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Nuclear retirements in Northeast expected to create gas demand

Houston — The retirement of several nuclear power plants in the Northeast over the next year and a half is expected to create an opportunity for natural gas-fired power generation.

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While several states in the region have passed legislation to safeguard the nuclear power industry from premature plant retirements, and other states have been debating similar bills, some nuclear generating facilities nonetheless are scheduled for permanent shutdown.

Two nuclear plants are slated for retirement within the next several months. Earlier this month, Exelon Generation said it would shut down the 890-MW Three Mile Island Generating Station Unit 1 in Middletown, Pennsylvania by September 30, after state lawmakers ran out of time to pass a measure designed to provide financial support for that plant and other aging nuclear units.

Entergy's 690-MW Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station Massachusetts has an even earlier closing date. The company plans to shutter the plant, which produces about 14% of the electricity generated in the state, by the end of this month.

In recent days the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed the plant to return to operation, after a degraded cable on May 17 resulted in a rapid shutdown that lasted through the following weekend.

S&P Global Platts Analytics estimates that 16 GW of nuclear generation is at risk of early retirement across the US between today and 2025. Assuming this nuclear generation is replaced by gas-fired generation with an average heat rate of 7,000 BTU/kWh, an incremental 2.7 Bcf/d of gas demand from power generation would be required to replace these retiring generators, Platts Analytics estimates.

Across the US Northeast, largely in states with deregulated power markets, nuclear power plants are being slated for retirement as their owners contend with low to flat power demand and depressed wholesale power prices, partially as a result of low gas prices.

While states such as New York, New Jersey and Illinois have provided rate-payer funded support to keep certain nuclear plants open, the plants that do close can create opportunities for natural gas-fired generation to fill the gap.


For example, power from the roughly 2,000-MW Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, which is scheduled to close sometime in the 2020-2021 time frame, will mostly be replaced with output from the newly constructed 1,100-MW Cricket Valley and 680-MW CPV Valley gas-fired power plants, according to Platts Analytics.

According to ISO New England, more than 5,200 MW of aging nuclear, oil and coal-fired power plants will have been retired from 2013 to 2022.

"These resources are likely to be replaced mainly by wind resources and more likely natural gas-fired resources," the ISO said in a recent statement.

"The retirements issue accelerated in March 2018 when Exelon Corp. announced its intention to retire the Mystic (Massachusetts) Generating Station in 2022, which is located in the region's largest load center."

Even as some nuclear units retire, new capacity is being added, including some substantial new capacity from natural gas, Stephen Leahy, a spokesman for the Northeast Gas Association, said in an email statement.

"The capacity situation is looking good for the regional power systems in the summer months over the next few years. In New England in particular, however, the winter remains challenging given current pipeline capacity constraints, he said.

New gas-fired, and often dual-fuel, plants are being built across the region, Leahy said.

For example, PSEG Power's Bridgeport Station 5, a 500-MW combined-cycle unit in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is expected to open next month. Two gas-fired peaker plants with a combined capacity of about 540 MW, are also expected to come online in Massachusetts in June: the Canal 3 unit in Sandwich and Exelon's Medway unit in Medway.

-- Jim Magill, Kieran Kemmerer, Jared Anderson,

-- Edited by Rocco Canonica,