped during the Chernobyl accident. Instead, the reactors contain non-volatile salts, which cannot leave the reactor.

 

 

The reactor core is composed of modules with 10 rows of 10 fuel assemblies, sitting in a tank of coolant salt. Each fuel assembly contains nearly 400 thin fuel tubes, just 10-mm in diameter. A key point about SSRs is their portability; a 1,200-megawatt reactor could fit on the back of a truck, according to Moltex.

 

 

The fuel is composed of two-thirds sodium chloride (table salt) and one third plutonium (spent uranium fuel) with mixed lanthanide/actinide trichlorides. This is another advantage of an SSR versus a water-cooled reactor. Instead of burying the spent nuclear fuel deep underground until its radioactivity levels are considered safe, the reactor burns plutonium — thus providing a feedstock for spent nuclear fuel and therefore a solution for dealing with spent nuclear waste that would otherwise have to be stored underground for thousands of years.

 

Thorium World states that the SSR-Wasteburner leaves radioactive waste that has a half-life of 300 versus 300,000 years. According to Moltex, SSR designs include a uranium burner (SSR-U) that would burn low-enriched uranium, and a thorium breeder (SSR-Th) which contains thorium in the coolant salt that can breed new fuel.

 

SSR-U versus Site C

 

 

A compelling argument can be made for the relatively inexpensive nuclear technology being developed by Moltex, versus the colossal BC government boondoggle that is the Site C hydroelectric dam.

 

Consider the following calculations, done by yours truly.

 

It’s costing $16 billion to build Site C, and the turbines aren’t spinning yet so it will most likely be more than that. Site C has a power generation capacity of 1200 megawatts (MW).

 

Moltex’s Stable Salt Reactor-Wasteburner (SSR-U) would produce 300 megawatts of electricity. It’s costing New Brunswick and Ottawa $60 million to develop the SSR-U, expected to be up and running sometime after 2030.

 

To compare Site C to SSR-U, we need to know the cost per megawatt.

 

During its first phase, LNG Canada will likely use 40% of the power produced by Site C. If the consortium goes ahead with Phase 2, it will consume 80% of the dam’s power. So Site C takes 40% of 1200MW= 480MW. This leaves 720MW for the rest of the province. $16 billion buys us, the taxpayers of BC, only 720 megawatts of electricity!

 

$16,000,000,000 divided by 720MW= $22,000,000 per megawatt.

 

How many megawatts of power would $16 billion buy New Brunswick, using small nuclear reactors?

 

Moltex is funded for $60 million, that’s the cost of a 300MW plant.

 

$60,000,000 divided by 300MW = $200,000 per megawatt. Versus $22,000,000 per megawatt for Site C!

 

Another way to look at it is to divide the $16 billion cost of Site C by the $60 million cost of Moltex. This gives us 266 SSR-U reactors. 266 plants multiplied by 300MW each gives us 79,800MW. In other words, for the $16 billion we are spending on Site C, we could have nearly 80,000MW of nuclear-powered electricity — the equivalent of 66 Site C dams!

 

BC’s energy supply can’t meet demand

 

 

Now consider that the province’s power provider, BC Hydro, is hemorrhaging cash due to an 18-month-long drought — it may be winter, but throughout the province, the amount of snow received thus far is well below normal. This will affect the amount of runoff that goes into the province’s reservoirs. Forecasters are already warning of another dry summer and active forest fire season.

 

This week, a report from an advocacy group, Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), said that BC’s electrical system in not ready to handle the ever-increasing demand for power, as the province sets ambitious targets for the shift from fossil-fueled transportation and energy generation.

 

Global News reported EFI saying that BC could become “at risk” for power generation as early as 2026. In fact the province last year was forced to import a record amount of power, some 10,000 gigawatt-hours, the equivalent of two Site C dams worth.

 

 

The organization is calling on the government to look at alternatives to hydro (how about nuclear?) to meet BC’s generation needs, states Global, adding the government has put out a call for more independent power producers to help alleviate some of the future demands.

 

“Where is the electricity going to come from? Relying on imports from our neighbors is a very risky proposition because they are facing their own challenges, they’re recording record growth in demand and their own systems are going to face questions going forward,” the TV news clip quotes Barry Penner, from Energy Futures Initiative, who noted it’s ironic that, while BC is moving away from natural gas generation, the province is importing energy from fossil-fuel sources. The situation is only going to get worse, as home heating electrification plus the increase in electric vehicles pushes demand past BC’s generation limits.

 

 

An earlier Global BC television interview had the program manager for Clean Energy Canada, Evan Pivnick, saying that Site C will only add about 9% to the electricity BC Hydro generates currently. Moreover, he said that BC Hydro is already predicting that we need “at least another Site C and a half before 2030 to meet demand, and there’s a good reason to think that even that might be underestimating just how much power demand could grow.”

 

 

At this point there should be a collective gasp. The first Site C is costing $16 billion, and it isn’t yet generating power. That isn’t supposed to happen until 2025. Now BC Hydro is saying we need another 1.5 Site Cs before the end of the decade. @ $16B each, and that’s a conservative estimate, given how much inflation has bumped up construction costs, we are talking at least another $24B, to generate only another 1,800 megawatts of power — a pittance, really.

 

 

Conclusion

 

 

The number of EVs on BC roads over the past six years has exploded by nearly 2,000%! Electricity demand is expected to increase by 15% between now and 2030.

 

By the time Site C is operational, it will already be obsolete; much more power is needed.

 

How are we going to get it? The answer should be nuclear. As we rapidly run out of electricity while demand for it surges, and the province continues to be ravaged by forest fires, floods and other manifestations of global warming that are costing billons of public funds, we had better start thinking like Ontario and New Brunswick.

 

Site C is a boondoggle. It was never going to be enough to meet our energy needs, especially with 40% of its power capacity going to turn fracked natural gas into LNG that is then shipped to Asia. The folly is we’re subsidizing energy in China while being stuck without the electricity needed, fooled by our smooth-talking politicians who carry out their touch-feely plans to go emissions-free.

 

The NDP says the LNG Canada project will bring in CAD$22 billion to BC’s coffers over 40 years.

 

We’re told US$10 million worth of gas per day will flow through the pipeline. That’s US$3.65B a year. Over 40 years, US$146.3B. The Site C dam is already costing CAD$16B, then add CAD$5.3B in tax breaks for the LNG project.

 

This is a terrible deal for British Columbians. Subtract a minimum $21.3B from $22B and we barely break even. And that’s just the financial side, the environmental side is an even bigger loser. We don’t get the electricity, instead we get polluted water and air, and we get dead killer whales and other dead cetaceans from all the extra tanker traffic.

 

BC’s LNG boondoggle continues to lack critics

 

 

We’re flooding perfectly good farmland (around 6,500 hectares) so the Lower Mainland has enough electricity to drive EVs. That isn’t green, and neither is the plan to develop a liquefied natural gas industry in northern BC.

 

 

If, instead of wasting $16 billion on Site C, the politicians would wake up to nuclear power, for that same $16B they could have 80,000 megawatts — the equivalent of 266 small nuclear reactor plants each generating 300MW, or roughly 66 Site C dams.

 

87% of BC’s power is generated by hydro, and dams provide roughly 16,000MW of capacity. But we don’t need to, nor should we, from an environmental/ food security perspective, dam any more rivers. Imagine if we took that $16B and built a small nuclear reactor in every small town in BC, and/or where the energy is most needed, such as in the large centers, in the energy-producing Peace River region or building mines and a smelter in BC’s Golden Triangle freeing US$4 trillion worth of stranded metals.

 

 

The futility of Site C is shown by one more statistic, and that is the amount of power consumed in British Columbia. In 2022, the province used 1,285 petajoules of end-use energy, which is the equivalent output of 70 Site C dams. Just one dam costing $16 billion will provide only 9% of the power BC Hydro generates, in fact it’s less than that, given that 40% of Site C is allocated to LNG Canada.

 

 

We’ve done the math, and the numbers are stupid. The obvious solution to BC’s power conundrum is nuclear. Too bad the politicians in Victoria can’t, or won’t, do simple arithmetic.

 

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Posted January 17, 2024

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