Puerto Rico - SMRs or Fossil Fuels?
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- Jun 3, 2020 11:41 pm GMT
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In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico reaches toward grid modernization with dueling proposals. Despite the previous scandal including shady contractors and the arrest of two FEMA officials, the island still needs a working infrastructure. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, (PREPA) is the island’s sole electric utility and is in dire need of repairs and restructure. New Fortress Energy (NFE) announced that it had been shortlisted by PREPA, to fill the gap left by damage to Costa Sur. For one year, NFE would supply the 500 MW worth of generating capacity that PREPA says they need temporarily. However, there is talk of this becoming a permanent purchasing agreement. At a cost of $70 million a month, it sounds steep but FEMA would be footing the bill. PREPA CEO, José Ortiz, has been in discussions with FEMA regarding a grid modernization plan. The island’s renewable energy goals are also being considered; 40% renewable energy generation by 2025, 60% renewables by 2040 and 100% renewables by 2050. Queremos Sol, a platform for clean energy development and climate justice, argues that new investments into fossil fuels would conflict with recommendations that Puerto Rico invest in rooftop and community solar and distributed microgrids. The organization believes these technologies would also fare better in earthquakes and hurricanes than centralized fossil-generated power. Battling for a seat at the table, nuclear supporters have encouraged the utility to consider SMRs and microreactors as a solution.
Last month, a study to evaluate the potential for nuclear power in Puerto Rico was completed by engineers working on the Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP). Key findings of the study show that residents need a steady baseload power plant to handle the demand rather than intermittent renewable sources like solar and wind. The group believes nuclear could complement the intermittency of renewables. The challenges of SMRs and micoreactors in PR are much like any other place, residents are skeptical. Public concerns, policy and engineering are the other challenges the study revealed. A survey of 3,000 residents found that 94% are interested in nuclear power as an option. Since the utility expects to retire 74% of its generation fleet in the next decade, researchers reviewed capacity and are confident that SMRs and microreactors can support the retirement of an ageing fleet.
After comparing the two, the study showed that the cost of delivery of SMRs and microreactors versus natural gas for mobile gas units are comparable and competitive. Further considerations must include installation costs, extreme weather, grid modernization, emission levels and which plan can be executed most effectively. Whispers of scandal aside, should Puerto Rico pursue nuclear energy over fossil fuels? What additional pros and cons are they facing?