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California Offshore Wind

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I recently posted a two-part series on offshore wind. In that series I focused on the U.S. East-coast states with political support for offshore wind and active offshore wind projects. I also indicated that there were no active projects on the U.S. West Coast. Although that is still basically true, there is quite a bit of early-stage activity on the California coast. This post reviews that activity, and possible barriers to future development.

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John Benson's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 10, 2019 4:07 pm GMT

John, the board at Trident Winds is licking its chops at getting Diablo Canyon (nuclear) Power Plant shut down. Then, it can misappropriate the plant's 500kV DC tie to California's electricity backbone, with the goal of replacing Diablo's clean, 24/7 generation with a clean/dirty mix of unpredictable generation. And somehow, make a lot more money.

Ain't gonna happen, though. Those maps provided by NREL, a federal agency whose employees are paid  "to promote renewable energy", carry no weight in the grand scheme of things. In that scheme, priority #1 is national defense.

Forget the fact the "Morro Bay Wind Project" will support its wind turbines using 300 heavy steel cables to the ocean floor, obstructing the migration route of the California Gray Whale (I'm sure Trident and NREL view any dead whales a justifiable sacrifice at the altar of renewable energy). The U.S. Navy and Air Force have determined that wind turbines on the horizon obstruct early warning radar.

You might have a globe in the house - like me, you're old enough. If so, take a tape measure and stretch it from Pyongyang to Los Angeles, and you'll find it bisects Trident's proposed wind project. Military planners will never allow cannabis-inspired renewables idealists to blindfold the radar protecting 28 million people in Los Angeles County from a North Korean missile attack.

Ain't gonna happen.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 10, 2019 9:36 pm GMT

Those maps provided by NREL, a federal agency whose employees are paid  "to promote renewable energy", carry no weight in the grand scheme of things. In that scheme, priority #1 is national defense.

Can you expand on this, Bob-- obviously NREL as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is studying renewables, as that's their job, but they are a DOE-run lab. They are not independently dictated to promote renewable energy, but rather be the national lab who researches and evaluates technologies and science relevant to the renewable industry. But they are a part of DOE, much like the Office of Fossil Energy is. They are not in competition, they are part of the same system of national science and research. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 12, 2019 6:47 pm GMT

Matt, scientists at NREL are paid to "advance the science and engineering of...renewable power technologies." That's their mission.

If an NREL study was to support offshore wind poses a safety hazard (as studies already have shown), some people could lose their jobs, couldn't they? It's a potential conflict of interest, and it's the same way I'd judge advocacy from the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy.

Bob Wallace's picture
Bob Wallace on Sep 11, 2019 3:36 am GMT

(An offshore wind farm) can misappropriate the plant's 500kV DC tie to California's electricity backbone, with the goal of replacing Diablo's clean, 24/7 generation with a clean/dirty mix of unpredictable generation

An interesting take.  Diablo Canyon is being closed for economic reasons.  It is reaching the end of the period during which it can compete on the energy market.  The grid connection is there.  Would it make more sense to rip it out and build a new transmission line somewhere along the coast for wind farms?  Hard to see how that would make sense.

We're shutting down steam plants because they just are no longer economically viable.  An old coal plant or nuclear park might make an excellent solar farm or battery storage facility.  The site wouldn't have to be restored to the level needed to allow it to be used for residences, saving a lot of money.  And the grid connection is available for a second use.

Reuse.  Recycle.  Makes sense to me.





Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 11, 2019 1:18 pm GMT

And the grid connection is available for a second use.

Reuse.  Recycle.  Makes sense to me.

This is a prudent point, and one that is used in a variety of utility-level projects. From coal plants being retrofitted into alternative fuels to take advantage of existing connections to the economic benefit of putting a marginal amount of floating solar in the reservoir of hydro plants because the connection already exists, this type of action certainly makes economic sense to factor in. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 12, 2019 7:47 pm GMT

And yours even more interesting, Bob. Diablo Canyon generates electricity at a marginal cost of 2.7¢/kWh - cheaper than all other forms of dispatchable energy - so there is no way you can tell me Diablo Canyon isn't "economical" (PG&E sells the same electricity for an average residential price of 20.3¢/kWh). And when you write it's "reaching the end of the period during which it can compete on the energy market", you have it exactly backwards - all capital costs on the plant will be paid off by 2024, after which it would be even more economical.

But renewables advocates typically confuse "profitability" with "economy" (they confuse a lot of other things, but that's beside the point). Diablo Canyon is both economical and profitable, but it's not as profitable as generating electricity with gas. Why? PG&E's rates include the cost of the fuel it uses to generate electricity, but not at the cost they pay for it. The company charges a markup - a non-competitive, self-established price - and customers have no choice but to pay it. That scam, the same one used over a hundred years ago, was banned for seventy years until 2005 when the ban was repealed. It's worth $billions to companies like PG&E and Sempra, and it's the primary reason for nuclear plant shutdowns in the last decade.

Now, with decoupled electricity markets the only real money in electricity is in selling fuel, and nuclear needs so little fuel to make so much electricity there's very little money to be made on it. Nuclear is not uneconomical but too economical, and though your desire to reward fossil fuel interests is noted, I think most people who care about the environmnent would object.

Bob Wallace's picture
Bob Wallace on Sep 13, 2019 8:06 pm GMT

Bob M., I'm sure you know that in order to continue operation Diablo would incur costs which would make its cost greater than 2.7 cents.  And Diablo can't survive in a market at 2.7 cents when new wind and solar are moving below that price point.

As well I'm sure you know that if we actually used nuclear reactors as dispatchable generators then their cost per kWh would rise.  As a reminder, cost of electricity = total cost to generate / total amount generated.  Cut the amount generated and cost per unit generated increased.  

Plus, reactors are worthless in terms of disptactable generators that can be turned on and off in a reasonable amount of time.

You are correct that the cost of fuel for a nuclear reactor is very slight.  About $0.007/kWh more than the cost of energy for wind and solar.  But the plant and operating the plant costs are not cheap.  Paid off single reactor nuclear plants are not surviving in today's electricity market.  And as multiple reactor plants age the cost of repairs will start taking out those more efficient plants.

France has already reached that point with most of their reactors.  France will start closing reactors and replacing them with renewables as soon as they finish closing their fairly small coal fleet.

It's absolutely foolish to try to argue that building new reactors, using any known and proven technology, makes sense.  Even the nuclear industry says it isn't.

Unless there is some new way to turn radioactivity into steam in a much, much more affordable way nuclear is simply slip sliding away.




John Benson's picture
John Benson on Sep 10, 2019 6:44 pm GMT

Hi Bob, thanks for the comment.

I made a bet with myself that you would comment on the proposal by SLO governmental officials to extend the sunset of Diablo Canyon. Although I don't believe this is realistic (I considered putting it in this post), I would actually support this. The plan involves selling Diablo Canyon to an investor for a large amount of money to help PG&E with its bankruptcy. Even if they could find an investor that was willing to overlook the potential liability of a middle-aged Gen 2 reactor, a non-supportive government and the San Andreas fault about 50 miles to the east, This would end up just being another can of worms that the courts will need to deal with.

Next week's post will be on some 2019 news on wildfires, and PG&E is a main actor. Their bankruptcy is a really big mess.

Regarding the Navy, I believe the above map is their second drawing of their preferred exclusion zone, and this expanded this considerably from the first to the second. I expect that they Navy will be i bit more tolerant of wind turbines if the next federal administration is more in synch with California's.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 12, 2019 8:36 pm GMT

John, did you win the bet with yourself (even if the house takes a profit, it seems you'd wind up even)?

Glad you support it, I actually played a bit part in getting it on the floor. Sponsor Jordan Cunningham has an undergraduate degree in physics, and though he's a Republican and forced by the state's overwhelming majority of Democrats to be open to renewable energy, he's passionate about supporting Diablo Canyon (true, the plant is in his district, but he honestly believes shutting it down would be a tremendous waste of resources). To your points:

• Not sure what potential liability you see a forty-year old Gen 2 reactor might pose, but it's comparable to that of a forty-year old human. If it's maintained meticulously and upgraded regularly (it is), it's well-capable of lasting 80 years or longer.

• The seismicity of land under Diablo Canyon has been studied more than any other parcel of land in the country - and on tours I've seen the copious structural reinforcements of reactor containment buildings. Former engineers at the plant tell me the two safest places in California. when the "Big One" hits, will be in the turbine rooms at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre (during the 1989 6.9 Loma Prieta quake Diablo Canyon never stopped generating electricity).

• Everyone agrees PG&E's bankruptcy is a big mess. You might want to check out, a three-part TV series, which reveals PG&E's undue influence peddling with our Governor. Gavin Newsom has faced political repercussions for attempting to foist PG&E's bailout on ratepayers with a late-hour bill (AB 1054) passed over the July 4 weekend, but sale of the plant, with $1 billion going to fire victims and $5 billion in decommissioning costs avoided, would be a win-win-win.

Diablo Canyon turbine rotors being replaced (2010)

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