BPU briefed on LANL’s energy needs

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By Arin McKenna

At its Feb. 17 meeting, Andrew Erickson, division leader for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s utilities and infrastructure division, updated the Los Alamos Board of Public Utilities on some factors that could influence the renewal of the Electric Coordination Agreement in 2025.
The Electric Coordination Agreement has been in effect since 1985.
“Both NNSA and the laboratory and the county have partnered very strongly over the last 40 years to provide what in our view has been a stable, cost effective resource for the laboratory and for the community at large,” Erickson said.
According to Erickson, the county provides many of the resources and market access to the electric system, while the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the laboratory provide the transmission resources and access to the bulk electric grid.
The agreement to date has been a cost-sharing arrangement, with LANL using approximately 80 percent of the energy and paying that percentage of the costs. Debt service for county-owned generating facilities has been included in those costs.
That could all change in the future.
Department of Public Utilities Manager Tim Glasco has informed the board that in early negotiations on a new contract, NNSA and the Department of Energy (DOE) seem to be migrating away from holding joint resources with the county.
Erickson did not directly address that possibility in his presentation, and when board member Andrew Fraser asked whether the lab planned to purchase generating capacity from the county in the future, Erickson skirted around the issue. He acknowledged that the “relationship provides a good cost effective and stable power supply for the laboratory and for the community,” but added that he could not speak directly to Fraser’s question.
Erickson’s presentation did raise some questions about the future of the agreement that the Los Alamos Monitor raised with DPU Deputy Utility Manager for Power Production Steve Cummins.
LANL is anticipating future missions will be “computationally intensive” and is also forecasting growth in accelerator operations, two areas with high-energy demands. Although the lab is committed to increasing efficiency and reducing energy requirements, overall electrical utilization is forecasted to rise nominally 40 percent over the next 10 years.
When asked if the county had the capacity to supply such an increase, Cummins replied that the department also plans 10 years out, regularly updating its Power Supply Study to assess how it can meet those future demands.
Cummins also noted that not all the projects LANL pursues are approved, and that the lab’s success at reducing their energy demands has also significantly impacted past projections.
“I’ve been here going on nine years now and I don’t think we’ve every hit their projections,” Cummins said. However, BPU keeps those projections on their radar screen in order to be prepared to meet whatever the demands are.  
Another DOE goal – to reduce greenhouse gases for direct on-site and electrical purchases by 50 percent by 2025 – adds another element to the mix.
According to Erickson, LANL is meeting those targets. In 2015, the lab reduced its green house gas emissions by 19 percent, mainly through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).
“Last year we purchased about 105,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy credits to meet those greenhouse gas goals,” Erickson said.
According to Cummins, LANL is currently getting 30 percent of its RECs from the Abiquiu generating station, which earns the lab double credits for being situated on federal land.
LANL is also finding ways to reduce onsite energy usage, through means such as upgrading energy inefficient facilities.
“We’re actively investing in several areas to reduce our overall energy usage onsite, and that helps us make sure that the electricity that’s onsite is being used for the mission needs of the laboratory,” Erickson said.
At the end of the last fiscal year, energy intensity in the general facility portfolio was down 16 percent compared to baseline figures in 2003. The lab’s overall energy usage has been reduced by six percent since 2003.
“So the laboratory has made a lot of progress in improving the sustainability of its operations and reducing our energy and water consumption,” Erickson said.
According to Erickson’s report, the lab is “evaluating a full range of options for future supply,” including various approaches to purchasing less carbon-intensive electricity in order to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
“We have been exploring several options in cooperation with Tim and his staff, to continue the cooperation with the county Department of Public Utilities to look at what the available resources are that could be used to source a less carbon intensive electrical environment for the laboratory,” Erickson said.
Cummins noted some avenues DPU is exploring to help meet those needs.
“So, for example, if we get out of San Juan in 2022 and replace it with gas, that’s 40 percent of our power today. That’s reduced by 50 percent in greenhouse gases,” Cummins said.
Another option under consideration is buying into a small modular nuclear reactor at Idaho National Laboratory. However, Cummins pointed out some of the issues with moving forward with that project.
“The laboratory doesn’t feel like they can sign on to a 40-year contract. Currently, they don’t have that authority. They can do a 10-year,” Cummins said. “But the county – and rightfully so – doesn’t want to go out on a 40-year limb, with a debt service to serve the laboratory’s load, and put all that risk and liability on this small community of 18,000 people if the laboratory didn’t renew in the future.
“So those are the challenges we have in trying to figure out how we can do this again. The councilors and the board members and the lab folks 30 years ago found a way to do it, and I guess the risk was acceptable.”
Both Glasco and Cummins believe the Energy Coordination agreement will continue in some form in the future.
“But when it comes to power resources, we might bring our own resources to the table,” Cummins said.
Erickson acknowledged that the historic success of the Electric Coordination Agreement will influence what LANL decides to do in the future.
“When we think about the overall portfolio of assets that you bring together to produce the electrical supply for the laboratory and for the community, we think that the historical nature of the relationship we’ve had with the county over the past 40 years has shown over the long period that having a blend of owned assets and market resources provides a stable way to provide electricity for the laboratory and the community,” Erickson said. “And we think that shows a way for the future that provides good stability financially and also reduces market risk.”