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Dominion asks for state approval of plans to extend life of nuclear plants beyond 2050

By Sarah Vogelsong

Virginia Mercury

Dominion Energy is asking Virginia regulators to approve its plans to extend the federal licenses of its Surry and North Anna nuclear plants, as well as an estimated $3.9 billion in costs to keep the workhorse facilities running past 2050.

Nuclear energy currently produces about a third of the electricity used by Dominion’s Virginia customers and is set to become even more critical as a source of baseload power as Virginia transitions away from fossil fuels under the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

The nuclear units are responsible for 90% of Dominion’s carbon-free generation in Virginia, said Mark Sartrain, Dominion’s vice president of nuclear engineering and fleet support, in testimony to the Virginia State Corporation Commission earlier this month.

“As the company transitions away from certain fossil-fuel generating technologies to a more renewable portfolio, an underlying assumption of the company’s ability to comply with recent policy goals and mandates is that the nuclear generating units will continue to reliably serve customers well into the future,” Sartrain wrote. “The path to carbon-free generation depends on the continued service of the company’s nuclear fleet.”

Under the Virginia Clean Economy Act and other 2020 legislation authorizing the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon cap-and-trade market, Virginia’s electric utilities must source all of their non-nuclear energy from renewables by 2050.

Federal regulators signed off on license extensions for the Surry units in May and are still reviewing North Anna’s extension applications, with a final decision expected in the second quarter of 2022.

If the NRC grants North Anna’s extension, it will leave all four of the state’s nuclear units with an authorized lifespan of 80 years.

But while Dominion needs the federal blessing to continue running the nuclear plants beyond the 2030s, it also must get state regulatory approval to recover the costs of extending the facilities’ lives.

The company’s Oct. 5 application to the State Corporation Commission asks the commissioners to determine that “it is reasonable and prudent for the company to pursue the nuclear license extensions and related projects” and to allow the company to impose a rider on customer bills to pay for $1.2 billion of the overall costs through 2024.

This rider would increase the typical residential customer’s monthly bill by about $2.11.

Ultimately, the upgrades are projected to cost $3.9 billion, excluding financing costs.

While Sartrain says in his testimony that “units such as those at Surry and North Anna were originally designed to operate longer than 40 years,” Dominion has identified 33 capital upgrade projects that the utility says “are essential to reduce risk and ensure the units are operated in a safe and reliable manner” through the 80-year horizon.

Dominion says the investments will save customers a projected $7.6 billion by allowing the utility to avoid investing in additional renewables or purchasing renewable energy credits on the market in order to meet state clean energy mandates.