Nuclear, Reactors, Retrofits & Upgrades

Columbia Nuclear Plant Achieves All-time High in MWh Output

Energy Northwest’s nuclear-powered Columbia Generating Station had its most productive year ever in 2018, generating more than 9.7 million MWh of electricity, the company reported this week.

The 2018 total generation surpasses the previous record of 9.6 million MWh set two years earlier. The Columbia Generating Station in Richland, Wash. Has been in operation for 34 years and has set generation marks in five of the last seven years.

“It’s about mitigating climate change one clean megawatt at a time, while providing 24/7, low-cost electricity throughout the northwest,” said Energy Northwest CEO Brad Sawatzke. “Our team’s doing an outstanding job increasing nuclear performance, which continues to lower the cost of our electric bills.”

The cost of that generation also has been going down, according to company records. Energy Northwest estimated that Columbia’s 2018-19 fiscal year fuel cycle will cost 4.2 cents per kWh, dropping 0.5 cents from the previous two-year cycle and 33 percent below the 6.30 per kWh cost of fiscal 2010-11’s fuel cycle.

 A March 2018 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on the levelized cost of energy estimated the cost of new combined-cycle gas turbine generation (entering service in 2022) at 4.8 cents per kWh. The LCOE for advanced new nuclear would be closer to 9 cents per kWh, according to the EIA.

The Columbia station has an output capacity of 1,207 MW. Its capacity factor is 92 percent on average (amount produced compared to operational capacity), which compares to 55 percent for coal, 50 for natural gas, 43 to 50 for hydropower, 35 percent for wind and 25 percent for solar, according to the company.

“We are believers in renewables at Energy Northwest. We have hydro plants, we have a wind project, and we’re working to build a large solar project,” Sawatzke said. “But wind and solar on their own can’t provide electricity 24-hours a day, seven days a week. That’s just not realistic.”

“Nuclear is 24/7, carbon-free, and integrates well with hydro and intermittent renewables,” he added. “We have the ability to reduce nuclear power when the wind’s blowing and the sun’s shining and when there may be more megawatts electric out on the grid than is needed on any particular day. It’s just one more reason we believe nuclear must be part of the climate change solution going forward.”

Columbia Generating Station was commissioned in 1984. It has a boiling water reactor supplied by General Electric.

In 2012 Bonneville Power Administration and Energy Northwest jointly analyzed the economics of the Columbia Station compared to other options and concluded that keeping it operational was most cost-effective move.

(Rod Walton is content manager for Power Engineering the POWERGEN International conference and exhibition happening Nov. 15-17 in New Orleans. The call for POWERGEN abstracts will begin next week).