Neb. utility votes to close power plant by year’s end

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 17, 2016

Nebraska utility announced plans today to close the 43-year-old Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant by the year’s end, blaming U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, market conditions and the Missouri River facility’s small footprint.

The Omaha Public Power District unanimously voted to shutter and decontaminate the Washington County reactor.

“As tough as this decision is, we cannot afford to ignore the changes happening around us,” Omaha Public Power CEO Tim Burke said in a statement. “We must look to the future.”

Fort Calhoun is among several reactor closures announced in recent weeks due to an abundance of cheap natural gas and waning demand for electricity. Exelon Corp., the country’s largest reactor operator, has threatened to shutter plants in Illinois and now New York (EnergyWire, June 16).

But Omaha Public Power also blamed EPA’s new rule for curbing carbon from existing power plants, saying the agency failed to provide any “carbon-free generation credits” from existing nuclear plants.

The district said the plant’s small size also makes it uneconomical. Smaller, single-unit plants have been especially vulnerable; at 478 megawatts, Fort Calhoun is North America’s smallest unit.

The decision was no surprise. Burke recommended last month that the reactor be closed (EnergyWire, May 13).

And the utility in recent months has signaled that a fleet transformation was coming, including the retirement of three coal plants and the addition of wind and gas.

Fort Calhoun was part of the future plan and was expected to provide at least 25 percent of the district’s generation through 2033, when the plant’s operating license expires. But Burke has said the reactor could be replaced with a combination of gas generation and purchased power from elsewhere in the regional power grid.

Closing Fort Calhoun, the utility says, means there will be no general rate increase for the next five years.

But the utility also said it would cost about $1.2 billion to close and decontaminate the plant.

As of May, the utility had about $388 million in decommissioning funds and was “pacing toward full funding for a 2033 decommission date,” according to the press release. The district said it will add to the fund annually and expects to cover the cost of cleanup without raising existing rates.