RBN Energy: how the nuclear meltdown will help US natural gas producers.
The U.S. nuclear power sector is facing its biggest crisis in years, with an increasing number of nuclear units being retired for economic reasons and the four new units now under construction in the Southeast facing possible cancellation. Bad news for the nuclear sector is good news for owners and developers of natural gas-fired power plants — and, of course, for natural gas producers — because gas plants are a primary alternative to nuclear in providing reliable, around-the-clock power. Gas plants also are a go-to choice for supporting intermittently available renewable sources like wind and solar. Today we review the woes facing the nuclear sector, efforts by some states to prop it up with subsidies, and the strong economic/environmental case for ramping up gas-fired generation.Summary:
If you add up the five nuclear units that have been retired in the past five years, the six slated for retirement by 2025 and the 12 others whose fate hangs in the balance, you’re talking 23,000 MW of nuclear capacity that would need to be replaced to a significant degree by gas-fired units. A 1,200-MW combined-cycle plant operating only 70% of the time consumes about 175 MMcf/d of natural gas; at that rate, 19 of those plants (for a total of 22,800 MW) would consume more than 3 Bcf/d — not a gas-market game changer, by any means, given that U.S. gas production tops 72 Bcf/d, but another boost in demand for gas producers, especially in the Marcellus and Utica plays, which are closest to where most of the retirements have been taking place.
Even without the latest round of possible nuclear-unit retirements, about 15,000 MW of new gas-fired generating capacity is expected to come online in the PJM region (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and parts of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois) alone over the next 36 months (consuming approximately 2 Bcf/d when they’re all up and running), and that’s on top of the more than 8,000 MW added there in the past two years.