RICHLAND -- Energy Northwest might not be able to resume generating power at its nuclear plant near Richland until late September, three months later than originally planned.
Delaying the start of power production from the original estimated date of June 23 through August is expected to cost $40 million, according to the Bonneville Power Administration.
If power production does not resume through the end of September, the net cost will be more than $60 million.
The Columbia Generating Station shut down April 6 for what was planned to be the longest refueling outage in its history, as the down time also was planned to be used to replace the plant's condenser. The expected 80-day outage included 53 days for the condenser replacement.
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But the project under contractor Babcock and Wilcox Co. has been plagued by delays.
Energy Northwest said in mid-June that the plant might not resume operating until early August. A month later, it revised that projection to late August. Then Tuesday it said that it was pushing projections to mid- to late-September.
The outage was scheduled for spring to take advantage of high water flows through the federal hydroelectric dam system. Fortunately, it was a wet year. Runoff was the highest since 1997, according to BPA.
But the peak runoff has passed, said Michael Milstein, BPA spokesman. Although BPA does not anticipate any power reliability issues, as summer progresses hydropower production declines and energy consumption increases, making nuclear power more important, he said.
The $40 million to $60 million projected net cost of the extension of the outage is based on BPA not being able to sell power it expected or having to buy power. BPA manages and markets the Northwest electrical system.
The Columbia Generating Station's power, sold to BPA and then to retail customers across the Northwest, is valued at more than $1 million a day.
"It is certainly discouraging for the outage to continue so far beyond the anticipated time frame," Milstein said. "We are focused on helping Energy Northwest make as much progress as it can."
Within the first week of the outage, Energy Northwest was disappointed to receive a revised work schedule from Babcock and Wilcox, said Energy Northwest spokesman Mike Paoli. It has since received three more.
In June, Energy Northwest officials were saying that the contractor's problem was inadequate planning and preparation, but that they were seeing improvements in productivity.
However, the work did not get the momentum needed, Paoli said.
Management problems have persisted in the areas of quality and safety, he said.
Energy Northwest has mandated repeated work stoppages over concerns about industrial safety and risk to the contractor's workers, Paoli said. They total a combined 20 days without work.
Problems have included workers not wearing gloves and cutting their hands, he said. In another case, repeated instances of heavy loads -- all under 100 pounds -- being dropped and leading to a work stoppage.
Energy Northwest hired an alternate contractor to do some welding because of the pace of the work, Paoli said. The alternate contractor was able to maintain quality standards with three to five times the productivity, he said.
Babcock and Wilcox officials in Virginia did not respond Tuesday afternoon to a request for comment about the delays.
Replacing the 25-year-old condenser, which turns steam generated by boiling water in the reactor back into water for reuse in the plant, is expected to increase the plant's efficiency. The 1,150 megawatt plant is expected to gain 12 megawatts of electricity generation.