St. George looks to reduce dependency on coal by increasing natural gas, nuclear power use

St. George marches toward a greener energy mix. Although this wind farm is operating in Southern Wyoming, Utah does supplement some of its energy mix from wind generation. Carbon County, Wyoming, June 20, 2014 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Over the next decade, customers who receive their energy from the city of St. George will see the municipality move away from the consumption of coal and start seeing a larger percentage coming from renewable energy and potentially nuclear power.

The city is not alone in its move to using more renewable energy. Twenty cities and municipalities across Utah recently vowed to become 100% green powered by 2030.

The commitments came from Park City, Salt Lake City, Moab, Summit County, Cottonwood Heights, Holladay, Salt Lake County, Oakley, Kearns, Kamas, Millcreek, Francis, Ogden, Grand County, Orem, West Jordan, Springdale, Alta, Coalville and West Valley City.

Although not part of this compact, St. George has a 10-year master plan that will move its energy customers away from a predominantly coal-based energy mix and more toward renewable energy, Laurie Mangum, energy services director, said.

“In 2019, the city’s energy mix came from 25% coal, 10% hydroelectric, 40% natural gas, 20% energy purchased on the open market and 2% solar,” Mangum said.

This mix represents megawatt energy consumption during peak hours of consumer use.

During the coming decade St. George will take measures to cut its ties to coal-powered energy. St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2020 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

Looking out to 2029, the city expects the mix to be 0% coal, 10% hydroelectric, 32% natural gas, 25% market and 13% renewables, Mangum said.

“The difference between us and everyone else is there are 200 megawatts of peak demand during the summer and 100 megawatts during winter, so we only use natural gas during the peak hours in the summer,” she said. “So, we have decided to use natural gas during summer rather than using coal.”

Mangum added there are plans to bring on more solar energy by 2023.

Forty megawatts of the city’s power will come from solar generation in three years, representing 50% of the winter peak usage.

“The other part will still come from hydro and a little bit from the market,” Mangun said. “We are moving toward getting rid of coal during the winter months. The rest of the year we will be pretty sustainable on solar, hydro and purchases made on the market.”

Another future prospect for St. George’s energy is purchasing power from a new generation of nuclear reactors proposed under a U.S. Department of Energy license with Oregon-based NuScale Power.

NuScale’s nuclear power plant, located at the Idaho National Laboratory, could provide power to the members of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) including St. George.

UAMPS is a public power agency that provides electricity at wholesale costs to more than 40 community-owned electric utilities in the Intermountain West.

It provides a variety of power supply commodities, transmission delivery and other services to its members throughout six Western states including Utah.

Although St. George, along with other municipalities in Washinton County, are participating members, the city is not yet contracted to be a part of the NuScale Power Plant project.

“This might be our go-to product in 2030,” Mangum said. “We could enter into a power-purchase agreement in the future to cover all of our bases.”

The project would consist of the construction of up to 12 small modular reactors. In total, the reactors would produce 720 megawatts of energy or enough to power more than 600,000 homes.

The $4 billion project is expected to provide commercial energy by 2026-27.

Artist’s rendering of a suite of five NuScale small reactors when constructed would power many communities across the Intermountain West. Rendering courtesy of NuScale Power

The cities of Enterprise, Hurricane, Santa Clara and Washington have joined the NuScale project.

“As we work with our members and their power needs, long-term into the future they will have greater needs as they grow,” UAMPS Spokesperson LaVarr Webb said.

This nuclear power option is nothing like the mega plants of the past, Webb added, such as Three Mile Island and San Onofre in California.

“Our members mostly want their power to be carbon-free,” Webb said. “Our focus has been achieving this goal … along with providing a diverse mix of energy sources including wind, solar, natural gas and nuclear.”

One of the benefits of the NuScale nuclear technology is that it provides an always-on baseload power supply, unlike solar that depends on the sun to shine and wind to blow. NuScale also provides load flowing capability, where output can be adjusted to support supply upon demand.

“As we look to the needs of our customers, and after many years of analysis, we determined the NuScale project could provide a good source of power,” Webb said. “Small modular nuclear reactors make better sense. This is an entirely different type of reactor than the gigantic reactors that currently exist.”

Because of its limited footprint, and combining an array of small multiple reactors, it is much safer and more cost-efficient than their larger reactor cousins which require more than $20 billion to construct.

“These small modular reactors have inherent safety features so that if a disaster happened they would not require any human intervention or outside electricity,” Webb said. “They would be able to cool down using natural convection processes.”

Because the reactors are placed in a pool of circulating water they are “dramatically” safer than any existing nuclear reactor in the World, he added.

Cities and municipalities across Utah have pledged to go 100% renewable energy by 2030. St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2020 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

Similar nuclear reactors are already a proven technology, Webb said, powering U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers.

“This is a new generation nuclear reactor,” Webb said. “It’s much cleaner, much safer and much cheaper than anything that has come before. This technology will provide a really important part of the mix of energy consumption.”

Although promising, energy experts say the major stumbling blocks to expanding renewable energy sources, including a nuclear option, is developing better and more efficient battery storage and the construction and upgrades to transmission lines, especially for what is known as the “last mile” or getting energy to individual neighborhoods and home.

St. George Mayor Jon Pike said although the city will sit on the sidelines in the short term of joining the NuScale project, an agreement with UAMPS to purchase nuclear power may someday become a reality.

“We don’t want to be owners, but that doesn’t mean we can’t buy into receiving energy from this project,” Pike said. “Let’s let them work on the development and it may be something in the future we totally buy into it to add to our energy mix.”

Regardless of buying nuclear power, Pike said he is confident with the city’s current direction to supply its customers with energy.

“I think we are going in a really good direction to move away from coal,” Pike said. “You have to have a good energy mix of sources and I believe we do. I am excited to see the (NuScale project) develop. It is one of those things you analyze before you jump into the effort. We have decided it’s fairly expensive, so for right now we will watch closely what happens in Idaho.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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