By Michael Mariotte

“I’ve made it clear FitzPatrick [pictured here, from NRC] has been a marginal unit for a while,” he said. “We’re really counting on some positive changes in market design to be able to continue to run it,” says Entergy exec William Mohl.

The nuclear power industry increasingly reminds one of nothing so much as the spoiled brat (or, possibly, the greedy king Midas) who, upon receiving a gift, instantly wants “more!”

Thus, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) June 10 approved a plan put forth last December by the PJM grid–the largest of the three major grids in the U.S.–to reward high-performing power plants and penalize low-performing units, Entergy’s (the second largest nuclear utility) instant reaction was “more.”

A little translation may be in order. After all, it would seem to make perfect sense to reward the best and penalize the worst. But the real intent of PJM’s plans was to funnel more money to nuclear reactors at the expense of renewables and gas, under the guise that reactors are better able to keep the lights on during things like polar vortexes and other freaks of nature.

It’s all part of the nuclear industry’s “reliability” pitch that appears in just about every industry press release and public statement. Actually, reactors, especially Entergy’s, haven’t been all that reliable in extreme weather: its Pilgrim reactor was shut down more than once last winter because of major snow storms, for example. But renewables, by definition, are low-performing: their capacity factor is low compared with nuclear and fossil fuels. That’s not necessarily a problem in the real world; it just means you need more nameplate capacity with renewables to get the same actual output.

And you need a grid that can handle the variable nature of renewables. Again, not a problem, as several countries in Europe have shown the ability to incorporate far higher levels of renewables than exist yet anywhere in the U.S. Although, fortunately, we’re starting to catch up–and installed solar power close to reaching less than $1/watt is one reason why.

Anyway, as it turns out, Entergy wants another $3-5 per megawatt hour from ratepayers to keep its unprofitable reactors running. That’s roughly the same amount Exelon wants the Illinois legislature–or someone, Exelon isn’t all that picky about the venue–to award it to keep its uneconomic nukes operating.

Entergy’s solution is to have FERC simply issue an order requiring the nation’s Independent System Operators to do that.

In Entergy’s view, a rate increase of this size “is pretty minor compared with a present market structure where we’re shutting down viable plants.” So says well-paid Entergy exec William Mohl.

Unless, of course, you’re trying to live on a fixed income and pay your ever-rising electric bills.

But you’ve got to love the gall. Because even if you’ve got plenty of money to pay your electric bills, there is no downside for consumers at all in shutting down “viable” nuclear reactors. Indeed, even in strictly economic terms, there is an obvious upside: avoiding additional radioactive waste …read more

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