Midwest and New England Are Threatened
To head off potential problems, states in the Midwest and New England are reacting now to impending plant shutdowns, which are threatening to cause serious electric supply shortfalls this summer.
The Midwest. The shutdown of Wisconsin's two nuclear plants, Kewaunee and Point Beach, is predicted to cause the state's worst power shortage. In addition, up to five coal-fired plants were scheduled for maintenance shutdowns. To deal with the anticipated shortage, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission on April 22 adopted an emergency plan.
The PSC said broad emergency powers allow it to change rates on an emergency basis and to implement curtailment plans. Wisconsin PSC Chair Cheryl L. Parrino said the PSC must act now to reduce future impacts. "I do not want to sound like Chicken Little but I also do not want to get caught napping," Parrino said.
The PSC directed its staff to develop a plan to address electric system reliability that will involve customers. Staff sent letters directing utilities to update their files to locate critical-needs customers. It asked utilities to use the media to keep customers informed and to develop a list of resources that customers can contact for information. The PSC said it would accept flexible tariffs to enable power transfers between customers. The PSC is considering a streamlined procedure to approve power interruptions in exchange for lower electric rates.
Part of the supply problem in Wisconsin is due to infighting among the three owners of the Kewaunee nuclear plant. The owners are battling over whether or not to proceed with costly repairs. WPL Holdings and Madison Gas & Electric Co. want to sell their shares of the plant rather than spend about $90 million for steam generator replacement. The companies believe deregulation will make Kewaunee's power too costly to compete. But WPS Resources Corp. wants to proceed with fixing the plant (em a necessary step for the plant to run until the end of its license in 2013. WPS believes Kewaunee can sell competitively priced electricity. Kewaunee has been shut down since September. The owners must decide what to do with the plant by the end of the year.
Since Wisconsin imports about 15 percent of its electricity from neighboring states, the shutdown of several Illinois nuclear plants has exacerbated problems. Commonwealth Edison's Zion nuclear plant, near the state's border, has been out of service since February. ComEd has announced it will close the plant before 2005 (em well prior to its license expiration in 2013. ComEd had recently decided not to spend the $400 million needed to replace Zion's steam generators. The Zion plant has been subject to Nuclear Regulatory Commission scrutiny since January. One of the two down units is scheduled to return to service later this year. ComEd also announced that it would keep its La Salle plant closed until at least 1998.
James J. O'Connor, ComEd chair, pointed out that Zion has been a solid performer for almost 24 years. "However, in today's increasingly competitive marketplace, it is not prudent to proceed with this costly replacement which may not be in the best interests of our customers and our shareholders," O'Connor said.
New England. Meanwhile, the New England Power Pool on April 30 announced that outages at four major nuclear plants, combined with strong electric-demand forecasts, could cause electric power shortages in the region this summer. An extended heat wave would compound the situation.
The unavailable plants are Maine Yankee (800 MW) and the three Millstone units (2,630 MW). NEPOOL, which is responsible for central dispatch, coordination and monitoring of all electric power generation and high-voltage transmission facilities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, predicted peak demand of 21,400 MW this summer. NEPOOL's net generating capacity for the summer, including power purchases, is 26,000 MW. A potential 3,000-MW shortage exists if known generator outages (3,430 MW) and unplanned outages (2,400 MW) are included. That scenario would force NEPOOL to implement special operating procedures to balance supply and demand.
NEPOOL and its member companies are proposing to add 450 MW of additional generating capacity through the reactivation of mothballed generators and by increasing output at selected generating stations. Utilities also will work with large customers to obtain interruptible load contracts.
According to Jim Sinclair, NEPOOL spokesperson, the possible shortages are not due to electric competition, but due to situations with the NRC at the four nuclear plants. He said there is a 50-50 chance peak exposure will occur this summer. It is a "short-term situation," Sinclair said. Referring to the increased competition in the future, he said, "[The] thinking is that the market will take care of this."
NEPOOL held a series of press conferences in various states the last week in April aimed at educating consumers. NEPOOL notified the public that it might be called on to conserve power. But Sinclair noted that, "We want to be careful not to cry wolf." The message is, "These are things we can manage," Sinclair said. He pointed out that NEPOOL has educated the media and customers, moved up maintenance schedules at the Seabrook nuclear plant so it would be on line by the end of June and worked closely with Hydro Quebec, New Brunswick and the New York Power Pool on contingency plans. The New York pool is not as tight as NEPOOL, which Sinclair said adds some comfort, but the access points for power transfers have limits. "The only thing we cannot manage is the weather," Sinclair observed.
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