Can ComEd Keep the Lights on? Many of ComEd's Nuclear Power Plants Have a History of Under-Performing and Breaking Down. If That Continues, There May Not Be Enough Electricity to Meet the Demands of a Summer Heat Wave
Rackl, Lorilyn, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer
This is what Commonwealth Edison Co. says it will take to keep customers' electricity on this summer: normal temperatures and good performances from its power-producing plants.
Some don't find much comfort in those caveats.
"Those are big 'ifs,' " said Martin Cohen, executive director of Citizens Utility Board.
Even ComEd officials admit they'll be sweating it out some this summer.
"ComEd is concerned," said Paul D. McCoy, a senior vice president with the utility. "We're concerned if we get a spate of hot weather or bad luck with our generating units."
Weather forecasters predict near-normal temperatures this summer, but that's only part of the equation.
Also at stake is ComEd's ability to supply enough electricity.
That's where the utility's nuclear power plants come in.
Last year they produced more electricity for ComEd's 3.4 million customers than any other source.
With Midwest energy supplies so tight this summer, it's crucial those plants perform well, especially if a string of three or more days of temperatures in the upper 90s threatens to push the demand for electricity out of ComEd's reach.
The pressure is on to keep those nuclear plants in good shape - something that hasn't been easy for ComEd in the past.
Last week, Union of Concerned Scientists ranked ComEd's LaSalle nuclear plant the worst of 10 plants studied last year.
The problematic twin-reactor plant has been out of service since late 1996. If it were up and running, it's unlikely potential electricity shortages would even be an issue this summer, McCoy has said.
But LaSalle is far from the only problem.
- ComEd has more nuclear plants under special watch by federal regulators than any utility in the U.S. It's racked up more than $7 million in federal fines.
- Seventy-five percent of ComEd's fleet operated below average industry standards in 1996, according to the most recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission statistics.
- And the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations wrote this about ComEd in a scathing report released late last year: "... Its nuclear program has never run well. And we most certainly do not see evidence that the culture is about to change."
Oliver D. Kingsley was brought in last November to do just that: change the way ComEd runs its nuclear plants.
"There's been a long history of problems with our nuclear power program," said Kingsley, who has experience putting troubled plants back on track. "That's why I'm here. That's what we're changing."
ComEd has taken several steps to bolster reliability this summer, including getting its Quad Cities plant back on line and installing 81 portable cooling towers at Dresden to help the plant operate at full power during long hot spells.
The utility also has arranged to buy power from other companies if it can't produce enough.
"We've taken extraordinary measures to be ready for the summer," Kingsley said. "We've done what we think we need to do to keep the lights on. …