Progress Energy of North Carolina has been in the forefront of the Nuclear Renaissance for several years with plans to build two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at its Shearon Harris site.
This week, however, Progress told the North Carolina utilities commission that the two reactors may not be necessary. Instead the company might take a partial stake in the construction of one reactor at Shearon Harris or perhaps buy into a reactor at another location.
"This is by no means an about-face on our nuclear strategy," Progress representative Mike Hughes told the Raleigh News & Observer. "Based on what we know right now, this is our best estimate on what nuclear will be added and when."
The challenge is slumping demand. Electrical use has been flat during the current recession and doesn’t give any indication of picking up. Whereas Progress projected it would need an additional 2000 MW by 2020, it now believes it will need only 550 MW. Progress has foresworn building any new coal plants but announced earlier this month it will build a 950-MW combined cycle natural gas plant to replace a 59-year-old 397-MW coal plant.
The company has always been concerned with the prospect of investing up to $10 billion in a single reactor project that might take a decade to finish. Taking a partial stake with other utilities would reduce the risk. Progress’s decision also suggests that small modular reactors that allow utilities to build in bite-sized increments could be alluring.