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Generator short shuts Perry plant


John C. Kuehner
Plain Dealer Reporter

FirstEnergy Corp., already smarting because its Davis-Besse nuclear plant is out of service, shut down the Perry nuclear power plant Monday after a key part in the generator shorted out.

The utility expects Perry to be offline for about two weeks while the part is refurbished at Monarch Electric Service Co. in Cleveland, a service center for large rotating electrical equipment.

A spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the country's commercial nuclear power plants, called the Perry malfunction "routine stuff" and said there were no safety issues associated with it because it is in a non-nuclear section of the plant.

"This same problem could easily have happened at a coal plant," FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said.

The part, about the size of an office cubicle, is significant because without it a generator cannot produce electricity.

Perry operators discovered the problem Sunday morning and tried to diagnose it while Perry still produced electricity at a lower rate.

But that proved unsuccessful, and early Monday operators took the generator off line. Operators shut down the nuclear reactor last night.

Rather than refurbish the part that went bad, FirstEnergy, as it has done numerous times over the years, pulled the same part from Unit 2, which was less than half finished when work stopped in 1984.

FirstEnergy will buy electricity from other utilities to replace the electricity from Perry, which provides about 10 percent of the company's power supply. Schneider had no estimate of what the Perry shutdown would cost FirstEnergy.

The company already is buying power for Davis-Besse, which shut down Feb. 16 for refueling and a safety inspection ordered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In early March, inspectors found the reactor lid severely corroded, which has led to major repair work.

The company has said that replacement power for Davis-Besse is costing $10 million to $15 million a month through June. That cost jumps to $20 million to $25 million a month in July and August, when electricity demand is greater because of hotter weather.

Meanwhile, in a meeting in Washington, D.C., yesterday with the NRC, FirstEnergy officials said Davis-Besse could restart by year's end, pending NRC approval. FirstEnergy has agreed to buy a replacement reactor lid off a never-completed nuclear plant in Midland, Mich.

The NRC is investigating why FirstEnergy delayed a full inspection of the lid, which can be difficult to access. FirstEnergy officials gave assurances yesterday that new 12-inch openings in the support structure over the reactor head will allow for full inspections of the new lid.

While the Perry shutdown is bad news for beleaguered FirstEnergy, utility watchers don't see it affecting consumers.

Shana Gerber, spokeswoman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, said FirstEnergy cannot pass along costs to its customers due to a five-year rate freeze that took effect in 2001.

And an ample supply of power right now means plenty of electricity for air conditioners this summer.

"The only time we would get really concerned was if the Perry outage coincided with a heat wave," said Tim Gallagher, manager of technical resources for the North American Reliability Council, which tracks electricity supply and demand in North America. "But this time of year, when the temperatures aren't quite as hot, the fact that Perry is down for two weeks shouldn't be a concern."

"If it's just two weeks, it won't meant that much," said James Halloran, an analyst for National City's Private Investment Advisors in Cleveland.

Plain Dealer reporters Jennifer Scott Cimperman and Stephen Koff contributed to this story.

Contact John C. Kuehner at:

jkuehner@plaind.com, 216-999-5325

2002 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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