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U.S. May Never Need More Nuclear, Coal Plants, FERC Head Says

Apr 22, 2009 - Tim Seeley - Bloomberg

The U.S. may never need to build new nuclear or coal-fired power plants because renewable energy and improved efficiency can meet future power demand, the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said.

"They're too expensive,"Jon Wellinghoff told reporters today at a press conference in Washington hosted by the U.S. Energy Association. "The last price I saw for a nuke was north of $7,000 a kilowatt. That's more expensive than a solar system."

Wellinghoff, a Democrat, was appointed chairman by President Barack Obama last month. He has served on the commission since 2006.

Southern Co. and Dominion Resources Inc. are among companies that have submitted applications to U.S. nuclear regulators seeking permission to build as many as 26 new reactors. There are also plans for as many as 87 new coal-fired plants, according to a report this month by the U.S. Energy Department.

"Coal plants are sort of in the same boat," Wellinghoff said. NV Energy Inc. in his home state of Nevada canceled plans to build a coal plant there when costs grew too high, he said.

"There's 500 to 700 gigawatts of developable wind throughout the Midwest," he said, and "enough solar in the southwest, as we all know, to power the entire country. It's a matter of being able to move it to loads."

Demand reductions and electricity storage could offset the intermittent nature of wind and solar, he said. The U.S. currently has generating capacity of about 800 gigawatts, Wellinghoff said.

There is also "at least 100 gigawatts" of hydropower, not including offshore projects that use wave and tides to generate electricity, said Wellinghoff.

Natural gas power plants will continue to be needed to help bridge the transition to renewable power, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tina Seeley in Washington at tseeley@bloomberg.net.


Updated: 2003/07/28