Texas talks nuclear as forecast calls for rolling blackouts

June 13, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear News

Texans are likely to experience intermittent power outages this summer, according to an analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Members of ERCOT, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT), and others from the energy industry spoke to the state’s House of Representatives’ Committee on State Affairs earlier this week. ERCOT’s newest report indicates a 16 percent chance of an electric grid emergency and a 12 percent chance of rolling blackouts in August—likely occurring on nights when there is low wind power production.

PUCT commissioner Jimmy Glotfelty, who heads its Texas Advanced Nuclear Reactor Working Group, brought up nuclear energy at the hearing and said, “The time for new policy and financial investment by state leaders in nuclear is now.”

State studying: The advanced reactor working group formed in 2023 at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott. The team has been tasked with delivering a plan and recommendations to Abbott on or before Dec. 1, 2024, about the future of nuclear in Texas.

To maximize power grid reliability, the group will study the state’s role in deploying and using advanced reactors, consider financial incentives available, identify any changes needed in the ERCOT market or the state and federal regulatory landscape, and analyze how Texas can streamline permitting for advanced reactors.

Building support: Glotfelty said it’s important for lawmakers and industry partners to study and make recommendations about nuclear in Texas ahead of the 2025 legislative session starting in January, which is why his group hopes to provide a plan to the governor well ahead of the December deadline.

“There’s a huge amount of momentum behind us,” he said. “When you hear both Republicans and Democrats talking about nuclear, and you have a budget surplus . . . all of those things are positive.”

Project potential: Texas currently has two large nuclear plants—Commanche Peak and South Texas Project—four units that supplied just over 9 percent of the state’s power last year. Glotfelty said it would be great to have another large-scale nuclear plant in Texas, but he is ready to support whichever projects make the most economic sense for the state.

Small units are also planned for the state. Dow Chemical and X-energy are targeting a cluster of small modular reactors to support Dow’s manufacturing site in Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. At Abeline Christian University, about 200 miles west of Dallas, Natura Resources plans to install a test reactor using molten-salt cooling. Texas A&M University in College Station also runs a research reactor.

“Every time we turn around there’s another discussion happening” about new nuclear, Glotfelty said. “That’s what makes it exciting . . . and why the legislature should strike while the iron is hot.”

Supply chain: Glotfelty added that the manufacturing and supply chain in Texas is ripe for nuclear projects, especially small designs. “Fabrication in Texas is what makes us king,” he said. “We fabricate steel structures all the time for oil and gas and we do it in a modular format.”

Minus the nuclear island portion, Glotfelty said that SMR plant designs aren’t much different than a $5 billion offshore oil rig, which Texas manufacturers produce in pieces and assemble later.

“So we can optimize that and I think we could provide a real benefit on cost reduction for the industry and perhaps the world,” he said.

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