Columbia nuclear plant in Washington begins 42-day refueling outage

On May 9, the Columbia Generating Station set a new record for its longest continuous operational run – 683 days – with operators that day shutting it down to begin the station’s biennial refueling and maintenance outage.

Columbia achieved what’s known as a “breaker to breaker” run for the first time in its 30-year history, meaning the plant has been operating non-stop since reconnecting to the grid on June 25, 2013, following its previous refueling outage. During the 683-day run, Columbia produced nearly 18 million megawatt-hours of electricity and operated at a more than 98% capacity factor.

“This record run is about keeping our commitment to the region to produce clean, reliable and cost-effective power for the long-term,” said Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest CEO. “I’m proud of our team and their many accomplishments over the last two years.”

Columbia was online every single day during 2014 and in November broke its previous record – 505 days set in April 2011 – for consecutive days online. Columbia also produced more clean, nuclear energy for the Northwest power grid during fiscal 2014 than any other fiscal year in its 30-year history. The nuclear facility sent nearly 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity to the grid, culminating three consecutive years of record-setting generation. In November, Columbia also marked five years without an unplanned shut-down.

The 42-day refueling and maintenance outage begun May 9 will include several major projects and the loading of 248 new, higher-efficiency, nuclear fuel assemblies into the reactor core. An additional 1,500 skilled outage workers were hired locally and from across the country to support maintenance projects throughout the plant.

“Our 2013 outage was the most successful we’ve had at Columbia for two reasons. We did the work safely and we did the work right the first time. That’s why the plant has been performing so well,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief operating officer.

Columbia Generating Station is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. Therefore, Energy Northwest and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) timed the outage to coincide with spring time snow melt and runoff that maximizes power output from the region’s hydroelectric system and minimizes the impact of taking the nuclear station offline. Columbia generates 1,170 MW, which is sold at-cost to BPA. Ninety-two Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.

Energy Northwest develops, owns and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar and wind projects – and the Northwest’s only nuclear energy facility. As a Washington state joint operating agency, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers.

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.