Nukes Can Close, Says Grid CommitteeDavid Wagman | May 01, 2018
A committee that focuses on transmission issues related to the PJM transmission grid says that three nuclear generating units owned by FirstEnergy can close with no adverse affects on reliability.
PJM's Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee released its analysis on April 30 in advance of a scheduled May 3 meeting. The analysis finds that new and existing grid projects will resolve potential problems, and that operational flexibility of remaining generating assets will enable the grid to ride out any delays with the transmission upgrades.
"Units can retire as scheduled," the committee report says.
The 896 megawatt (MW) Davis Besse Unit 1 west of Cleveland is slated to retire at the end of May 2020. The 1,247 MW Perry Unit 1 east of Cleveland is scheduled to close at the end of May 2021. And the 909 MW Beaver Valley Unit 1 near Pittsburgh is also slated to close at the end of May 2021.
In late March, FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) and the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. (FENOC) told the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and regional grid manager PJM Interconnection that they planned to close three nuclear power plants by 2021.
Days later, FES and FENOC made a voluntary filing under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. FES and FENOC own and operate two coal-fired plants, one dual fuel gas/oil plant, one pet-coke fired plant and three nuclear power plants in the competitive, or non-regulated, power-generation industry.
In July 2017, FES CEO Charles Jones railed against what he said were policy failures that allowed nuclear plants to close. "These policies have failed and they need to be fixed and if they aren't going to get fixed by the federal government, then I think the states will continue to step in and fix them," Jones said.
On March 29, FES asked U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry for an emergency order directing PJM to secure long-term capacity from FES plants, among others, to compensate their owners "for the full benefits they provide to energy markets and the public at large, including fuel security and diversity." A decision has yet to be made.
With a total generating capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts, the three nuclear generating units in 2017 generated about two-thirds of the electricity that the companies produced. They also employed about 2,300 people.
PJM said in late March that plant closures are subject to review and grid reliability is one of the considerations. PJM has been considering changes in how real-time competitive prices are developed in order to recognize the value of large, "inflexible" power plants like nukes that do not typically ramp up and down to meet demand.
The Davis-Besse station entered service in 1978 and includes a single Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactor. In March 2002, maintenance workers found that corrosion had eaten a football-sized hole in the reactor vessel head. The corrosion did not lead to an accident, but the NRC kept Davis–Besse shut for two years for repair. It also imposed a $5 million fine against FirstEnergy for the actions that led to the corrosion.
The Perry nuclear station entered service in 1987 and includes a General Electric-supplied Mark 3 boiling water reactor. Perry was originally designed as a two-unit installation, but construction on Unit 2 was suspended in 1985 and formally canceled in 1994. At the time of cancellation, all of the major buildings and structures for the second unit were completed, including a 500-foot-tall cooling tower.
Beaver Valley Unit 1 entered service in 1976 and is powered by a Westinghouse-supplied pressurized water reactor. The 904 MW Unit 2 entered service in 1987 and also uses a Westinghouse reactor.