Ontario Power Generation works through nuclear, post-coal-closure issues

Ontario Power Generation had a busy 2014 in terms of adding new generating capacity, plus working out issues related to two nuclear plants, said the Canadian utility in a March 13 financial report.

During 2014, the following assets were declared in-service:

  • Lower Mattagami River project – During 2014, all six new hydro generating units were placed in-service, ahead of the target completion date and within the approved budget of C$2.6 billion. The project has increased the capacity of the four generating stations on the Lower Mattagami River by 438 MW.
  • Atikokan Biomass Conversion – In July 2014, OPG completed the conversion of the Atikokan Generating Station (GS) from coal to biomass fuel, ahead of its original target completion date. The project cost is expected to be within the budget of C$170 million. The converted station has a capacity of 205 MW and is the largest generating station in North America fueled by 100% biomass.

Also, OPG completed the conversion from coal of one unit at the Thunder Bay GS to advanced biomass fuel and declared the unit in commercial operation in January 2015. The conversion of the unit was completed ahead of schedule and within the approved budget of C$7 million. In April 2014, OPG ended coal-fired generation at the Thunder Bay GS. This marks the end of coal-fired generation by OPG, ahead of the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline mandated by the province of Ontario.

Also during 2014, OPG continued to execute a number of projects, and completed major equipment overhauls and rehabilitation work at several stations. These include:

  • completion of major equipment overhauls and rehabilitation work on Unit 5 of the Des Joachims GS, Unit 3 of the Pine Portage GS, and Unit 11 of the R.H. Saunders GS;
  • completion of a transformer bank replacement at the Pine Portage GS;
  • completion of the rehabilitation of Unit 3 of the Sir Adam Beck Pump GS;
  • continued work on the rehabilitation of Unit 5 of the Sir Adam Beck Pump GS, Unit 1 of the Lower Notch GS, and Unit 2 of the Aguasabon GS.

OPG is pursuing several generation development projects. OPG’s major projects include the Darlington Refurbishment, new hydroelectric generation and plant expansions, the repository for the management of low and intermediate level waste (L&ILW), and the conversion of coal-fired generating units to alternative fuels.

  • Darlington Refurbishment – The Darlington nuclear generating units are currently forecast to reach their average end-of-life between 2019 and 2020. Refurbishment of the four generating units will extend the operating life of the Darlington GS by about 30 years. The project is a multi-phase program comprised of the following five major project work packages: Retube and Feeder Replacement; Turbines and Generators; Defueling and Fuel Handling; Steam Generators; and Balance of Plant. The definition phase of the project is well under way and is on track to be completed in 2015. In 2016, the first unit outage will commence and OPG will start execution of the refurbishment scope on that unit.
  • New Nuclear Units – The Ontario government’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) indicated that it will not proceed at this time with construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Darlington site. However, the LTEP also indicated that the Ministry of Energy will work with OPG to maintain the site preparation licence granted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). So OPG is undertaking activities required to support the environmental assessment (EA) and existing licence. In May 2014, OPG received the decision of the Federal Court (Canada) on a judicial review of the issuance of the Power Reactor Site Preparation Licence and a judicial review in relation to the Darlington New Nuclear Project EA. As a result, the Federal Court nullified the site preparation licence issued by the CNSC. The Federal Court ordered that the EA be returned to the Joint Review Panel (or a duly constituted panel) for additional consideration of three specific matters. OPG, the Attorney General of Canada, and the CNSC have appealed this decision to the Federal Court of Appeal. A hearing date for the appeal has not yet been set, but is expected in 2015.
  • Deep Geologic Repository for Low and Intermediate Level Waste – OPG’s deep geologic repository (DGR) will be designed for the long-term management of L&ILW produced from the operations of OPG owned or operated nuclear stations. The public hearings for the EA and the site preparation and construction license concluded in September 2014. OPG made several presentations to the Joint Review Panel (JRP) and answered a number of inquiries from the JRP. In November 2014, the JRP closed the public record for the EA and is expected to provide a report and recommendation on the EA to the federal Minister of Environment by May 2015. A decision from the Minister of Environment on the EA is expected within 120 days from the report submission. OPG has suspended design activities pending receipt of the site preparation and construction licence from the JRP. Upon completion of the detailed design, development of a schedule and budget, consideration of consultation with the Saugeen Ojibway Nations community, and OPG Board of Directors’ approval, OPG will proceed with construction. The in-service date of the DGR is expected to be approximately six to seven years from the start of construction.
  • New Post Creek – During 2014, OPG and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) continued negotiations for a power purchase agreement for the proposed 28-MW Peter Sutherland Sr. GS. The station is expected to be constructed through a partnership between OPG and Coral Rapids Power LP, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation.

Various issues being worked out at Darlington and Pickering plants

Consistent with the 2013 LTEP, OPG said it plans to continue the safe and reliable operation of the Pickering GS until 2020, and then place these generating units in a safe storage state for eventual decommissioning. The 2013 LTEP indicates that an earlier shutdown of units at the Pickering GS may be possible depending on the following factors:

  • projected electricity demand going forward;
  • the progress of the fleet refurbishment program;
  • the timely completion of the Clarington Transformer Station.

Risk factors for Pickering continued operations include the discovery of unexpected conditions, equipment failures, critical components in the plant that are reaching end-of-life and are obsolete, and a requirement for significant plant modifications. To mitigate these risks, OPG continues to undertake a number of activities which include the following:

  • work on fuel channel life cycle management;
  • a regulatory strategy and economic analysis to support optimal reactor end-of-life dates;
  • modification of the operating and maintenance strategy to support continued operations.

In June 2014, the CNSC accepted OPG’s assessment supporting continued operations and removed a regulatory hold point on the licence for the Pickering GS. Over the remaining lifespan of the station, risks factors, such as fuel handling system, issues with parts procurement, and a shortage of qualified resources may continue to challenge operational excellence. These risks are being addressed by taking appropriate actions including fuel handling reliability improvements, proactively identifying long lead time for materials, and improving overall planning.

The Darlington generating units, based on original design assumptions, are currently forecast to reach their end-of-life between 2019 and 2020. In July 2014, the CNSC approved the renewal of the Darlington GS operating licence until Dec. 31, 2015. OPG is currently seeking a 13-year licence renewal that covers the life extension activities, including refurbishment, on the four Darlington generating units. The public hearing to consider this long-term renewal of the operating licence is expected to take place in 2015.

OPG is managing risks related to the Darlington GS operations by resolving ongoing technical issues related to obsolescence and aging, including fuel channel, fuel handling equipment and primary heat transport pump motors. In preparation for the refurbishment, OPG is required to complete a number of critical projects at the Darlington GS relating to fuel handling, emergency power generator, heavy water storage, and the Vacuum Building Outage (VBO).

Two shut coal plants are in limbo right now

The Nanticoke GS and the Lambton GS ceased generating electricity in 2013. OPG has placed the generating units in these stations in a reserve status to preserve the option to convert the units to natural gas and/or biomass in the future, should they be required. OPG would be required to incur costs to maintain these units in this state and there is no mechanism currently in place to recover these preservation costs, the utility noted.

The decision to continue to incur preservation costs, in the absence of a cost recovery mechanism, will be revisited in the first half of 2015. OPG’s capability to convert some units at Lambton and Nanticoke to alternate fuels such as natural gas, biomass, or dual gas-biomass is dependent upon obtaining appropriate cost recovery agreements with the IESO.

As of the end of 2014, OPG’s electricity generation portfolio had an in-service capacity of 17,059 MW. OPG operates the two nuclear stations, three thermal generating stations, 65 hydroelectric stations, and two wind power turbines. In addition, OPG and TransCanada Energy Ltd. co-own the 550-MW Portlands Energy Centre gas-fired combined cycle generating station. OPG and ATCO Power Canada Ltd. co-own the 560-MW Brighton Beach gas-fired combined cycle station.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.