Entergy’s Leonard defends nuclear fleet, lauds new leadership

Entergy (NYSE: ETR) Chairman and CEO Wayne Leonard, who announced Sept. 5 that he will retire in January 2013, used a Sept. 6 speech to the Barclays Energy Conference to praise the incoming leadership team, defend his company’s nuclear fleet and also hail the speed of Entergy’s power restoration efforts after Hurricane Isaac.

Leonard, 61, said that he will retire Jan. 31 and be succeeded as chairman and CEO by Executive Vice President and CFO Leo Denault. Andrew Marsh, currently vice president, system planning, will become executive vice president and CFO. “This new team will be my legacy,” said Leonard, who has been CEO since October 1998.

Entergy has  grown its nuclear footprint during Leonard’s tenure and now owns reactors outside the Southeast – including some in Northeast locations where public officials have often been unsympathetic to nuclear power.

Renewals come slowly for Northeast reactors

Leonard said Entergy has dramatically improved nuclear performance at plants like Indian Point Units 2 and 3 in New York as well as Pilgrim in Massachusetts and Vermont Yankee in Vermont.

In his presentation, Leonard said that Entergy has purchased nuclear facilities from owners that probably only saw them as 40-year lifespan plants – meaning that the previous owner doubted they could win a 20-year license extension from NRC.

Entergy has been successful so far in relicensing its plants, although it hasn’t always been quick or easy. Entergy won license renewal for Pilgrim in May 2012 although it took four years from the 2008 hearings to the 2012 decision. Entergy won a new 20-year license renewal for Vermont Yankee in March 2011. The state of Vermont, however, is still pursuing a federal appeals court case designed to force early retirement of Vermont Yankee.

Legal briefs are being filed with the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals on the state’s challenge to Vermont Yankee and Entergy expects a decision in 2013.

Meanwhile, Indian Point Units 2 and 3 are engaged in a protracted license renewal case at NRC. Although the original Indian Point licenses will expire in the next couple of years, the clock won’t strike midnight on these two reactors because Entergy applied for license renewal long before the expiration date, Leonard said.

On another front, Leonard believes an EPA cost-benefit analysis should shield Entergy from having to spend an estimated $1.19bn on cooling towers at the Indian Point nuclear complex. Entergy believes wedge-wire screen can be about as effective in preserving fish at a fraction of the cost of cooling towers.

Aside from its merchant business, Entergy has six vertically integrated electric utilities that serve 2.8 million customers in four contiguous states – Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. These utilities have 21,000 MW of generating capacity and more than 15,800 miles of transmission lines.

As for Hurricane Isaac, it was a slow-moving storm that produced significant rainfall, Leonard said. But work crews were able to restore power at a record pace despite extreme conditions, Leonard said.

The Entergy CEO said the company’s move into the Midwest ISO should help maintain credit quality and keep rates low.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.