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By Russ Finley on Mar 3, 2015 with 20 responses

Turkey Point Power Station and its Ecosystem

Crocodile

Photo Credit Nina Finley

I recently took a trip to Florida, which is home to both the American alligator and the American crocodile.  Thanks to effective laws and effective enforcement of those laws, the alligator population has rebounded into the millions. They’re all over the place. In comparison, the crocodile population has rebounded from an estimated low of about two or three hundred to about 1,500. Crocodiles were never as common in North America as the cold-adapted alligator. The opposite is true in South America where there are no alligators. Click here to see a video I took several years ago of crocodiles in Costa Rica.

Part of the credit for the crocodile comeback can be given to the unique system for cooling at the Turkey Point power station (located in southern Florida) which uses well over 150 miles of winding cooling canals that look from a Google Earth perspective  like a giant green radiator.

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Turkey Point Cooling Canals

For reasons not entirely understood (and wholly unanticipated) crocodiles began seeking these canals to lay their eggs. Certainly, by laying their eggs inside the security perimeter of a power station the crocodiles don’t have to worry about poachers, or worse yet, real estate developers.

According to Florida Power and Light (FPL) roughly 90 percent of  their Turkey Point property is managed as habitat for endangered and threatened species (12 endangered and nine threatened). They have an on-staff crocodilian expert who monitors nesting sites and tags hatchlings before moving them to more suitable habitat.

Provision of inadvertent benefit to wildlife by thermal power plants is not unique to Turkey Point. The Big Bend power station in Apollo Beach has a manatee viewing center where visitors can see hundreds of manatees basking in the warm water discharge area during cold weather. According to the Defenders of Wildlife Blog, “Loss of warm-water habitat is a serious long-term threat to manatees.” These artificial warm springs that up to 60% of manatees now rely on for survival during cold spells are being used in place of the natural ones that have been lost to development.

Manatees

Manatees at Big Bend power station

Manatees Photo credit FWC via Flickr Creative Commons

Click here to see a very short video I took of a manatee surfacing for air.

The Turkey Point  power station was created at the beginning of the environmental movement, long before climate change was widely recognized as an issue. Protests prevented FPL from using Biscayne Bay as a source of cooling water. The cooling canals were built thanks to environmentalists wanting to protect the bay. However, the canals destroyed a lot of natural habitat and because their salt content has been climbing, they may be contributing to an underground  salt water plume threatening drinking water supplies.

The cheapest way to fix the salinity problem (as opposed to simply lining the canals)  is to freshen the canals up with some stored storm water drainage, but water managers are hoping to use that water to increase flow in the everglades and on and on. Had FPL been allowed to use the bay for cooling, would the result have simply been another artificial hot spring for manatees? You can’t rewind the experiment to find out.

Florida is a hot humid place. Cooling a thermal power plant can be challenging. Few people would choose to live in Florida without air conditioning and air conditioning uses a lot of electricity. In cooler parts of the world a thermal power station can use a modest sized pond for its cooling purposes.

I could see part of  the Turkey Point power station from across the bay. Click here to see a short video of what I saw. While researching this article I was surprised to find that it is ubiquitously referred to as the Turkey Point “Nuclear” power station, when in reality, most of its electricity is generated by fossil fuels.

A brief history of the Turkey Point power station:

1968: Construction completed on two steam turbines fueled with oil/natural gas (Units 1 and 2) and their associated black start diesel generators.

1973:  Two nuclear reactors were added, Units 3 and 4, along with 150 miles of cooling canals.

2002: Operating licenses were extended from forty to sixty years for Units 3 and 4.

2007:  Four combined cycle gas turbines were added along with a 24 cell cooling tower, Unit 5.

2013: Units 3 and 4 were uprated to provide an additional 250 MWs.

2014: Florida legislature approves construction of two more nuclear reactors and associated power equipment, Units 6 and 7.

2014: NRC grants request to increase cooling canal maximum operating temperatures from 100 to 104 degrees.

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Turkey Point Power Station

In the Google Earth screenshot above of the power station you can see that cooling for the four new gas turbines was accomplished by 24 giant fans in cooling towers which reduce the need for cooling in the canal.

To cool the steam produced by two more reactors FPL has an agreement with the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department to use treated municipal waste water. The treatment plant is located about 9 miles north of the power station. Normally, this waste water is simply dumped into the same bay that environmentalists were trying to protect from warm water from the power station in the early seventies. This source of cooling water will be backed up with a system of radial collector wells under the bay in case the municipal water should become temporarily unavailable. You can get more details here.

Most thermal power stations in Florida are located near bodies of water that are large enough to absorb their waste heat without problems. That was the original plan at Turkey Point as well.

When you consider the complexity and inefficiency of boiling water to make electricity, one can see the appeal of adding more solar panels to the grid to help reduce the number of thermal power stations in Florida. Not that they would be problem free. A stand-alone solar power station would usurp a huge amount of land per unit energy produced compared to a thermal plant. Rooftop solar would eliminate that problem but is still much more expensive than thermal power plants, as inefficient and complex as they are. I used the latest solar cost estimator released by the National Renewable Energy Lab to calculate the cost of rooftop solar for an average Florida home (sans subsidies) and found that at this point in time it would cost around $30 thousand more over the life of the panels than simply buying electricity off the grid.

In addition, large amounts of solar would require large amounts of investment in the grid to maximize the use of solar when the sun shines and take its place when the sun doesn’t. Solar can’t replace the thermal power plants, but it has the potential to help reduce overall fossil fuel consumption and its attendant environmental problems. Below is a shot I took of the solar hot water panels in the Everglades National park.

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 Below are a few pictures of some of the wildlife encountered on my trip.

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Photo Credit Nina Finley

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  1. By Food Chain on March 3, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Seems like a disaster waiting to happen in raising the design levels of an old reactor from 100 to 104 in temperature. Using sewage waste to cool these reactors presents more challenges. Coincidentally two of the main radiation detection sites no longer report from the south dade area and are offline.. I have screen shots when this area was higher in CPM compared to the rest of the country.

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    • By Russ Finley on March 4, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      Seems like a disaster waiting to happen in raising the design levels of an old reactor from 100 to 104 in temperature.

      Even the anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists and Citizens said that the increase would have little to no impact on safety margins.

      Using sewage waste to cool these reactors presents more challenges.

      Seems like a very environmentally friendly thing to do. The largest nuclear powerplant in the country uses municipal waste water for cooling.

      From the NEI:

      The concept of using wastewater to cool a thermal electric generating plant isn’t new—FPL and its parent NextEra use it for combined-cycle natural gas plants.

      However, the most extensive use—and first in the world for nuclear plants—is by Arizona Public Service, which has been using the process since the 1980s at its three-reactor Palo Verde site, the largest nuclear energy facility in the United States.

      Bob Lotts, water resource manager for APS, said that when the company began to consider building a nuclear plant in the middle of the desert in the late 1960s, it knew that pumping groundwater was not a viable option.

      “APS approached Phoenix city officials and asked if it could purchase the wastewater,” Lotts said. “Wastewater didn’t have any value to Phoenix, so they were quite amenable to the idea.”

      APS broke ground on Palo Verde in 1976 and began testing the wastewater treatment facility on the site in March 1982, about four years before the first reactor began commercial operations.

      Scroggs, who has known Lotts for years, said that FPL engineers had met with their Arizona counterparts in 2008.

      APS also said that the use of wastewater to cool Palo Verde gets high public approval, a reaction echoed by one of Florida’s leading environmentalists.

      Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, works on energy and water policy. He sees merit in FPL’s wastewater treatment project.

      “We don’t take a position for or against nuclear energy, but we favor the use of reclaimed wastewater for processing or cooling water at power plants [whatever] the fuel,” Draper said. “It is a good way to handle a troubling waste product and displaces the use of raw groundwater for cooling or processing.”

      Draper explained that Audubon works from a science-based and practical perspective to formulate policy and is interested in “solutions.” Using wastewater solely for drinking and irrigation isn’t feasible because the nutrient content is so high it adds nitrogen and phosphorus to the surface water.

      “So to have a power plant take treated wastewater, treat it additionally and use it for cooling or process water, keeps it from being a waste product and offsets other use of groundwater,” Draper said. “As a policy we favor the approach that water is a valuable product, and coming up with a creative solution for power plants is a good idea.”

      Scroggs added that once Turkey Point 6 and 7 are operational, the wastewater treatment facility will cool not only the new reactors but also the combined-cycle natural gas plant already operating on the site.

      The rest of your comment is unintelligible.

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      • By Food Chain on March 5, 2015 at 3:41 pm

        I’m about twenty miles away from turkey point. Are you familiar with the “tooth fairy project”? They did a study of baby teeth and found elevated levels of strontium 90 within the teeth of babies born within 10 miles of turkey point. Strontium is a bone seeker mimicking calcium. Strontium heightens the risk of leukemia And blood disorders. Regarding using waste water to cool reactors. If the waste water goes through the 160 miles of cooling canals I imagine some of the waste could be picked up by wind and storms and could seep back into the aquifer?

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        • By Forrest on March 5, 2015 at 5:42 pm

          Not much there with the tooth fairy science. Quite the fantasy science. I do know of strontium nuclear bomb fallout as my Dad had the rare blood disease. Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin had incidence of the cancer per Russian bomb testing activity during the 50′s. Westerly winds deposited the fallout in these states, northern regions. He was in late 70′s so not a horrible disease, especially since even within these regions rare. The nuclear contaminant is easy to detect in minuscule healthy quantities. Half life of the element is 28 years and bond up in calcium deposits such as teeth. The detection makes for good fear mongering for those opposed to nuclear energy, but the science pretty much useless otherwise.

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        • By Russ Finley on March 7, 2015 at 12:49 am

          They did a study of baby teeth and found elevated levels of strontium 90 within the teeth of babies born within 10 miles of turkey point.

          …riiiiight. http://www.nei.org/master-document-folder/backgrounders/fact-sheets/peer-reviewed-science-on-radiation-health-effects

          The waste water is cleaned first and is not used to cool the reactors. It is used to replace water lost in the cooling towers that condense steam for all of the power sources.

          As with all commercial reactors, radiation levels outside the containment domes are no higher than anywhere else.

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      • By Optimist on March 11, 2015 at 8:17 pm

        Well now.

        “It is a good way to handle a troubling waste product and displaces the use of raw groundwater for cooling or processing.”
        A troubling waste? Out here in the west we have a different name for treated wastewater: drinking water. Case in point: treated wastewater from Las Vegas goes into Lake Mead, which is also the source of Vegas’ drinking water. Giving a whole new meaning to the saying: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Once Vegas is done with that water, California can’t wait to get as much of it as possible.

        “Using wastewater solely for drinking and irrigation isn’t feasible because the nutrient content is so high it adds nitrogen and phosphorus to the surface water.”

        No and no. Using treated wastewater containing most of the nutrients (= nitrogen and phosphorus in this case; aka fertilizer) for irrigation could save the user (not to mention the environment) quite a bit by offsetting fertilizer requirements.

        The problem with discharging nutrients into water bodies is that it stimulates high levels of algal growth, which leads to algal death when the season changes and a corresponding depletion of dissolved oxygen, leading to the death of fish and other aquatic species. The phenomenon is known as eutrophication. See Lake Mead before ~2000 for more on that.

        Eutrophication can be easily avoided by designing wastewater treatment plants to achieve nutrient removal. See Lake Mead after 2000 for how well it works.

        Of course, large cities in Florida (and California and elsewhere) tends to give the wastewater as little treatment as possible before discharging it to the ocean (still considered by too many as the ultimate waste dump). Next, Mayor Clueless proposes to build a desalination plant, so that the city can spend the maximum on drinking water, while the mayor’s name is immortalized on a shiny plaque.

        But all is not lost: it is (slowly) dawning on City Hall that instead of dumping slightly used freshwater into the ocean, you can just treat to a higher level (at almost no additional cost) and reuse – yes, even as drinking water, as Windhoek, Namibia has been doing for 50 odd years. Good ideas spread slowly when politicians are involved…

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        • By Russ Finley on March 12, 2015 at 11:20 pm

          …true that.

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        • By Forrest on March 13, 2015 at 8:33 am

          How did they justify not lining channels with plastic? The water table is high and most likely easy to infiltrate. The heat transfer to earth is better with out plastic and maybe the waste would soon develop an organic mat barrier found in low oxygen underwater nutrient rich zones? If they ran into problems, a large portion of heat could be managed by absorption chiller. The water coming from turbine must be in the 300 deg f range and that would make for super efficient absorption cycle. But, the simplest and safest course of action to utilize ocean water.
          The high electric load for FL; they should utilize more absorption systems, especially if a CHP system. Even households can save money on the NG ICE powered compressor systems. Solar continues to invest in R&D in effort to drive absorption system. I could save energy money on NG absorption frig, but probably never be able to recoup investment. They are engineering absorption waste heat systems even with traditional AC units that pump up efficiency 20%.

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  2. By Forrest on March 4, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Interesting post! Michigan nuclear had similar experience as environmentalist claimed the heat dumped into Lake Michigan would destroy the ecosystem of lake. Contrary, the reality of extra heat has proven to be highly productive to lake ecosystem and fishery. Florida news a few days ago of manatees swimming up sewage pipe and getting stuck as they desperately seek warmer water may indicate some extra heat would be welcomed? I do think utilities will do what they have always done, that would be to put in place large power plants that can keep power generating cost down. That’s a good thing. However, utility companies can’t break out of this mold to invent a new business model for the micro-grid and independent small generator. They see them as wasteful competitors to their business model and operations. There is tremendous power generation available per the CHP power plant efficiency for most heat and power consumers. University campus operations have proven the low cost benefit of this technology for decades. The benefit to consumers and environment per this technology mostly goes to wayside as utilities mostly fight to quell the promotion. Around here utilities will quickly give discounts for power upon any such discussion. Even if losing money for the stomping out such solutions! I think the regulators should review the workload and cost that they inflict on this power sector. It would be best if they reinvent easy adaptation of the microgrid utility solution and minimize government red tape and liability. Micro brewery success may be an apt analogy. This sector could experience a renaissance of invention for combining power generation technologies and distribution. Balancing energy production and minimizing cost within small footprint and minimal environmental disturbance. Hot water, heating, A.C. and power generation all kept local. Within the same building, park, block, or neighborhood. This system would naturally adapt easy to customer future needs. Customers would be naturally be more sensitive to empower the cost effective solution. It would be easy to envision a bevy of small businesses running to the new market. Electronics, controllers, pipelines, power lines, maintenance, billing, and equipment manufactures.

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  3. By Forrest on March 14, 2015 at 5:28 am

    The compromise to environmentalist was to rip up 150 mile grid land mass, habitat to endangered species? This sounds like the typical strategy of mindless attack to inflict cost. They hate nuclear and wanted to inflict as much cost as possible to make the resource unattractive. Like the pipeline hostage taking, it makes no sense other than, the environmentalist has deemed the energy source evil and will utilize all means possible to sabotage the infrastructure to inflict cost and regulation. Then they can come back a latter day and state, I told you nuclear was to expensive. Likewise, they would never support coal fuel even if solving all environmental problems as they already have a solution in mind.
    Utilizing treated municipal waste water probably a good idea as the stream would have flowed to waterways. The 100 deg Turkey point water stream a low cost way to evaporate water. Lot of microbial activity within the stream cleaning up affluent as well. It would be more expensive, but some island states utilize man made bogs, wetlands, swamps, or everglade type water treatment. They plant the area with native plant life that has water cleaning ability i.e. reeds, lily pads, cattails, moss. Hotels can treat raw sewage to drinking water quality in a surprisingly small water mass. An attractive pond that is attractive to wildlife. Maybe the water mass could cool the nuclear process water as well? Develop a steamy, humid Amazon everglade infested with crocodiles and turtles. Yikes.

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    • By Forrest on March 14, 2015 at 5:51 am

      I was laughing at a environmental science show, that had long study on value of whale poop to ecosystem. It was miraculous the ecosystem and how developed to fuel up on this natural excrement. I wondered what they thought all aquatic life did in the water to relieve themselves? Also, would they ever acknowledge that man made poop could equally be effective? So, much CW within U.S. to clean up environment per purity standards of dainty beautiful nature and awful man. They envision the ecosystem crashing if additional .005% man made inert pure CO2 added to the mix. If minuscule heat added to water ways the dainty environment would suffer. I have heard many activist that claim to have been greatly influenced per childhood experience. At this formative illogical period of brain development emotional experience can have immense impact on personality. For instance intoxicant experience setting youth up for alcoholism. Abusive parenting and single parent gender care can inflict lifelong problems to kids. Believe it or not when some of these Environmentalist questioned of their first born instinct upon their destiny is was viewing Disney cartoons.

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  4. By Forrest on March 15, 2015 at 6:13 am

    To the solar cost portion, EIA just published subsidy cost per 2010 and 2013 for U.S. power production. Solar for 2013 sucked up close to $5.5 billion in taxpayer wealth. During that year production from solar was 8 GWh. The subsidy runs 69 cents per watt of power production. Wind calculated likewise about 4 cents per watt. Meanwhile renewable energy, hydro produces more than half of the total and does so with no subsidy or mandate, at the lowest cost denominator of all power production, and most of all produces the power upon the most desirable production schedule and storage. Could we produce more? Energy department claims so. With updated turbines, conversions to present water management dams, and construction per new environmental sensitive software we can double production. Maybe taxpayers wealth should have exploited this power source first? http://commonwealthmagazine.org/environment/001-subsidize-hydro/

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  5. By Jorge on July 29, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Interesting article. A lot of words but little useful information. I don’t know who your target audience is, so maybe I am missing something. There are a couple of really important facts that you left out. Turkey Point Power plant is constructed on the shoreline of Biscayne Bay, a National Park and a State of Florida Aquatic Preserve. To the west is Everglades National Park. It is the only power plant in the United States that is located between 2 National Parks. The Florida Keys and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are located just a bit south of the plant. It’s important to include these facts. You forgot to mention that it was a lawsuit by the EPA for violations of the Clean Water Act which was the driving force in changing how the discharge of the water was handled. The design of the cooling canals was created by the power company itself and the choice to save money and not line them was theirs. Since this is a uniquely designed system and there were concerns about the long term effects of it, a monitoring program was set up. At the time, it was the choice that was agreed to by both the power company and the regulators. I am not saying, in retrospect, that it was the best choice but no one had the perspective we have today, back then. About the crocodiles, a little follow up and research might be helpful. The hatchlings are being relocated because of contamination in the cooling canals. While the cooling canals served as a “habitat”, they are now so contaminated that the crocodile population is crashing going from around 20 nests last year to 5-6 this year. The older crocodiles are dying for lack of food. You see, all the fish are dying or dead from a problem that started in 2012 which required massive amounts of chemicals to try to get under control. I think that now is an excellent opportunity to do a little more research and write a follow-up article that presents the issues on a more level playing field. Come on down and see the real negative ecological effects that are occurring.

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    • By Russ Finley on July 30, 2015 at 11:56 pm

      Interesting article. A lot of words but little useful information. I don’t know who your target audience is, so maybe I am missing something.

      Define “little” and “useful” for me. I don’t have a target audience that I’m aware of. Who is your target audience? You certainly did miss a lot of things.

      There are a couple of really important facts that you left out.

      There are likely thousands of important facts I left out, as have you.

      Turkey Point Power plant is constructed on the shoreline of Biscayne Bay, a National Park and a State of Florida Aquatic Preserve. To the west is Everglades National Park. It is the only power plant in the United States that is located between 2 National Parks. The Florida Keys and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are located just a bit south of the plant. It’s important to include these facts.

      It was built almost half a century ago. I did mention Biscayne Bay and why it wasn’t used for cooling. I also mentioned that “the canals destroyed a lot of natural habitat” and “because their salt content has been climbing, they may be contributing to an underground salt water plume threatening drinking water supplies” and that “the cheapest way to fix the salinity problem (as opposed to simply lining the canals) is to freshen the canals up with some stored storm water drainage, but water managers are hoping to use that water to increase flow in the Everglades ” and on and on. Anyone with a burning desire for more detail than you and I provided can fire up Google maps.

      You forgot to mention that it was a lawsuit by the EPA for violations of the Clean Water Act which was the driving force in changing how the discharge of the water was handled.

      I don’t see why that is particularly relevant. You forgot I mentioned that “protests prevented FPL from using Biscayne Bay as a source of cooling water” and that “the cooling canals were built thanks to environmentalists wanting to protect the bay.” The environmentalists could have stayed home if it were a sure bet that the EPA would file the lawsuit without their pressure.

      The design of the cooling canals was created by the power company itself and the choice to save money and not line them was theirs.

      Protestors and the EPA don’t usually design and build thermal power plant cooling systems. I assumed they were designed by the power company. I suspect that lining the canals is still an option. What it would cost, I have no idea but certainly the utility only has to ask its regulator for a rate hike to cover it.

      About the crocodiles, a little follow up and research might be helpful. The hatchlings are being relocated because of contamination in the cooling canals. While the cooling canals served as a “habitat”, they are now so contaminated that the crocodile population is crashing …

      Although it’s true they tried (and largely failed) to control the algae growth with herbicides (as farmers do with weeds), the hatchlings have always been moved because, although the warm environs are great for incubating eggs, they are not a great habitat to grow up in.

      The older crocodiles are dying for lack of food. You see, all the fish are dying or dead from a problem that started in 2012 which required massive amounts of chemicals to try to get under control. I think that now is an excellent opportunity to do a little more research and write a follow-up article that presents the issues on a more level playing field. Come on down and see the real negative ecological effects that are occurring.

      I just spent a week in the Everglades. And you need to provide a few credible links to back up what you say above. Turkey Point is not a natural habitat. Other than inadvertently serving as a crocodile nursery, nature would be better off without it (or our roads, homes, boats etc) but I’m pretty sure few Floridians would give up their air conditioning to spare nature. Was there a more environmentally benign location for it nearly half a century ago? A little late to do anything about it now.

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    • By BarryMiami on August 15, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Please post sources for your points. Very important. Thanks

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  6. By BarryMiami on September 30, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Forget using treated waste water at Turkey Point. Too expensive to remove problematic
    nutrients. FPL will use seawater or water from the Floridan Aquifer if they ever do build those two carbuncles. And, FYI, you can do 8KW of solar installed with the current 30% federal credit for under $18,000, and as low as $13,000. Turkey Point should be turned back to nature and the grid should only be used as back up power and for connectivity.

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    • By Russ Finley on September 30, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      Forget using treated waste water at Turkey Point. Too expensive to remove problematic nutrients.

      From Wikipedia:

      The Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant [largest in the country] is located in the Arizona desert, and is the only large nuclear power plant in the world that is not located near a large body of water. The power plant evaporates the water from the treated sewage from several nearby cities and towns to provide the cooling of the steam that it produces.

      Using waste water isn’t a new idea.

      And, FYI, you can do 8KW of solar installed with the current 30% federal credit for under $18,000, and as low as $13,000.

      The solar cost estimate came from the National Renewable Energy Lab. Your argument is with them.

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      • By Forrest on October 1, 2015 at 6:54 am

        The Wikipedia article-very impressive, nuclear plant $013/kwh operating cost + $.014/kwh direct cost. The environmental emission benefit staggering. Consider, that region especially California is all out for recycling sewage and grey water to potable. I could think of no better device than distillation at nuclear cooling tower. Also, a big push for recycling sewage to fertilizer as city of Milwaukee has done for years.
        Some other power plant operating costs:

        coal- $.023

        gas- $.046

        hydro-$.006

        I looked up wind energy and found true cost deceptive or muddled per proponents and profiteers. LCOE may be a good measure for investors, but not for general public looking or evaluating the true cost. This Newsweek article interesting and claims the true cost $.15/kwh.
        http://www.newsweek.com/whats-true-cost-wind-power-321480

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  7. By Andrew Stuart Jonson Daniels on January 26, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Even more inefficient than using thermal energy to boil water, is solar power

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  8. By Dave Thomas on October 28, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Warren Buffett and his other Obama buddies are getting rich off tax subsidies for WIND paid by hard working Americans.

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