Exelon on Tuesday said it plans to withdraw its Early Site Permit (ESP) application for construction of a new reactor at an 11,500-acre tract of land southeast of Victoria, Texas, saying “low natural gas prices and economic and market conditions . . . have made construction of new merchant nuclear power plants in competitive markets uneconomical now and for the foreseeable future.”

Exelon originally submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined construction and operating license for the Victoria County site in 2008, “but never made a decision to build a nuclear plant there,” the company said in a statement. In 2010 the company instead applied for an ESP, a switch in licensing strategy that would have allowed Exelon to continue with some aspects of site evaluation and regulatory approvals while deferring a construction decision for up to 20 years. “[Tuesday’s] withdrawal brings an end to all project activity,” the company said.

“Victoria County was Exelon’s location of choice because of its strong community support. People made us feel at home in their community from the very first day, and they still do,” said Marilyn Kray, vice president of Nuclear Project Development for Exelon Generation. “This is all about the economics of the project, which are driven by commodity and financial markets.”

By issuing an ESP, the NRC approves one or more sites for a new nuclear power facility, independent of an application for a construction permit or combined license. An ESP is typically valid for 10 to 20 years from the date of issuance and can be renewed for an additional 10 to 20 years. The regulatory body has to date issued only four early site permits: in 2003, to Exelon’s Clinton site in Illinois and System Energy Resources’ Grand Gulf site, in 2007 to Dominion’s North Anna site in Virginia, and in 2009 to Southern Co.’s Vogtle site in Georgia. PSEG is awaiting an NRC decision on an ESP application submitted in May 2010.

Chicago-based Exelon in March this year merged with Constellation Energy, absorbing the Maryland firm’s 12-GW generating fleet and becoming the nation’s largest competitive generator with a fleet of 35 GW. Federal authorities cleared the $8 billion merger on the condition that Exelon divest three generating plants in Maryland with a total capacity of 2,650 MW.

Earlier this month, Exelon sold three plants in Maryland: the 1,273-MW coal-fired Brandon Shores plant in Pasadena, the 399-MW coal- and oil-fired C.P. Crane plant in Middle River, and the coal-, gas-, and oil-fired 976-MW H.A. Wagner plant in Pasadena. Raven Power acquired those units in a $400 million deal.

On Aug. 21, Exelon also sold five California plants—three biomass-fired and two coal-fired—worth a total of 70 MW to Tokyo-based IHI Corp.

Sources: POWERnews, Exelon
—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)