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Entergy Closes Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts

On May 31, 2019, Entergy Nuclear Generation Co., a business unit of Entergy Corp., permanently closed its 679 (summer-weighted) megawatt Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station located along Cape Cod Bay, EIA reported on June 13. Entergy announced in October 2015 that Pilgrim was retiring because of the relative cost of operating the plant compared with the level of wholesale power prices in New England. Pilgrim started commercial operations in 1972, and it was the tenth-oldest nuclear plant in the United States at the time of its closing.

Even with its recent economic challenges, Pilgrim operated at a high rate; Pilgrim ran at a generation-weighted average annual capacity factor of 85%, based on annual operating data for 2013-2018, EIA reported. Pilgrim’s monthly net generation averaged 446 thousand megawatthours between January 2001 and March 2019.

The Independent System Operator of the New England grid (ISO-NE) has said that it expects Pilgrim’s retirement will have no effect on system reliability this summer. ISO-NE cited on May 15, 2019, that sufficient resources of power should be available to meet peak consumer demand for electricity this summer, forecasted at 25,323 MW, which is similar to last summer’s peak of 25,899 MW. The addition of more than 1,000 MW of new natural gas-fired and renewable generating capacity opening this summer will offset the loss of output from Pilgrim.

The closing of Pilgrim comes about five years after the shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in December 2014. Vermont Yankee had 612 MW of capacity, and it encountered many of the same economic pressures that affected Pilgrim. Nuclear power remains an important part of the generation mix in New England. The 2,073.1 MW Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut and the 1,251.4 MW Seabrook nuclear facility in New Hampshire—both based on summer-weighted capacities—remain open, meeting about 26% of daily load in the region.

Pilgrim is the eighth nuclear power plant to close in the United States since 2013. Relatively low natural gas prices and decreasing costs for renewable energy have affected the competitiveness of some older nuclear generating facilities. The situation has been more challenging for plants like Pilgrim that have only one reactor and operate in certain markets. Of the eight nuclear plants to close since 2013, all but one has been a facility with just one reactor. Most U.S. nuclear plants have two reactors, which allows for more revenue to cover both fixed and variable costs. About 6,000 MW of nuclear generating capacity has been retired since 2013, with the total U.S. fleet now rated at about 99,000 MW.

Source: Energy Information Administration

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