Sweden to allow new nuclear plants; US utility fixes AP1000 build cost

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The Swedish government believes nuclear power can help to curb energy costs in the transition towards renewables. (Image credit: Zoom-zoom).

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Sweden to abolish nuclear tax, allow new build

The Swedish government has agreed to phase out a national nuclear capacity tax between 2017 and 2019 and allow the construction of up to 10 new reactors to replace ageing plants, it announced June 10.

The framework agreement, signed by the coalition government of Social Democrats and Green Party members as well as opposition parties, also sets a target of 100% renewable energy by 2040. This is a goal and not a cut-off date for nuclear generation, the government said.

Sweden introduced a nuclear power tax in 1984 and it has risen to the equivalent of around 7.5 euros/MWh ($8.4/MWh).

Sweden’s nine nuclear plants provide around 40% of the country’s electricity and falling wholesale electricity prices, increasing safety investments and rising nuclear taxes have accelerated the closure of several plants.

“Even with the abolishment of the capacity tax, profitability will be a challenge. Low electricity prices put all energy producers under pressure and we will continue to focus on reducing production costs," Magnus Hall, CEO of Vattenfall, Sweden’s main nuclear plant operator, said in a reaction statement.

"Naturally, investment decisions must be taken on commercial grounds, taking all cost factors and expected long-term market developments that the agreement implies into account,” Hall said.

Vattenfall operates seven nuclear power reactors at Sweden's Ringhals and Forsmark sites.

Germany’s E.ON, Finland’s Fortum and Sweden’s Karlstad municipality jointly own three reactors at the Oskarshamn site and only two of these reactors remain online.

                             Sweden's nuclear power plants

Source: World Nuclear Association

IEA urges Belgium to rethink nuclear phase out

Belgium should reconsider its plan to phase out nuclear power in order to avoid hiking energy costs and allow time to deploy alternative power generation, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said in a review of Belgium's energy policy.

Belgium's seven nuclear power reactors provide around half of the country's electricity and the plants are currently set to close between 2022 and 2025.

In a report published on May 19, the IEA warned the planned closures would "seriously challenge Belgium’s efforts to ensure security of supply and provide affordable low-carbon electricity."

By allowing the nuclear plants to operate as long as they are considered safe by the nuclear regulator, Belgium would reduce the pressure on electricity supplies, reduce the cost of electricity generation in the medium term, lower the cost of the nuclear phase-out and allow more time for investments in alternative generation, the IEA said.

US’ SCE&G fixes price for VC Summer new build

South Carolina Electric & Gas Company (SCE&G) has chosen a fixed price option for the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract for its 2.2 GW V.C. Summer 2 and 3 power plant project, SCANA, owner of SCE&G, said.

The irrevocable fixed price option will amend the EPC contract to fix, as of June 30, "substantially all of the costs" for the remaining scope of the project, SCANA said in a statement May 26.

SCE&G has notified the Public Service Commission of South Carolina (SCPSC) that total project costs have risen by $852 million to $7.7 billion, including owner's cost, transmission, escalation and allowance for funds used during construction.

"This increase includes approximately $505 million that is directly related to the fixed price option," SCANA said.

Under the latest construction plan, Westinghouse is to install two of its AP1000 power plants by August 2019 and August 2020 at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina.

Following construction delays, EPC contractor Westinghouse subcontracted Fluor as construction manager for the project in late 2015.

"Fluor has proven to be an asset to the project team and the vast majority of the major components and equipment have been received onsite," Kevin Marsh, SCANA's chairman and CEO, said May 26.

"The fixed price option provides substantial value to our customers, investors, and the company by limiting the risk of future cost increases," he said.

Exelon prepares to shut Clinton, Quad Cities plants in 2017/18

Exelon is to move forward with the shutdown of its 1.1 GW Clinton and 940 MW Quad Cities nuclear plants in Illinois due to a lack of progress on proposed regional energy market legislation, the nuclear operator said June 2.

The Clinton Power Station is to close on June 1, 2017 and Quad Cities will close on June 1, 2018, Exelon said. The plants have lost a combined $800 million in the past seven years, despite being two of Exelon's best-performing plants, the company said.

Exelon's decision to close the plants came after the Illinois General Assembly adjourned without acting on legislation known as the Next Generation Energy Plan, which was designed to support carbon-free generation including nuclear power.

A state report found that closing the plants would increase the region's annual wholesale energy costs by $439 million to $645 million.

The Chicago Tribune reported June 2 that negotiations between Exelon and government officials continued after the closure announcement and the operator's decision could be reversed if an agreement is made.

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