Texas’ uncertain nuclear future

Sometimes I forget that Texas has nuclear plants.

By the standards of the U.S. nuclear energy industry, Texas’s two nuclear plants are fairly new. Neither one is more than three decades old, while many nuclear sites across the country are nearing the five-decade mark.

But as the economics of nuclear power in this country continue to slide, even the futures of the South Texas Project, near Bay City, and Comanche Peak, located 60 miles southwest of Dallas, are far from certain.

When Manan Ahuja, senior director of North American power at the research arm of credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, recently updated his firm’s list of nuclear plants at risk of closing, he listed both Texas plants at “moderate” risk of closing as early as 2030 – despite the fact that NRG Energy recently renewed its operating license for the South Texas Project for another 20 years.

Ahuja explained that while the plants were “of a much more recent vintage,” low power prices in Texas and state regulators’ policy of not paying plants for their ability to ease power shortages at times of high demand or for generating carbon-free energy – like other states have done – left the two facilities vulnerable.

“It’s a game of chicken. Do you sit around and wait for those high prices, which could happen this summer because there’s been some (coal plant) retirements,” he said. “The prices are fairly weak, even in a fairly hot July last summer.”

Both NRG and Vistra Energy, which operates Comanche Peak, maintain the plants are economic and have no plans to close them.

“Given Comanche Peak is one of the youngest plants in the country, significant decisions on license renewal are a few years away, but the plant is currently well-positioned, and we have no plans to close the it prematurely,” a Vistra spokesman said in an email.

The situation in Texas mirrors one states across the country are grappling with, as nuclear power plants face increased pressure to reduce costs to compete with a surge of cheap natural gas and increasingly efficient wind turbines and solar plants.

I don’t know how serious that threat is, but it’s worth at least thinking about. I’ve always been of the opinion that nuclear power needs to be in the mix, as it is not carbon-generating, but it is surprisingly expensive and of course there are other risks associated with these plants. Given how prices for wind and solar are falling, and the vast potential for both in Texas, I would not advocate more nuclear power here, but neither do I want to see these existing plants mothballed or underused before their time. Whatever we can do to burn less coal is a good thing.

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16 Responses to Texas’ uncertain nuclear future

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    ” I’ve always been of the opinion that nuclear power needs to be in the mix….”

    Fully agree, Kuff. Competition is good for the consumer. We should be figuring out how to make it easier for electricity generators to build, expand, and renovate plants, not celebrating when they shut down. Inexpensive, reliable power is the backbone of our economy, and more generally, the backbone of our country.

  2. C.L. says:

    Trick is, selling a $10B nuclear plant to the taxpayers of Texas. For $10B, you could cover most of Real County (pop. 3,500) with solar panels and not have to worry about a Three Mile Island-type disaster.

  3. Bill Daniels says:


    What time does my TV go out when the sun goes down?

    Solar makes sense as peaker capacity in the Summer but not as the thing you depend on to do the heavy lifting day after day, season after season.

  4. C.L. says:

    Bill, me thinks you’ve never heard of batteries – that’s what keeps your lights on if you’re fully vested in solar power and the sun sets.

  5. GT says:

    Every battery site eventually end up on the EPA toxic Superfund list.
    Actually Comanche Peak is very competitive with the cheapest power sources available in Texas. Eliminate taxpayer subsidies of “green” sources, and nuclear beats them hands down.
    As for covering your county with solar panels, good luck. What is their lifespan? What is their efficiency? How many square miles would you need to cover to equate to a single nuke site? Each Comanche peak unit is rated for 1275 MW. We stay at 100% power for 18 months straight, shut down and refuel for a few weeks, then back at 100% power for 18 more months.

  6. Bill Daniels says:


    Get back at me when you have developed totally not harmful to the environment batteries capable of storing and pushing out the kind of power a power plant puts out. I realize you can buy a Tesla “power wall” or equivalent to power your home, but how about powering a whole city? How about powering even one aluminum smelting plant?

    Until then, here’s your nuclear, natural gas, and lignite plants, doing what they do, providing plentiful, AFFORDABLE, and reliable power. Note I’m not opposed to solar energy, I’d like to see it succeed. Heck, if it made economic sense, I’d put some panels on my roof.

    I just don’t want you folks to use the government to, as Obama promised, “necessarily make the cost of electricity skyrocket” and artificially raise the price of standard electricity generation so that solar is cheaper. Let the solar boys compete in the free market and win market share on price and quality (solving the battery problem so they can provide electricity at night.)

  7. Manny says:

    Bill you caring about the environment is like believing that you will vote for the Democrat running for president, next November 2020.

    There is more than one way to store electricity from a grid.


  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Hey Manny:

    Think these ‘new’ Americans care about the environment any more than I do? Probably not, but you embrace them and curse me. What gives?


    spoiler: It’s a pic of the federales escorting busloads of economic migrants and other bad hombres through MX on their way to the US to all speak the magic word, ‘asylum.’

    Manny, do you think they give a crap about clean energy, recycling, climate change, or any other environmental stuff you weep about?

  9. Manny says:

    Bill you have one thing in common with your god (Trump) a propensity to engage in the art of fibbing.

    I don’t embrace people that come here without proper documentation, I just extremely dislike people that use names to refer to people that look like me and my family.

    But you forgot to address the real part of the my statement, that goes to show the ignorant that grid electricity is not stored in batteries. Something you brought up that was either a lie or was an ignorant statement.

  10. Bill Daniels says:


    Your Wiki article about various hypothetical energy storage methods, like using electricity to push loaded train cars up hill, then releasing the kinetic energy by letting gravity roll them back down hill to generate grid power was interesting, but…..not practical, nor practiced.

    I am pro all forms of energy, including solar, but we have to face facts….until you have practical and practiced energy storage, solar is an extra, not the go to power source.

  11. Manny says:

    Bill they thought that machines flying was not practical at one point.

    1000 leagues beneath the sea and submarines were fantasy.

    Never under estimate the ability of man, we were going to run out of food world wide 30 years ago.

  12. Bill Daniels says:


    Here’s an example I think you can relate to. George Bush cancelled the space shuttle program, but had nothing ready to replace it, so we’ve been paying big bucks to the Russians (Russian collusion?) to ferry our astronauts into space. We shouldn’t have canceled the shuttle until we had something ready to go to replace it.

    Likewise, we shouldn’t be clamoring to shut down coal and nuke plants until we already have their replacements built. And personally, I don’t think replacing them with more expensive, less reliable power generation plants is an improvement. If we are replacing them, we need to replace them with plants that are more efficient, that pump out cheaper power that is just as reliable.

  13. Manny says:

    Bill China is making electric vehicles mandatory, India ditto, our world is changing it must. Either that or a world wide world war that wipes out majority of the human race.

  14. JimthePE says:

    You conveniently ignore pumped hydro storage. There’s already 180 GWh on line, and a recent study identified potential sites for another 22 TWh.

  15. JimthePE says:

    Saying we shouldn’t build new nuclear power plants based on problems with decades-old designs is like saying automobiles should be banned because the Corvair was unsafe.

    Learning from, correcting flaws and improving on previous designs is an integral part of engineering.

    A large party of the reason we ended up with the plant designs of the past is the Defense Department wanted plutonium. Without that, other types of reactors are possible, like thorium molten salt or breeder reactors, which produce much more manageable waste.

    Full disclosure: my father’s job building STP payed for my attendance at T.U. with our esteemed host.

  16. JimthePE says:

    Funny story. A ship docked at our local port a few years ago. It was prohibited from offloading its cargo because it was too radioactive. It was carrying coal plant ash. That stuff is nasty.

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