‘The need just isn’t there’ for Bellefonte nuclear plant, Johnson says

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) President and CEO Bill Johnson tackled several issues surrounding new power generating during a conference call with reporters Nov. 18 on the utility’s FY 2013 performance.

Like the federal government, TVA runs on an October-to-September fiscal year.

While TVA plans to complete the Watts Bar 2 nuclear unit by the end of 2015, the long-discussed Bellefonte nuclear project appears to have been placed on a back-burner – at least until the power market improves.

In addition, it will be awhile before TVA can announce specifics of a just-announced gas-fired unit in Kentucky, Johnson said.

The TVA chief said it will be a couple of months before the utility decides the size and technology type of natural gas generation that it plans to build at the Paradise power station in Kentucky.

TVA said Nov. 14 that it would retire two of the three coal units at Paradise and construct a natural gas power facility. TVA officials said they have yet to decide how large the gas-fired unit will be in terms of megawatt capacity and whether it will use simple-cycle, combined-cycle or some other type of design.

TVA had looked at trying to replace the retiring coal capacity at Paradise strictly with transmission upgrades. But that’s not possible, Johnson said.

“We actually need generation there to prop up the system for lack of a better term,” Johnson said.

 Budget austerity and weak power market fundamentals don’t bode well for TVA committing to development of more than 1,000 MW of new nuclear generation at the Bellefonte site in Hollywood, Ala., Johnson said.

“The need just doesn’t exist,” for a large nuclear baseload project that would come online after deployment of Watts Bar 2 in a couple of years, Johnson suggested. “We are retiring a lot of assets. The need just isn’t there,” Johnson said.

The TVA CEO said the utility will continue to spend enough on Bellefonte to preserve the nuclear option at the site. Johnson’s comments back up remarks that TVA made this past summer about facing some “hard decisions” at the unfinished Bellefonte atomic plant.

While both are nuclear projects, Johnson stressed that TVA is looked at far different economics with the planned mPower Clinch River small modular reactor (SMR) facility in Tennessee.

TVA and Babcock & Wilcox (NYSE:BWC) affiliate mPower are planning 2022 deployment of small reactor technology at the TVA site in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Plans call for eventual deployment of two 180-MW small modular reactors.

While Bellefonte would be a big baseload project, the SMRs should provide more “flexible” and “maneuverable” technology, Johnson said. The Clinch River SMR project has also secured Department of Energy (DOE) funding.

As for coal-fired generation, TVA probably has about a 25-day stockpile of coal at its small coal units with a 35-day coal supply stockpiled at its larger, baseload coal units, TVA officials said.

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.