A demolition contractor that says it could save Wisconsin utility customers hundreds of millions of dollars will be allowed to participate in a review of plans to sell one of the state’s two nuclear power plants.
Dominion Energy is seeking regulatory approval to sell the Kewaunee Power Station to EnergySolutions, a Utah company that specializes in nuclear waste disposal and decommissioning.
The sale price has not been publicly disclosed, but according to applications filed with regulators, EnergySolutions would assume ownership of the plant and about $780 million set aside to cover the cost of decommissioning, estimated at nearly $724 million.
But NorthStar Group Services of New York says it could do the job for no more than $550 million, returning any remaining money to ratepayers.
NorthStar argued that without competitive bidding, a requirement to return unused funds removes any incentive for Dominion or EnergySolutions, which contracts with many of its subsidiaries, to ensure they are spent prudently.
A judge on Tuesday ordered that NorthStar be allowed to participate in the Public Service Commission proceedings, over objections from Dominion and EnergySolutions.
MGE agreed to trim the monthly residential customer service fee by $2 in each of the next two years, bringing it to $15 in 2023. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2014, when regulators approved an 82% increase.
Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark said NorthStar’s “unique experience and expertise in the field” of decommissioning would help the PSC decide if the sale is in the public interest.
Two consumer advocacy groups, the Citizens Utility Board and Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, will also be allowed to participate in the proceedings.
Completed in 1973, the 560-megawatt plant was originally owned by Wisconsin Public Service Corp., Alliant Energy and Madison Gas and Electric, whose customers contributed to the decommissioning fund for decades.
After buying out MGE, the remaining utilities sold the plant — along with the $405 million decommissioning trust — in 2005 to Dominion Energy for $220 million.
The PSC initially rejected the sale, saying it would strip the commission of control should Dominion later sell the plant to a third party and deprive ratepayers of any unused decommissioning funds.
With utilities seeking to spend billions of dollars building wind, solar and battery storage systems to replace coal-fired power plants, commissions agreed they need a better understanding of the cost and ramifications.
The commission relented after Dominion added 12 conditions, including a pledge to return any excess decommissioning funds to ratepayers.
The company also agreed to give Alliant and WPS rights of first refusal, meaning the utilities would have 60 days to match any offer to buy the plant.
NorthStar says it offered to buy that right from either utility for $25 million, though the utilities told the PSC they aren’t interested.
The 10th such solar project considered by Wisconsin regulators, the project highlights the tensions brewing as Wisconsin utilities seek to replace coal-fired power with clean energy.
Kewaunee was one of three nuclear power plants operated in Wisconsin.
The first, a 50-megawatt demonstration plant operated by Dairyland Power Cooperative, is being decommissioned by EnergySolutions at a cost to date of more than $83 million. The owners of the other are seeking license extensions to keep the Point Beach plant going through 2050.