Energy Northwest considering new small modular nuclear reactor to help meet clean energy goals in Washington

Energy Northwest

RICHLAND, Wash. — The Pacific Northwest needs more – and varied – electricity sources to maintain reliability and achieve a carbon-free system by 2045, according to a recent Energy Northwest study.

The study was prepared by Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), a San Francisco-based consulting group.

“With the recent Washington clean energy legislation we felt the need to follow up on previous studies and look at all the options on the table,” said Greg Cullen, general manager of Energy Services and Development at Energy Northwest.

Governor Inslee’s Clean Energy Transformation Act sets the state of Washington on a path toward 100% clean energy by 2045. Meanwhile, Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station – the state’s third-largest producer of electricity – is set to be decommissioned in 2043.

Energy Northwest is a utility agency comprised of 27 public utilities districts and municipalities across the state. In addition to the Columbia Generating Station, Energy Northwest oversees wind, hydroelectric and solar power facilities.

“Renewables are a very good source of energy, but we don’t control when they’re on and when they’re off,” said Cullen. “In order to be successful in meeting a carbon-constrained energy portfolio, we need firm, clean generation resources that can pair well with renewables.”

Along with looking into extending the license of the Columbia Generating Station past 2043, the study presented the possibility of adding a small modular nuclear reactor.

“Small modular reactors can be a very cost effective part of a clean energy portfolio because of the ability to turn them off and on, to be flexible, to ramp up and down in power, but do that without emitting carbon,” said Cullen.

By definition, a small modular nuclear reactor provides about 300-MW or less of power. One of the designs Energy Northwest is considering could provide up to 700-MW – about half of what the Columbia Generating Station currently provides. Possible sites include land near the Columbia Generating Station as well as other locations around the state and region.

A feasibility study is now underway into the possible addition of a small reactor, along with stakeholder outreach and engagement. The goal is to have a more firm idea of cost and an estimated schedule by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, Energy Northwest also broke ground on a new solar and battery project. The Horn Rapids Solar, Storage & Training Project project will provide enough energy to power 600 Richland homes combined with a 1-MW battery energy storage system that can provide energy to 150 homes for four hours.

Construction of the project is expected to be finished this summer.