Report Says More Nuclear Plants in Financial Trouble

A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says the financial struggles of U.S. nuclear power plants continue to increase, and it is likely more plants will be faced with early retirement. It’s another acknowledgement of the tough operating environment for nuclear facilities as gas-fired and renewable energy sources continue to grab more power generation market share in an era of lower electricity costs and slowing demand for electricity.

Nicholas Steckler, an analyst with BNEF, on May 15 said 24 of the more than 60 U.S. operating nuclear power plants are either set to close or will not be able to cover their operating costs through 2021. Steckler wrote in his report that those sites have total generation capacity of 32.5 GW, which is nearly a third of the nation’s total nuclear nameplate generation capacity of just above 100 GW, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

A 2016 POWER magazine report detailed the nuclear retirement picture at that time, and several more units have announced plans for premature closures over the past several months.

Steckler and co-author Chris Gadomski in their report released Tuesday said about $1.3 billion annually is needed to shore up the finances of the struggling plants. The group earlier this year in a similar analysis said about half of all U.S. coal-fired generation capacity also is at financial risk.

The BNEF report said many U.S. nuclear plants still can be profitable, particularly those on the East Coast. The report also noted efforts by the Trump administration to prop up nuclear and coal-fired power plants. However, it cited wind power as a threat to nuclear and coal generation, particularly in the Midwest, where several wind projects are either in service or planned over the next few years. Wind generation capacity already is on par with coal-fired power output in Texas, due to a proliferation of wind projects at the same time coal plants are closing.

BNEF and the United Nations environmental arm in an April report said investments in renewable energy resources far outpaced those from fossil fuel-powered sources in 2017. BNEF also, in conjunction with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, in February said U.S. renewable energy resources for the first time were generating about as much power as all U.S. nuclear reactors.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)