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Shut nuke adds to New England winter woes

09 Jan 2018 21:10 GMT
Shut nuke adds to New England winter woes

Houston, 9 January (Argus) — Entergy's 685MW Pilgrim nuclear power station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is shut following the loss of a transmission line that connects the station to the electric grid, adding to New England's power generation woes amid unseasonably cold weather.

Pilgrim was manually removed from service last week during a winter storm that damaged the transmission line at a point about 25 miles (40km) from the station. That same storm sent regional spot natural gas prices soaring, with Algonquin Gas Transmission Citygates prices averaging higher than $83/mmBtu, the highest level since Argus began publishing indexes in October 2009. Temperatures in Boston, Massachusetts, have since recovered from their fall to as low as -2°F (-19°C) during the storm, but are still forecast to be at below-normal levels on a few days this week.

Pilgrim is connected to the grid by two transmission lines, but it is station policy to shut down if one line is lost to avoid losing both feeds, a company spokesman said. The station is conducting preventative maintenance until the line can be restored, and Entergy would not say when the station is expected to return to service. The region would need to use 175mn cf/d (5mn m³/d) of natural gas to replace the generation output of the plant, according to an Argus analysis.

The temporary loss of nuclear power could squeeze the near-term generation capacity outlook further in a region that already faces power reliability issues. Electric grid operator ISO-New England this week said in addition to Pilgrim being shut, some oil-fired generation is nearing emissions limitations and other power plants are awaiting fuel deliveries that were postponed from the storm.

Power generation sources in the ISO have been dwindling in recent years. Entergy's 620MW Vermont Yankee nuclear plant closed in 2014 and Dynegy's 1,464MW Brayton Point coal-fired power station in Somerset, Massachusetts, shut in May 2017. The Pilgrim station itself is scheduled to close in May 2019, and 4,200MW of coal, oil and nuclear capacity are shutting down between 2012 and 2020.

Natural gas-fired generation comprises nearly half of the ISO's fuel mix, as well as half of all the proposed new generation in the region. But there are few interstate pipelines and LNG delivery points to serve those plants. Pipelines in the region are constrained year-round, with cold snaps sending demand and prices even higher.

ISO-New England said managing the region's power system through these conditions "continues to be challenging, primarily because of fuel availability."