EPA regulations force power plant out of business, more to follow

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Operating in eastern New Jersey since 1969, Oyster Creek nuclear power station, the country’s oldest nuclear plant, is scheduled to close its doors ten years earlier than planned, its owner Exelon Corp. announced today. Oyster Creek is now being called the first casualty of new water cooling emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Originally scheduled to close in 2029, the plant will now shut its doors in 2019, rather than invest hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with the new standards. “The plant faces a unique set of economic conditions and changing environmental regulations,” said Chief Operating Officer and President Chris Crane, “that make ending operations in 2019 the best option for the company, employees and shareholders.”

Oyster Creek relies on the use of about 1.4 billion gallons of water a day from the Barnegat Bay. Environmental groups said the plant’s usage was harming the ecosystem. So in exchange for shutting down early, the plant gets to operate for the next ten years without building cooling towers aimed at reducing its water intake.

The new EPA mandate for the cooling towers is a result of the agency’s revision of Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act. Before, plants were just required to use the “best technology available” in the process that turns water into steam that powers a turbine to generate electricity. But the EPA’s message to power plants is now loud and clear: protecting the ecosystem of a local river or bay is more important than generating power for 600,000 homes – as Oyster Creek currently does.

The closing caught the attention of Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, the incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee,  who called it a “foreboding sign” of increased regulations.“The early retirement of the Oyster Creek Generating Station should serve as a wake-up call that rampant regulations are shutting down power plants and costing jobs,” said Upton in a statement.

“We cannot allow bureaucrats to regulate the nuclear energy sector out of business – nuclear is a reliable, inexpensive and emissions-free source of power,” added Upton. “At a time when we are woefully unprepared to meet our nation’s growing energy demands, we should be working to bring more power online, rather than shutting down plants.”

The plant’s announcement does not come as a surprise though. Upton, in fact, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson just last week warning that regulations under consideration at the EPA would have negative consequences for already-existing power plants. An independent report by the Brattle Group reiterated that warning. The report also said that increased operating and compliance costs would prompt many plants to retire early.

Just last year, Oyster Creek execs were discussing extending the plant’s operations another 20 years to 2049. The irony in all this of course, rests in the fact that nuclear power is one of the cleanest forms of energy since it does not emit greenhouse gases. But for the EPA, it seems that is no longer enough.