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Columbia Reconnects to Northwest Power Grid


RICHLAND, Wash. – Columbia Generating Station reconnected to the Northwest power grid at 1:43 p.m. following its 23rd refueling and maintenance outage. The outage, originally scheduled for 40 days, ended two and a half days early with a significant amount of work completed that will improve efficiency and output for the next two-year cycle. 

“The tremendous amount of planning that went into this outage paid off for everyone. What we’ve accomplished over the past several weeks will continue to pay benefits to the region through increased carbon-free electricity generation,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief nuclear officer.

Outage-related equipment replacements, refurbishments and upgrades between 2010 and 2015 increased the nuclear station’s gross generation capacity from 1,150 megawatts to 1,190 megawatts. That capacity will rise further as a result of a previous outage upgrade and recent regulatory approval. 

Three weeks ago Energy Northwest received Nuclear Regulatory Commission permission to proceed with a power uprate. The commission’s decision is based on an assessment of leading-edge flowmeter technology EN installed during Columbia’s 2015 outage. The technology improves measurement accuracy of feedwater flow through the reactor core, allowing operators to the run the reactor at higher output. Testing during the next several months will determine how much additional electrical output has been gained by the flowmeter technology.  

“Refueling and maintenance outages are complex evolutions,” Sawatzke said. “I’m proud of the team for working safely to help us meet our commitments to the region.”

Energy Northwest and the BPA time the biennial outage to coincide with spring time snow melt and runoff that maximizes power output from the region’s hydroelectric system and minimizes the impact of taking the nuclear station offline. Operators are bringing the reactor, currently at less than 25 percent power, to 100 percent power, a process that will take several days.

More than 1,350 skilled outage workers were hired locally and from across the country to support maintenance projects throughout the plant. The added workers join Columbia’s normal work force of about 1,100 employees and bring substantial economic value to the region.

During the refueling and maintenance outage, workers replaced 272 of 764 nuclear fuel assemblies. Every two years, approximately a third of Columbia’s fuel assemblies are removed from the core and placed in the used fuel pool after spending a total of six years in the reactor core. Energy Northwest continues to utilize a newer design in its fuel assemblies, which increases fuel efficiency, ultimately providing a cost-benefit during future refueling outages.

A new low pressure turbine rotor was successfully installed as part of Columbia’s turbine life-cycle plan, a multi-year, $32 million project to refurbish the three low pressure turbines to satisfy the plant's license extension to 2043.

Columbia Generating Station, with an output of 1,190 megawatts electric (gross), is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. All of its electricity is sold at-cost to BPA. Columbia represents about 13.5 percent of BPA’s firm energy and 9.7 percent of Bonneville’s sustained peak capacity. Ninety-two Northwest utilities in six states receive a percentage of its output.

Columbia is located 10 miles north of Richland.

About Energy Northwest
Energy Northwest develops, owns and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar and wind projects – and the Northwest’s only nuclear energy facility. These projects provide enough reliable, affordable and environmentally respon­sible energy to power more than a million homes each year, and that carbon-free electricity is provided at the cost of generation. As a Washington state, joint action agency, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers. The agency continually explores new generation projects to meet its members’ needs.

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