New Brunswick

NB Power quietly lowers Point Lepreau's output targets

NB Power is suggesting in new filings with the Energy and Utilities Board the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station may not meet any of its original annual production targets until 2019, seven years after coming back online.

Nuclear reactor continues to face unexpected problems and missed production targets

NB Power is suggesting in new filings with the Energy and Utilities Board the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station may not meet any of its original annual production targets until 2019, seven years after coming back online.

NB Power has quietly lowered the amount of electricity it expects to produce at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in 2015, 2016 and 2017. (CBC)
"I'm not surprised at all," said Green Party Leader David Coon, who has been a long-time critic of the nuclear generating station.

"Fundamentally, the consequences are coming to pass of what was a very high risk venture — that is [Lepreau's] refurbishment."

NB Power has quietly lowered the amount of electricity it expects to produce at Point Lepreau in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 as the plant continues to grapple with unexpected problems and missed production targets. 

Still the utility says it expects its most important generating plant to operate significantly better by 2019 and produce all the power expected of it by 2040.

"At this time, there are no other known production limiting factors that would cause management to be concerned about the balance of [Lepreau's] 27-year generation plan," says the utility in its latest filing on Point Lepreau's operation with the Energy and Utilities Board.

Point Lepreau, which came back in service in 2012 following a four and a half year refurbishment that cost the utility $2.4 billion, has been running at 81 per cent of capacity for the last month because of a malfunctioning reheater attached to one of its turbines. 

Darren Murphy, the chief financial officer at NB Power, told the Energy and Utility Board last month that fixing Point Lepreau's disappointing performance has become a top priority. (CBC)
NB Power plans to shut the plant down completely in August to fix that issue, adding to problems, which have seen it miss its original electricity production targets by more than $100 million during its first three years of refurbished operation. 

Last month, Darren Murphy, NB Power's chief financial officer, told the utility's rate hearing that fixing Point Lepreau's disappointing performance has become a top priority.

"Certainly, when we look at where the greatest opportunities to reduce costs and keep rates low and stable are, it is an efficiently running Point Lepreau," said Murphy.

"If the plant were to improve more quickly, that would be great,"

Documents filed by NB Power with the regulatory board in late June show lost production days at Point Lepreau this year are expected to hit 77.5, well above the 11 days NB Power originally forecast.   

The utility has said every lost day of production at Point Lepreau costs it $1 million.

Green Party Leader David Coon said he's not surprised by the latest problems at the nuclear reactor. (CBC)
By the end of this fiscal year, NB Power estimates the nuclear reactor will have lost a total of 277.6 days of production to planned and unplanned outages since 2012, 160 days more than it planned for. 

That track record has made NB Power more cautious about Point Lepreau's short-term reliability and in its latest filing the utility more than doubled its allowance for unexpected shutdowns at the plant for 2017 and 2018 — to 33 days from 14

But the utility remains convinced the refurbished plant will operate the way it is supposed to by 2019 and even make up all of the lost production of the early years by the scheduled end of its life in 2040.

The Green Party's Coon says given Point Lepreau's track record so far he doubts that and predicts reliability problems will get worse, not better, as the plant continues to age.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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