Dominion exec says power prices biggest challenge at Kewaunee

A nuclear executive at Dominion (NYSE: D) has identified low power prices as probably the largest single factor in the company’s decision to permanently close the Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin next year.

A Wisconsin publication, the Green Bay Press Gazette, has posted an online video of the Oct. 22 press conference held at the plant by Daniel Stoddard, Dominion’s senior vice president for nuclear operations.

“The price of power is a real challenge,” Stoddard told Wisconsin reporters. That was probably the largest single factor, among many, which resulted in Dominion’s decision to close the plant in 2013, Stoddard said. He said he informed the workforce of the plans for shutdown and decommissioning at about 7 p.m. local time on Oct. 22.

Kewaunee is “something of a unique situation,” the Dominion official said. For starters, one of its major power customers has elected not to renew its contract. At 556-MW, it’s a relatively small, single unit nuclear plant. It’s also isolated from the rest of Dominion’s nuclear power fleet located in Virginia and New England.

Being far from other Dominion nuclear plants meant the company had to keep a larger workforce on site at Kewaunee than it might otherwise. When Dominion first bought Kewaunee several years ago it had hoped to gain control of other nuclear units in the Midwest, but that never materialized.

As a result, Dominion announced plans in early 2011 to divest Kewaunee. “We have worked very hard to find a buyer for Kewaunee. We were unable to do so,” Stoddard said.

As a result, Dominion did not have an alternative to closing the plant without cutting costs so dramatically that it could potentially reduce safety. That’s something Dominion won’t do, Stoddard said.

Dominion has said it plans to permanently close Kewaunee in the first half of 2013, pending review by the Midwest ISO. The plant would subsequently be decommissioned, a process that will be overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Kewaunee would become the first commercial nuclear plant to be retired in the United States since 1998. In 2011, the plant actually received a 20-year license renewal from NRC.

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.