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Leaving nuclear behind for solar and batteries

Mar 23, 2023 09:46AM ● By Alisha Copfer

Sometimes the most cost effective way is to avoid following the trend. On that note, Morgan City has recently pulled out of the Carbon Free Power Project. Morgan City Manager Ty Bailey said the decision to opt out wasn’t just about the rising cost. “It’s more about having other alternatives. That’s a big project, and up to this point, we haven’t seen other alternatives.”

However, Bailey also said the city has been recently looking into using solar power and battery options. “Our view, as a whole, is just getting the lowest price with a reliable source for our residents,” he said. This is one of the reasons why the city felt that waiting for the 10-year nuclear project to come to fruition wasn’t feasible for the city.

The Carbon Free Power Project is a research and development initiative led by the Idaho National Laboratory to develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear energy technologies that provide reliable and carbon-free electricity. This project focuses on two main technologies: the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor and the Molten Salt Reactor. These particular reactors are designed to be safer and more efficient than others. They can operate at higher temperatures, which makes them ideal for producing hydrogen for fuel in transportation and other applications.

While the nuclear option may be beneficial for a larger city, Morgan is only on a six-megawatt system, and only half a megawatt is needed from any additional power source. “We can’t do both because there would be too much power with nowhere to use it,” said Bailey. He likened the power structure to either a road or water system. “The power is continually flowing, like a river, but only has so much capacity,” he said. 

A city power grid is a complex network of power plants, transformers, transmission lines, distribution lines and substations that work together to deliver electricity to homes, businesses and other facilities. Pacific Corp owns the transmission lines in Morgan, and there are distribution companies that pull from the grid to distribute the power to homes. “A behind-the-meter battery would offset the demand, so we’re not pulling so much from this grid,” said Bailey.

As power is only available as it is being generated, the city needs to explore ways on how to store it. This is where the solar fields and batteries would come into play. Bailey said the city is currently evaluating property in Morgan and studying it for use for these power options. The city is pursuing grant money from the Department of Energy, the USDA and the Inflation Reduction Act to help fund the sites for these power sources.

The Inflation Reduction Act changed so there is federal money available for communities under 10,000 people to upgrade their power, and that helps cover the upfront costs. “We can do it on a grant instead of just on rates,” Bailey said. “As most of the cost of power sites is the capital in building them, if we get help building, we don’t have to pay it back and can forward those savings onto our residents.”

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