Exelon Generation's nuclear fleet continued to produce electricity around the clock and was unaffected by ice, snow storms and frigid temperatures that dominated the first month of 2014.
Exelon's 10 nuclear power plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey operated continuously throughout January, producing more than 12 million megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power more than 16 million average American homes.
Exelon's nuclear stations helped meet record PJM wintertime electricity demand of 141,312 megawatts, set on Jan. 7 during the so-called "polar vortex." The Exelon fleet of plants continued to operate with the same reliability through a second blast of polar air that began Jan. 21. PJM is the regional transmission operator in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
PJM said eight of the 10 highest winter power demands ever recorded in the PJM region occurred last month. With electricity supplies tight, PJM also issued appeals to the public for conservation on several occasions to help reduce high electricity demand.
Nuclear energy was the fuel of choice in many other areas across the country, such as New England, where some non-nuclear plants were forced to decrease output or shut down because of problems with fuel availability or cold-related mechanical failures. Northeast grid operator ISO-NE reported that nuclear energy provided more electricity in New England than natural gas during the first cold snap in January, 29 percent to 27 percent.
"Nuclear plants provide reliable base load generation. Unlike many other sources of generation, nuclear has firm fuel because we can load at least eighteen months worth in the core of the units," said Bryan Hanson, Exelon Generation chief operating officer and senior vice president.
"Our highly skilled workers prepare our plants for winter weather months in advance of any cold weather hitting by reviewing plant systems and looking for potential equipment issues that could become problematic," he said. "When extreme weather hits, we have procedures in place that direct us to increase the frequency of checks and walk-downs of equipment that could be affected by the temperatures."
Exelon's Dresden nuclear facility in Illinois is helping its neighbors cope with the cold by providing more than electricity. Warm water from the plant's cooling pond was siphoned into the freezing Kankakee River to raise the river's temperature and prevent an ice jam. The water is heated to about 70 degrees as it passes through the reactor's condenser. The condenser, not part of the nuclear side of the plant, turns the steam that powers the generator back into water, which is then recycled into the plant.
Nuclear power plants are essential for grid reliability and are among the safest and most secure industrial facilities in the United States. Nuclear energy is by far the largest clean-air energy source and the only one that can produce large amounts of electricity 24 hours a day.
Exelon Corporation (NYSE: EXC) is the nation's leading competitive energy provider, with 2012 revenues of approximately $23.5 billion. Headquartered in Chicago, Exelon has operations and business activities in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Canada. Exelon is one of the largest competitive U.S. power generators, with approximately 35,000 megawatts of owned capacity comprising one of the nation's cleanest and lowest-cost power generation fleets. The company's Constellation business unit provides energy products and services to approximately 100,000 business and public sector customers and approximately 1 million residential customers. Exelon's utilities deliver electricity and natural gas to more than 6.6 million customers in central Maryland (BGE), northern Illinois (ComEd) and southeastern Pennsylvania (PECO).