OPPD happy to see Fort Calhoun return to normal oversight

More than a year after Fort Calhoun plant returned to service and more than three years after being placed under “special oversight” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) said it is happy to see its nuclear plant returned to a normal level of regulation.

NRC announced March 30 that it is returning the roughly 500-MW Fort Calhoun pressurized water reactor (PWR) near Omaha, Neb., to its normal oversight program.

The facility had been under NRC special oversight since Dec. 13, 2011. It returned to service in December 2013.

OPPD said March 30 that returning the nuclear plant to normal oversight reflects the improvements it has made at the Fort Calhoun Station.

“This is a great day for OPPD and its customer-owners because the NRC has officially acknowledged we now will return to the same regulatory process used to ensure safety at other nuclear power plants,” said OPPD President and CEO W. Gary Gates. “We know that the focus of the nuclear industry is to always improve and we intend to demonstrate our changes will sustain the improvements in our operations,” Gates said.

The changes included contracting with Exelon (NYSE:EXC) subsidiary Exelon Generation, LLC, to manage the plant, and set up a special corporate governance oversight organization to oversee operations. Exelon is the largest nuclear power producer in the United States Under its management, operations and practices at Fort Calhoun Station have aligned with the Exelon fleet, OPPD said.

“Throughout the period when we were in increased oversight, our people changed, our oversight strengthened and our processes improved greatly,” Gates said. “We will continue our efforts to improve because our customers want it and because we know we have laid the foundation for sustained excellence.”

OPPD will discuss how it will sustain its performance with the NRC at a public meeting on April 9, 2015.

OPPD Board Chair Anne McGuire said that having Gary Gates lead this return to regular reactor oversight was extremely helpful due to his in-depth knowledge of the industry and leadership in the nuclear industry. “We can’t thank Gary enough for his dedication and leadership.”

Gates, who started his career at Fort Calhoun Station, has announced he will be retiring in May.

OPPD is one of the largest customer-owned electric utilities in the United States, serving more than 360,000 customers in 13 counties in southeast Nebraska.

For 2014 retail sales, the generation split was 36.6% is coal, 39.4% nuclear, 12.2% renewable (wind and landfill gas), 3.6% hydro, and the rest is natural gas, oil and purchased fuel, an OPPD spokesperson said.

By 2018, OPPD expects 33% of its retail sales to customers will come from renewable energy, mostly wind power, according to the OPPD website. The OPPD fuel mix is split among low-sulfur coal; nuclear power; wind; landfill gas; and natural gas and fuel oil.

From February through May of 2014, OPPD sought input from its customers about future power-generation options. Based on that input, OPPD management recommended and the board of directors approved a plan that includes retiring coal-fired Units 1-3 at the North Omaha Station and retrofitting Units 4-5 to run on natural gas. The North Omaha changes are set to occur in 2016.

The plan also calls for retrofitting Unit 1 at the Nebraska City Station with basic emission controls in 2016. The plan also calls for reducing the OPPD load by 300 MW through demand side management and energy efficiency programs.

OPPD has estimated that the plan can be implemented with no more than a 2% rate impact.


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.