Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG)—a joint venture between Exelon Corp. and EDF Group—filed a petition on July 11 with the New York State Public Service Commission (NYPSC) in an effort to keep the R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Ontario, N.Y., operating.

Ginna—a 581-MW single-unit pressurized water reactor located along the south shore of Lake Ontario about 20 miles northeast of Rochester—has been struggling to make ends meet for some time. The facility lost money in 2011, and its cumulative losses in 2012–2013 totaled nearly $100 million when the allocation for CENG corporate overhead is included.

The plant had been operating under a purchase power agreement with Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. (RG&E) for a majority of its output until the agreement expired on June 30. Now the Ginna facility operates as a fully merchant generator in the wholesale market.

Based on CENG revenue estimates, energy and capacity sales on the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) markets are not expected to cover the costs of continuing plant operation. Similar situations led to the closure of the Kewaunee Power Station last year and the planned shuttering of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, which is expected to operate through its current fuel cycle and shut down permanently later this year.

In February, CENG management filed a request with NYISO to study the impact of the Ginna plant on electric system reliability. Had it not been for NYISO’s finding that Ginna is needed to maintain system reliability, CENG says it would have recommended to its board that the facility cease operations and retire as soon as practicable even though its operating license does not expire until 2029.

If the petition filed with NYPSC is approved, CENG and RG&E would then be ordered to negotiate on the terms of an agreement to support continued operation. In the end, the plant would likely be paid a premium to remain online for reliability support services.

The reliability need is partially tied to the in-service date for RG&E’s proposed Rochester Area Reliability Project, which includes new or upgraded transmission lines and substations in Monroe and Niagara counties. The need is expected to remain through at least Oct. 1, 2018.

“It is no secret that our plant, like others in the region, faces financial challenges.  But this filing is actually good news for the hundreds of hardworking men and women that work at the plant and for the community that we serve because it is an encouraging step towards continuing to operate the plant for the foreseeable future,” said Joe Pacher, site vice president for the plant.

In its petition, CENG cited several other benefits offered by continued operation of the Ginna facility. It has been a reliable electricity provider—operating at greater than 95% capacity factor over the past 10 years—and provides carbon-free electricity. The company also suggested that it provides a stabilizing effect for the grid. As evidenced during the most recent winter, volatile prices and constrained supplies can affect the availability of natural gas-fired facilities. Yet, even with these benefits, the nuclear plant struggles to stay afloat in the current market.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)