Two Exelon Nuclear Plants Fail to Clear PJM Auction

Exelon’s Quad Cities and Three Mile Island nuclear plants have failed to clear the PJM capacity auction for the 2019–2020 planning year, and the future looks grim for at least one of those plants.

The Chicago-headquartered company on May 25 confirmed that the two plants would not receive capacity revenue for the period. It also said that a portion of the Byron nuclear plant’s capacity did not clear the auction.

The news comes on the heels of Exelon’s announcement earlier this month that it would retire its Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants if wide-ranging energy legislation to save the two plants and boost solar development is not passed during the spring Illinois legislative session that is scheduled to end on May 31.

The company has said that both the Quad Cities and Clinton plants have lost a combined $800 million over the past seven years, even though they are two of Exelon’s highest-performing plants.

On May 25, Exelon CEO Chris Crane was still hopeful that the so-called “Next Generation Energy Plan” proposed by ComEd and Exelon will pass. At a hearing before the Illinois Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee on May 19, the bill (SB 1585) appeared to have bipartisan support.

Exelon’s Oyster Creek, Quad Cities, and Byron plants failed to clear the PJM capacity auction for the first time in May 2014 for the 2017–2018 period. In August 2015, Oyster Creek, Quad Cities, and Three Mile Island failed to clear the auction for 2018–2019. Then, in an unexpected development in September 2015, all of Exelon’s Illinois nuclear plants cleared the transition capacity auctions—supplementary auctions designed to boost reliability—for the 2016–2017 and 2017–2018 years, prompting the company to defer closure decisions for Quad Cities and Byron, and allowing it to bid them into the 2019–2020 capacity auction.

This April, meanwhile, Exelon’s 1,065-MW Clinton plant cleared a Midcontinent Independent System Operator auction, allowing it to keep operating through May 2017. “However, the plant continues to lose money and will have to be shut down unless a combination of market and energy policy reforms are implemented to level the playing field for all zero carbon resources and recognize nuclear energy for its environmental, economic, rate stability and reliability benefits,” the company said. A decision on Clinton’s future will be announced later this year.

“The capacity market alone can’t preserve zero-carbon emitting nuclear plants that are facing the lowest wholesale energy prices in 15 years,” Crane said in a May 25 statement. “Without passage of comprehensive energy legislation that recognizes nuclear energy for its economic, reliability and environmental benefits to Illinois, we will be forced to close Quad Cities and Clinton, resulting in the loss of jobs and economic activity, higher energy prices for consumers, and a dramatic increase in carbon emissions that will make it harder and more expensive for Illinois to meet its clean energy goals.”

Following the licensing of Watts Bar Unit 2 last fall, 100 nuclear units are currently licensed to operate in the U.S., and four others are under construction. Since 2012, low natural gas prices and technical issues have precipitated five reactor closures well-ahead of planned lifetimes: Kewaunee, two units at San Onofre, Crystal River, and Vermont Yankee.

And several more are on the horizon. Entergy plans to close its 852-MW FitzPatrick reactor in New York state in January 2017. Exelon last year announced it would shutter its Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey in 2019, about 10 years before its current operating license ends, to avoid costs associated with the Environmental Protection Agency’s cooling water rule. Entergy’s 677-MW Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts will also be closed in 2019, owing to market conditions. And just last week, Omaha Public Power said it was considering closing Fort Calhoun for economic reasons.

 

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)