The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 23, 2012

Xcel no longer seeking nuclear upgrade

— Xcel Energy Inc. is no longer backing a proposed upgrade at its Prairie Island nuclear power plant near Red Wing, the company told Minnesota regulators in a filing.

The Minneapolis-based utility no longer believes that spending $237 million to boost power at the plant's two reactors is a good deal for customers, the Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/UxBXaM) reported. Xcel told state regulators of its decision in the filing late Monday.

Xcel already has added bigger fuel rods to the plant's twin reactors in anticipation of increasing their output. The company said those rods offer an unexpected saving in longer times between refueling, and that could benefit customers almost as much as the power upgrade.

"At this point, we believe it is reasonable to conclude that further investment in the project will not benefit our customers," Xcel told the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Instead of relying on bigger fuel rods to boost electricity output by 12 percent, as originally planned, the rods could keep the reactors running two years between refueling compared with the current 18 months. That's a significant saving because refueling requires a reactor to be shut down for weeks.

Xcel first raised questions with regulators about the Prairie Island upgrade in March, though it still believed the project was a value for customers. While regulators reconsidered the matter, the company stopped further spending on the project. The next steps would have meant installing a larger turbine and other equipment.

Now, Xcel said, even the $10 million benefit of proceeding with the project could be lost to possible delay in obtaining safety-related approval for the upgrade from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We believe it is far more likely that the benefits will be further reduced as the project proceeds," Xcel told regulators.

The state commission is scheduled to consider the Prairie Island power-boosting project over the next two weeks. Xcel has asked for a two-month comment period to allow the state Commerce Department and others who watch utility matters to weigh in on the company's decision.

Prairie Island was built in the early 1970s and is licensed until early in the 2030s.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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