Today in Energy

October 31, 2016

Fort Calhoun becomes fifth U.S. nuclear plant to retire in past five years

graph of electricity generation in Nebraska, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station, located near Omaha, Nebraska, shut down on Monday, October 24, after the Omaha Public Power District voted in June to retire the plant, citing economic reasons as the main cause. With a capacity of 478 megawatts (MW), Fort Calhoun was the smallest active nuclear power plant in the United States at the time of its retirement. Following the retirement of Fort Calhoun, the United States has 99 commercially operating reactors at 62 nuclear power plants.

As of August 2016, nuclear power provided 26% of Nebraska’s electricity generation. Fort Calhoun was one of two operating plants in the state; the other, Cooper Nuclear Station, has a capacity of 764 MW. Based on data reported to EIA, 420 MW of electricity generating capacity is expected to be added in Nebraska in 2016 and 2017, with wind and natural gas accounting for the new generation.

The closure of Fort Calhoun marks the fifth nuclear retirement over the past five years, following the retirements of Crystal River, Kewaunee, and San Onofre in 2013 and Vermont Yankee in 2014. Several other nuclear plants have announced plans to retire in the near future. Exelon has announced the planned retirement of its Clinton plant in central Illinois by June 2017, followed by its Quad Cities plant in northwestern Illinois by June 2018 and its Oyster Creek plant in eastern New Jersey in 2019. Entergy Corporation has announced plans to retire its Pilgrim plant in eastern Massachusetts by June 2019. Each of these announced retirements comes nearly a decade or more before the scheduled license expirations of these plants.

Additionally, Pacific Gas and Electric announced that it will not seek license extensions for its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant north of Los Angeles, California. Diablo Canyon’s two units will be retired by the time their current licenses expire in 2024 and 2025. Six additional operating units, with a combined capacity of more than 5,600 MW, have licenses that expire before 2035. Five of these units have filed for license extensions.

graph of nuclear additions and retirements, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly

As plant owners make the decision to retire nuclear plants, utilities must replace lost nuclear capacity with generation from other sources or import more electricity from neighboring states or countries. After the retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station outside Los Angeles, California, natural gas-fired generation increased to offset lost nuclear generation and, at the time, relatively low hydroelectric generation.

Natural gas made up most of the new generation in Florida as well, with a slight increase in coal generation after the shutdown of Crystal River. In Wisconsin, the bulk of Kewaunee’s generation was replaced by coal-fired generation. In Vermont, Vermont Yankee’s generation was replaced by increased electricity imports from Canada and surrounding states.

graph of in-state electricity generation in 12-month periods before and after nuclear retirements, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly
Note: Data for Florida show the period before and after Crystal River’s shutdown. The plant wasn’t officially retired until 2013.

Principal contributor: Michael Mobilia