Rising costs sink NPPD’s planned Cooper nuclear power uprate

The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) board of directors has decided now isn’t the time to invest roughly $409m, a figure that far exceeds an earlier estimate, to increase the generating capacity of the Cooper nuclear station by 18%.

The NPPD board voted Aug. 9 to call off plans for an “extended power uprate,” which would have increased the plant’s generating capacity by 146 MW. The boiling water reactor (BWR) in Brownville, Neb., currently has a generating capacity of 800 MW.

NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope said in a statement that a recent “deep dive” analysis into the cost of the project revealed the price estimate had increased $120m from an earlier estimate of $289m.

“The more detailed estimated cost for this project has reached $409 million, which is more risk than I want to expose our customers to,” Pope continued. “Instead I want to see NPPD continue making Cooper Nuclear Station the best boiling-water reactor in the country from an operational and cost standpoint.”

The CEO said similar cost increases for current uprate projects at other nuclear facilities, along with two cancelled projects were also factors to consider.

Other contributing factors to the Board’s decision included unresolved technical issues with regulators at similar nuclear facilities, low natural gas prices, NPPD’s existing surplus generating capacity, and the district’s upcoming participation in the Southwest Power Pool’s integrated marketplace next spring.

While the power uprate project did not need any additional facilities or buildings, or an increase in staff, it would have required equipment and system upgrades. These phased-in upgrades were proposed to be completed by 2018 during a series of refueling and maintenance outages.

NPPD had discussed the proposed uprate previously in its draft integrated resource plan in February. “NPPD is basically long on energy at this time,” an NPPD spokesperson said in an Aug. 14 email to GenerationHub.

“NPPD is seeing load growth at about 1 percent, so the need is not there at this time,” the spokesperson added. There was also concern about adding that additional generation into SPP’s Integrated Market in 2014 and how that would play out in the future.”

Due to long lead times in manufacturing, NPPD had previously ordered a new, high pressure steam turbine to replace Cooper’s existing unit, which, though still operating well, is currently the oldest in the industry. The turbine is needed regardless of a decision for an uprate. Other equipment and systems identified as part of the EPU will be reviewed to determine if they are still needed.

Cooper Nuclear Station employs 700 employees. The plant began operations in 1974, and two years ago received a 20-year extension of its original license to operate through 2034.

NPPD is the sole owner and operator of the plant. NPPD utilizes key management staff from Entergy (NYSE:ETR) in selected positions at Cooper, which includes the Chief Nuclear Officer, the spokesperson noted.

The next refueling and maintenance outage will be in 2014.

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.