Wolf Creek nuclear plant weighs outside operator

Owners of the 1,170-MW Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Coffey County, Kan., might look to bring in an outside firm to operate the pressurized water reactor (PWR).

The subject was touched on Sept. 20 by Westar Energy (NYSE: WR) Senior Vice President and CFO Tony Somma during a panel discussion at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference in New York. Somma indicated the plant owners are issuing a request for proposals for outside parties that could either serve as consultants to the nuclear plant or take over operation of the plant outright.

The plant is equally owned, 47% each, by subsidiaries of Great Plains Energy (NYSE: GXP) and Westar Energy with the remaining 6% being owned by Kansas Electric Power Cooperative. Together, the utilities own Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating, which runs the plant.

When contacted, a Westar spokesperson said the owners are looking at a range of options – from sticking with the status quo to having somebody else run the plant. The latter option has become more common in recent years for nuclear utilities that only have one plant.

For example, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) in Nebraska recently retained a subsidiary of Exelon (NYSE: EXC), the nation’s largest nuclear operator, to take over management of the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska. Fort Calhoun has been idle since flooding in 2011.

As for Wolf Creek, it is located northeast of Burlington, about 55 miles from Topeka. The NRC issued a 20-year license renewal to the plant in late 2008.

In other Wolf Creek news, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Sept. 21 issued a “yellow” finding regarding a Jan. 13 loss of off-site power incident at the plant. The yellow finding means that NRC considers the incident to have substantial safety significance. The NRC said that the licensee failed to identify that electrical maintenance contractors had improperly connected wires on an electrical component. This allowed an electrical short to prevent transfer of power to a transformer.

During Somma’s presentation at the conference, he also noted that Westar is moving to add several hundred megawatts more of wind generation. The company is also involved in a program of significant environmental upgrades for its coal plants.

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.