MISO: Dominion can retire Kewaunee plant ‘immediately’

The Midwest ISO (MISO) has notified Dominion (NYSE:D) that it determined the shutdown and retirement of the company’s Kewaunee Power Station in northeastern Wisconsin will not affect the regional electric transmission system’s reliability, and that the company may shut down the nuclear power plant as soon as possible.

“RTOs have a responsibility to determine that there would be no reliability concerns from the shutting down of a generation asset,” a Dominion spokesperson told TransmissionHub Feb. 20. “MISO had six months to make that determination, and it actually did so a bit ahead of schedule.”

Dominion announced it had received a letter from the grid operator containing its determination on Feb. 19.

“After being reviewed for power system reliability impacts … the retirement of Kewaunee generating unit 1 would not result in violations of applicable reliability criteria,” MISO wrote in its letter. “Therefore, Kewaunee generating unit 1 may retire immediately.”

Dominion will proceed with its plans to close the 556-MW, single unit nuclear power station in Carlton, Wis., in the second quarter of 2013, as it announced in the fall of 2012, the spokesperson said.

Dominion made the decision to shutter the plant after it put the station up for sale in April 2011, but was unable to find a buyer.

“The decision to sell Kewaunee was part of a regular review of the company’s portfolio of assets to determine which assets fit strategically and support its objectives to improve return on invested capital and shareholder value,” the company said in its statement announcing MISO’s decision.

The company also noted that Kewaunee’s power purchase agreements (PPAs) were ending at a time of projected low wholesale electricity prices in the region. In addition, Dominion said it was unable to expand its nuclear fleet in the Midwest to take advantage of economies of scale.

Company officials said the top priority will be a continued focus on safety during the station’s last weeks of operations and during decommissioning.

“Once we achieve shut-down, the next major step is to remove the fuel from the core into the spent-fuel storage pool,” the company spokesperson said. “This year is what we’re calling a transition to SAFSTOR,” the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) name for the protocol under which a nuclear facility is maintained and monitored in a condition that allows the radioactivity to decay. After the radioactivity has decayed to an acceptable level, the facility is dismantled and the property decontaminated, according to the NRC’s website.

Dominion expects to enter SAFSTOR some time in 2014. The company will have 60 years after entering SAFSTOR to decommission the site. Kewaunee will remain under the NRC’s oversight throughout the shutdown and decommissioning process.

Located on Lake Michigan about 35 miles southeast of Green Bay, Wis., Kewaunee began commercial operation in 1974. Dominion acquired the station in July 2005. In February 2011, the NRC renewed the station’s operating license for an additional 20 years, until 2033, but that extension is now moot.

“Once [the nuclear fuel] is in the spent-fuel pool, we have to send a certification to the NRC,” a Kewaunee plant spokesperson told TransmissionHub Feb. 20.  “At that point, if we want to start it back up again, we’d have to proceed [with relicensing] as if it were a brand new station.”

Despite the shutdown, Dominion will have continuing obligations to the plant’s previous owners — Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, a subsidiary of WPS Resources Corporation (NYSE: WPS), and Wisconsin Power and Light Company, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy (NYSE: LNT) — which have power purchase agreements for the plant’s output. The company plans to replace the power from Kewaunee by purchasing power through the MISO energy markets until the PPAs expire in December, the company spokesperson said.