The operator of Wisconsin’s only remaining nuclear power plant wants to keep the 50-year-old plant running through 2050.
NextEra Energy submitted an application Monday to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking to add 20 years to the licenses for the Point Beach Nuclear Plant in Two Rivers, according to a document filed with state regulators.
A spokesman for NextEra Energy said the plant will continue to provide benefits for consumers as Wisconsin pursues Gov. Tony Evers’ goal of carbon-free electricity by 2050.
“We think there’s tremendous value in having emissions-free power,” said Peter Robbins. “It essentially has the reliability of a natural gas plant but the emissions profile of a solar panel.”
Situated on Lake Michigan between Manitowoc and Green Bay, the 1,200-megawatt plant is Wisconsin’s single-largest source of energy and a cornerstone of utility efforts to produce carbon-free electricity by 2050. It is also one of the most expensive sources of energy.
Robbins said the plant employs about 600 people plus “hundreds” of contractors.
“We view this as a win not only for the environment … but also for the economy,” he said.
Last renewed in 2005, licenses for the two units are set to expire in 2030 and 2033. An NRC spokesperson said the license application is being reviewed for sensitive information and would be made publicly available in the coming weeks.
The NRC has approved just two plants to operate for 80 years: Pennsylvania’s Peach Bottom and Florida’s Turkey Point, also owned by NextEra.
The agency is considering applications from two other plants, though Chris Earls, senior director of regulatory affairs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said about half the nation’s nuclear plant operators intend to pursue license extensions.
Michael Corradini, a professor of engineering physics at UW-Madison who formerly served on the Point Beach safety committee, said there’s no reason a plant can’t continue operating safely with continued component upgrades.
“It’s been a very good running plant,” Corradini said.
State lawmakers who represent the area welcomed the news.
“Nuclear power is the one of the best clean, reliable and inexpensive power sources available to us and provides great-paying jobs to the people of Wisconsin,” said Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers.
Sen. Andre Jacques, R-DePere, said he welcomed NextEra’s efforts “to continue its investment in producing consistent, clean energy with a highly skilled workforce on the lakeshore.”
“I look forward to seeing Point Beach as an economic and infrastructure powerhouse for our region for decades to come,” Jacques said.
Built by Wisconsin Electric Power Company, Point Beach’s reactors began commercial operation in 1970 and 1972. We Energies sold the plant in 2007 for $924 million and entered into a contract to purchase most of its output.
Under the agreement, the utility is paying $52.66 per megawatt-hour this year, about 1.8 times the average wholesale price for electricity in the Midwest, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. By 2033, the cost rises to $122.45 per megawatt hour.
The utility has agreed to work with consumer advocates and regulators to review the contract, which it cited earlier this year as the driving factor for a rate increase.
Brendan Conway, a spokesman for WEC Energy Group, said customers have benefited from the sale of the plant, and its output helps meet more than a third of We Energies’ load and is a key component in the company’s plans to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050.
“Without the Point Beach plant, carbon emissions in Wisconsin would be significantly higher,” Conway said.
As for whether the utility would seek to renew the contract in 2033, Conway said, “we will choose the most cost-effective options available for our customers.”
WPPI Energy, a Sun Prairie nonprofit that provides electricity to municipal and cooperative utilities, also has a contract to purchase a portion of the plant’s energy.
Point Beach last year generated more than 10 million megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power about 1.25 million homes. That’s nearly 16% of the electricity produced in Wisconsin, and it is by far the largest source of carbon-free energy.
Point Beach is the only one of Wisconsin’s three nuclear power plants still in operation.
Decommissioning is nearly complete at the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor, a 50-megawatt demonstrator plant built by the federal government in 1967 and shut down in 1987. The 560-megawatt Kewaunee Power Station was shut down in 2013. Decommissioning is scheduled to begin in 2069, according to the NRC.
As of April, there were 50 dry casks of radioactive waste being stored at Point Beach until the federal government can develop a permanent storage plan.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the generating capacity of the Point Beach and Kewaunee plants. The net generating capacity at Point Beach is 1,200 megawatts, and the generating capacity of Kewaunee is 560 megawatts.]