NEI says 14,900 MW of nuclear power either being retired or ‘at risk’

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) says that almost 12,000 MW of summertime nuclear capacity has been retired in recent years, or has been the subject of retirement announcements by the plant operators.

In addition to the 11,997 MW that falls into this category, almost another 3,000 MW (2,918 MW to be exact) is currently “at risk” of retirement, the nuclear trade group said July 1. NEI made written comments with the Department of Energy (DOE) for the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) process.

Since 2013, four nuclear reactors have been retired. They include the Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) Crystal River 3 in Florida; the Edison International (NYSE:EIX) San Onofre 2 and 3 in California; the Dominion (NYSE:D) Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin, and the Entergy (NYSE:ETR) Vermont Yankee facility in Vermont, NEI noted.

In addition, there has been a steady drumbeat of nuclear retirement announcements (usually well in advance of the expiration of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license) within the past year.

  • Entergy announced in October 2015 that it would close its Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts by June 2019, and possibly sooner. In November 2015, Entergy announced that it would shut down its FitzPatrick nuclear plant in upstate New York in late 2016 or early 2017.
  • In May 2016, Exelon (NYSE:EXC) announced that it planned to close two of its Illinois plants – the Clinton plant and the two-unit Quad Cities station – in June 2017 and June 2018, respectively.
  • In June, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) decided to close its Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced the shutdown of Diablo Canyon 1 and 2 when their licenses expire. And there are other nuclear plants at risk in addition to these.

“Crystal River and San Onofre were unique situations that are unlikely to be repeated,” NEI said, evidently referring to the fact that both facilities experienced big ticket equipment problems.

“Diablo Canyon is the victim of aggressive state renewable and energy efficiency goals that would force the reactors to operate only part of the time, thereby compromising their economic viability,” NEI said.

But Kewaunee, Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim, FitzPatrick, Clinton, Quad Cities, and Fort Calhoun “all fell victim to a combination of market-related factors,” NEI said. Such factors include low power demand, flat prices, and cheap natural gas, observers have often said.

“It is worth noting, however, that wind and solar facilities did not cover their costs out of the market either – but they had the advantage of other sources of “out of market” revenue,” NEI said.

In ISO-New England, for example, “over 70 percent of the estimated net revenues for both wind and solar units in the 2015/16 period were from federal and state programs, such as the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and the Investment or Production Tax Credits (ITC or PTC),” NEI said in its comments.

TMI, Davis-Besse, Ginna Nine Mile Point endangered

In addition to already-announced retirements, the nuclear advocacy group said that four more nuclear plants should also be considered ‘at risk’ of retirement in the not-too-distant future.

They include the FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) Davis-Besse plant in Ohio; the Three Mile Island 1 facility in Pennsylvania; the Ginna plant and the Nine Mile Point plant in New York.

“Shutting down those plants would increase carbon emissions by an additional 12 to 17 million tons, bringing the increase in carbon emissions [from nuclear retirements] to between 59 million tons and 80 million tons,” NEI said. “The higher number represents nearly 20% of the 414-million-ton reduction expected in 2030 under the [EPA] Clean Power Plan,” NEI said.

“But sooner or later, that nuclear capacity must be replaced and, when it is replaced with new gas-fired combined cycle capacity, consumers will pay more on a levelized cost basis,” NEI said.

Recent studies done by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) as well as Lazard and analysis done for a Dominion resource plan all suggest that nuclear plants have far lower levelized costs than combined-cycle natural gas, NEI said in its comments.

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.