Pilgrim to refuel in 2017, stay open until June 2019

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/04/14/pilgrim-to-refuel-in-2017-stay-open-until-june-2019/

STATE HOUSE — The owners of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth plan to refuel in 2017 and then cease operations on May 31, 2019.

Entergy Corporation, based in New Orleans, announced its timeline on Thursday, putting some clarity into what has been a major variable in the state’s energy situation.

Pilgrim critics have for years been calling for its closure, citing safety concerns, but the plant is also a major source of reliable, carbon-free energy for the region. Entergy last year said it would close Pilgrim, which opened in 1972, sometime between 2017 and 2019.

“We’re pleased that we will be able to keep our team of hardworking, professional employees actively engaged in safe operations for the next three years and in a return to regular NRC and industry oversight,” John Dent, Pilgrim’s site vice president, said in a statement. “During this period, Pilgrim will continue safely to provide clean, emissions-free electricity to our neighbors.”

The closure date falls at the end of the window outlined by Entergy last October. At the time, following a rally where activists called for the plant’s immediate shutdown, Gov. Charlie Baker said he wanted to balance the safety of the impending decommissioning of the plant with the region’s power needs.

“For me the safety issue is fundamental, but we all need to remember that it’s 700 megawatts of power that’s there every single day,” Baker said at the time. “That’s part of our baseload when we turn on the lights or turn on our heaters,” he said, “We also need to make sure we don’t end up doing something that translates into rolling brownouts or, God forbid, blackouts here in the New England region.”

During Pilgrim’s last refueling, the plant was shut down for 34 days, according to Pilgrim spokesman Patrick O’Brien. A third of the fuel assemblies in the plant’s core will be replaced during the next refueling, planned for the spring of 2017. The replaced assemblies will be deposited into the plant’s spent fuel pool, he said, and maintenance and upgrades will be performed while the plant is offline.

The last refueling resulted in $70 million in investments to the plant, according to Entergy, with nearly 2,000 workers employed as part of the work. Pilgrim says refueling outages provide a spark to local hotel bookings and increases in tourism and restaurant business.

State lawmakers are drafting an omnibus energy bill that contemplates Pilgrim’s closure as well as the closures in recent years of coal-fired plants. Lawmakers and Baker are weighing plans to put more renewable energy into the mix — both offshore wind farms and hydropower from Canada — while power industry officials are claiming existing and proposed natural gas projects can fill the void.

Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, told the News Service on Thursday that Pilgrim’s timeframe syncs with plans to open three natural gas-fired energy plants in Sandwich, Massachusetts; Burrillville, Rhode Island; and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Those plants, he said, will be capable of producing nearly twice as much power as Pilgrim.

“It’s certainly a very good sign that they’re going to fulfill their obligation through the forward capacity market to stay online through May of 2019,” Dolan said. “It provides more stability through that time and reliability over the next three years of having a large baseload unit continue operating. Replacement for Pilgrim has already been procured through the market. Reliability we were counting on into 2019 will be there, and we know that reliability will be able to be met even with Pilgrim retiring now in 2019.”

Plymouth Rep. Matt Muratore said Pilgrim’s plans have been the subject of numerous meetings, including one with lawmakers and Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials this week at the State House.

Muratore described his reaction to Pilgrim’s additional detail on its closure plans as “mixed.”

“For economic reasons it’s good. The people are still going to have jobs,” he said. “On the other hand as a community we want to make sure it remains safe … My goal, obviously number one, is safety.”

Pilgrim has “had their problems,” Muratore said. Asked if Entergy has been cooperative and responsive, he said, “For the most part, yeah.”

Pilgrim workers on Thursday, shortly after Entergy announced its plans, announced they had reached an agreement on a new five-year contract with Entergy. The contract affects about 225 Pilgrim employees with the Utility Workers Union of America Local 369.

“It’s essential that experienced workers remain onsite to ensure Pilgrim runs safely for the next three years and throughout the decommissioning process, and we’re pleased that this contract ensures important protections for our workers, our communities and the region,” Craig Pinkham, president of UWUA Local 369, said in a statement. “While we wish Entergy would work with employees and our elected leaders to find a solution that enables Pilgrim to run safely and affordably far into the future, the company has made the decision to close the plant. Even though our members are understandably concerned about the future, they remain committed to the continued safe operation of Pilgrim.”

— Written by Michael P. Norton

Copyright State House News Service