Closed Kewaunee nuke has a buyer, but no seller

Washington, D.C. — Robert G. Abboud, a Chicago-area businessman-politician, wants to buy a well-used Wisconsin nuke. But the owner, Virginia’s Dominion Resources, says it doesn’t want to sell the Kewaunee plant that it shut down in 2012.

Abboud is the principal in RGA Labs in Barrington, Ill., an energy engineering consulting firm. He’s a nuclear engineer who once worked for Commonwealth Edison. Abboud was also the mayor of Barrington Hills from 2005 to 2013. He was the Democratic nominee for the Illinois 16th congressional district seat in 2006, losing to then-incumbent Republican Donald Manzullo, who held the seat from 1993 to 2013.

Abboud was in Wisconsin last week, making a pitch for the 556-MW Kewaunee plant, built around an early Westinghouse pressurized water reactor. He briefed Kewaunee County officials earlier this year on his wishes to buy the shuttered plant. Kewaunee, commissioned in 1974, had a good operating record. Dominion made the decision to close it on economic grounds, specifically the low cost of natural gas units bidding into the MISO wholesale market. In 2011, Dominion put the plant on the auction block, but didn’t get what it considered competitive bids and decided to close the plant and decommission it.

According to a Dominion spokesman, quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Abboud’s RGA Labs expressed interest in the plant in 2011. Dominion’s Mark Kanz said RGA expressed interest in “kicking the tires” at the plant. But, said Kanz, Abboud never came through with the bidding documents that Dominion required.

There has been local interest in restarting Kewaunee, which was a major employer in the east-central area of Wisconsin. The plant sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was built for $776 million (in 2007 dollars). Decommissioning, by Dominion’s estimate, could cost $1 billion and take until 2070.

Roy Thilly, retired CEO of WPPI Energy, a large Wisconsin municipal joint action agency, wrote an op ed in the Journal Sentinel recently calling for a Kewaunee restart on environmental grounds. Dominion’s decision to close the plant, he said, “may have made sense for the plant’s Virginia owner, but it has hurt Wisconsin. Virtually all of Kewaunee’s energy has been replaced by coal generation. The result more than negates the emission reductions Wisconsin achieved through its 10% renewable energy requirement.”

Kewaunee County economic development officer Jennifer Brown said Abboud has included economic enticements in his pitch for support for buying the plant. Brown told the Green Bay Press Gazette that Abboud “suggested building a high-tech manufacturing park around the plant, as he explained the economics in the first meeting with local officials.”

But Dominion’s Kanz said Abboud can’t buy what’s not for sale. “Nothing has changed as far as we are concerned,” he said.

Pulling off a sale would be a tricky proposition. Abboud would have to put together a technically-impressive team with deep pockets in order to overcome local skepticism. Kewaunee County’s Brown said, “I wouldn’t want to give anyone in our community false hope that we’re going to get the level of wages and high-skill workers that we had with Dominion without vetting this out a little bit more. I just want to make sure we’re going down the right path and doing our due diligence to move forward.”

The biggest hurdle of all for a sale could be the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Dominion no longer has a license to operate Kewaunee,” NRC regional spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng told the Green Bay newspaper. “In order to bring the plant back online, a company would need to submit an application to the NRC for an operating license. The NRC would follow its current process for licensing a new reactor to review it. The entire process could take several years at a minimum.”

Restarting Kewaunee looks like a long shot at best.