RED WING, Minn. -- Xcel Energy is awaiting word from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to proceed with an 18-month study on the future of Prairie Island nuclear plant and the economics of potentially shutting down the two-reactor facility before its operating license expires in 2034.
Though Xcel Energy believes the plant is a cost-effective part of its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the utility company is open to analyzing options for early decommissioning in response to higher-than-expected capital expenditures forecasted in the next two decades, according to a Jan. 29 filing with the PUC.
“The Prairie Island plant provides good economic value to our customers, which we just detailed in our latest filing to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission,” according to an email statement Friday by Prairie Island Site Vice President Kevin Davison. “We look forward to working with the commission, local communities and other stakeholders to illustrate the value the plant brings to Red Wing, the state of Minnesota and electric customers across the upper Midwest.”
The filing, a supplement to Xcel Energy’s 2016-2030 Upper Midwest Resource Plan, states the company anticipates a $175 million increase in expenditures in the next five years over what was predicted in 2012, as well as increases of $600 million to $900 million from 2021 through 2034.
The driving costs are attributed to new requirements following the 2011 Diiachi nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, and a general increase in regulations by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
However, the increases are largely offset by lower-than-predicted operating and maintenance costs for the plant, Xcel Energy noted. The company expects to spend $1 billion less in fixed costs at Prairie Island through 2034.
A decision on the plant’s future could be reached as early as 2018 should the company move forward with its analysis.
Retiring the plant early would require an additional seven years of shutdown and decommissioning planning, including steps to make up for the loss of energy generation, Xcel Energy says.
Prairie Island nuclear plant has been in operation for more than 40 years. The NRC renewed Xcel Energy’s license in 2011 to operate its two reactors until 2033/2034.
Recent upgrades at the plant have included new generators and a step up transformer.
Xcel Energy proposes a 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 in part through modernization, additional renewable energy generation and closing two coal units at its Sherco Generating Station located northwest of the Twin Cities.
The plan also calls for continued operation of its Minnesota nuclear units — including the Monticello nuclear plant — through the 2020s. The facilities are viewed as a “bridge” to provide reliable energy generation until battery technology improves and renewable energy costs decline.
The Prairie Island and Monticello plants provide nearly 30 percent of electricity used by Xcel Energy’s upper Midwest customers. Together they employ close to 1,400 full-time workers and led to $35 million in state and local taxes being paid last year, according to Xcel Energy.