New generating plant in the Netherlands

A review of �forgotten� costs

Every power station has an impact on human health and the environment, not just through its own direct emissions, but also because of the supply chain emissions of the fuel it burns. The question therefore arises: does new generating capacity come at a reasonable price for consumers and society as a whole? With all the plans being floated for new power plant in the Netherlands, CE Delft has examined how these impacts (�external costs� in economic terms) pan out for various kinds of power station, viz.:
  • 100% biomass (from waste wood);
  • pulverised coal, with and without added biomass;
  • coal gasification;
  • natural gas (in a combined cycle plant);
  • nuclear.

For valid comparison, all types of plant were taken to have a capacity of 1,000 MW and an annual output of 7,500 GWh. Impacts were assessed both with and without CO2 capture and sequestration and for two locations: Eemshaven and Maasvlakte. The analysis covered not only supply chain emissions, but also accidents, again down the full chain. In the case of CO2 emissions a global environmental problem for which quantitative estimates of damage are still hard to give calculations were made using several alternative prices. Of the non-nuclear options, coal-fired plant has the highest external costs per kWh output and biomass-fired plant burning waste wood the lowest. Only with a very low price of 9 euro/tonne assigned to CO2-related damage does gas-fired plant score best on external costs. It is only with coal-fired plant that impacts between the two alternative locations differ to any real extent, owing mainly to wind-blown dispersal of coal dust during fuel delivery and storage. By far the most dominant factor in external costs are CO2 emissions. If these are captured and sequestered, the external costs therefore fall substantially, particularly in the case of coal-fired plant. For biomass-fired plant these costs even become negative, i.e. there are net benefits. However, it is still unclear how soon this technology will be ripe for practical implementation. In the case of nuclear power, external costs are virtually independent of the price assigned to CO2 impacts, and the same holds for plant location. However, aggregate supply-chain impacts depend very much on where the uranium fuel is sourced, as radioactive emissions at mining and processing facilities are very much lower if these facilities are operated according to �best practice�. As a result, the health and environmental impacts of a kWh of nuclear power may vary by up to a factor 100.