The Point Beach nuclear plant is up and running and generating more power than it ever has, after a refueling and expansion that began in early October.
The two-reactor plant northeast of Manitowoc, WI, returned to service last month and reached full power this past Thursday, said Sara Cassidy, spokeswoman for Florida-based NextEra Energy Services Inc.
NextEra sells most of the electricity generated by the plant to We Energies, the plant’s former owner. NextEra won approval last year to expand the power output of the plant by 17%, to 1,200 megawatts. That’s enough to supply about 600,000 typical homes.
The increase in power now generated by the Point Beach Nuclear Plant will also go to WPPI Energy of Sun Prairie and its nonprofit municipal utilities in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
WPPI last year signed a deal with NextEra to buy 162 megawatts of power from Point Beach, located eight miles north of Two Rivers on the shores of Lake Michigan. WPPI in turn sold a portion of its share of Point Beach electricity to another public-power utility, Missouri River Energy Services of Sioux Falls, SD.
Missouri River supplies power to municipal utilities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
NextEra Energy invested hundreds of millions of dollars last year to upgrade both reactors, replacing equipment including generators, pipes, valves and pumps.
A total of 1,600 NextEra employees and temporary contractors were working at the plant last year on the expansion project. Point Beach employs about 700 workers, Cassidy said.
The move to expand the plant’s power output saw a challenge by state environmental and consumer groups concerned about the safety of nuclear power and the need to store spent fuel in concrete casks outside the plant.
The fear was Point Beach, one of the oldest commercial reactors in the country, would tax itself too much to generate more power.
Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens’ Utility Board, said his utility customers group had opposed the sale of the nuclear plant several years ago, then owned by We Energies, to an out-of-state company.
The group argued that Wisconsin customers should benefit from the electricity generated by the plants if they are the ones who have to shoulder the burden of potential problems that arise from having a nuclear reactor in the state.
The concerns about selling power out-of-state prompted the state Public Service Commission to require new owners of nuclear power plants to give the former owners, in this case We Energies, the first right to buy the electricity.
We Energies, which last year completed construction of new coal-fired power plants in Oak Creek, decided not to move ahead with buying more electricity from Point Beach.