Pilgrim nuclear plant goes offline
Outage adds to grid uncertainty, fuels pipeline debate
PILGRIM STATION, the nuclear power plant in Plymouth, took itself offline Thursday afternoon, adding uncertainty to efforts by the New England power grid operator to meet electricity demand as a powerful snowstorm gripped the region.
Patrick O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the plant’s owner, Entergy, said Pilgrim was taken offline at 2:09 p.m. due to the loss of one of two off-site power lines that feed electricity to the grid. McMahon said company officials were trying to determine the cause of the problem.
“When Pilgrim will return to 100 percent power is considered business sensitive, and we do not disclose that information,” O’Brien said in a statement.
Pilgrim went down as the regional power grid operator, ISO-New England, issued a statement saying it expected to have sufficient capacity and fuel available to meet electricity demand through the weekend – barring any unforeseen outages.
The loss of Pilgrim appeared to have little immediate impact on the fuel mix of generators producing electricity. According to real-time data on ISO-New England’s website, the fuel mix at 5 p.m. Thursday was 27 percent oil, 24 percent natural gas, 22 percent nuclear, 12 percent renewables, 11 percent hydro, and 6 percent coal.
On Tuesday afternoon, the fuel mix was 32 percent oil, 27 percent natural gas, and 22 percent nuclear, with the balance coming from renewables, hydro, and coal.
In its statement, ISO-New England reiterated its position that the cold weather is driving up wholesale energy prices and dramatically altering the mix of fuels used to generate electricity. Typically, natural gas is used to generate about half of the region’s electricity and oil and coal, which produce more greenhouse gas emissions, provide negligible amounts.
“High demand for natural gas for heating is causing natural gas pipeline constraints that are resulting in high natural gas prices,” the grid operator said in its statement. “As a consequence, both oil- and coal-fired power plants are generating at much higher levels than is typical. The high fuel prices are pushing up wholesale power prices as well.”
Some environmental advocates have raised doubts about whether the pipelines are actually constrained. They have pointed to data indicating the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline running from Canada down into New Hampshire and Massachusetts has excess capacity. Pipeline industry officials say there is available capacity on the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline because it transports natural gas that comes into North American as liquefied natural gas, or LNG. LNG is expensive and must be purchased on world markets.By contrast, the industry officials say, pipelines coming north to New England from gas fields in Pennsylvania and other areas are running at full capacity now.
The severe winter weather slamming New England has set off a contentious debate in Massachusetts about whether the region needs additional pipeline capacity. Industry officials say additional capacity could help bring natural gas prices down and prevent the shift during winter storms to more environmentally harmful fuels such as oil and coal. Environmental advocates, however, say it makes no sense to build expensive additional pipeline capacity to deal with fuel shortages that typically pop up for only brief periods during the winter months.