NUCLEAR: Early closure of power plant called a ‘foreboding sign’ for nuclear industry (12/10/2010)
Darius Dixon, E&E reporter
Exelon Corp.’s announcement yesterday to commit its New Jersey power plant, Oyster Creek Generating Station, to an early retirement caught the ire of Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, the chairman-in-waiting of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Oyster Creek, the nation’s oldest operating nuclear plant, has a federal license to operate until 2029, but Chris Crane, president of Exelon, said the company decided to close 10 years earlier due to economic and regulatory uncertainties. At issue are the cooling towers the company would need to build in order to meet state and federal environmental regulations limiting the temperature of hot water being expelled into Barnegat Bay.
Upton saw the cooling tower rule as an effort to regulate the nuclear power industry out of existence.
“Oyster Creek is a foreboding sign of what awaits the nuclear power industry if federal and state regulators continue to promulgate rules and regulations with no cost-benefit analysis,” said Upton in a press release yesterday afternoon. “We cannot allow bureaucrats to regulate the nuclear energy sector out of business.”
Oyster Creek’s operations license was renewed in April 2009, but in January, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft permit to the plant contingent on the construction of the cooling towers.
Facing a $700 million bill for cooling towers
Exelon estimated that the cost of meeting the cooling tower requirements would be about $700 million. As part of the deal leading to the early closure, Exelon will not be required to build the towers.
Oyster Creek nuclear power plant. Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“A combination of economic conditions and changing environmental regulations” led to the edged-up closure date, said an Exelon spokesperson. The plant was closing due to many factors, the spokesperson said, including electricity pricing and low demand in the recession, in addition to the “looming potential capital expenditures” associated with complying with the cooling tower rules.
Upton’s office said the congressman is “gravely concerned” about U.S. EPA’s water cooling proposals. Last week, Upton sent a letter to Administrator Lisa Jackson saying that more stringent cooling water rules would mean the closure of many power plants around the country due to space or financial limitations.
New Jersey generates about half of its electricity from nuclear power, and Oyster Creek, with a generating capacity of 615 megawatts, represents just over 7 percent of statewide power generation. Oyster Creek is also the smallest of the three nuclear plants in the state.
Exelon says that there are currently no plans to replace the plant, and did not say when, in 2019, the plant will officially shut down.