Wednesday February 14, 2018

Vaulting to the Top: Exelon New Jobs Leader

Owner of nuclear plants in Oswego County is top overall employer
By Lou Sorendo

    Peter Orphanos, left, and Joe Pacher

    It was the business story of the year in 2017.

    With Oswego County facing economic devastation, Exelon Generation plucked the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Scriba off the precipice of being shutdown in a last-minute move that saved more than 600 jobs.

    Former owner Entergy Nuclear was ready to wave the white flag and shutter the 838-megawatt nuclear facility that pays approximately $12 million in taxes to several entities in Oswego County. Entergy officials claimed the plant was a money-losing proposition.

    Exelon, owner of Units 1 and 2 at the adjacent Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station, came to the rescue amid a wealth of community support backing the plant.

    The county’s nuclear facilities directly employ approximately 1,525 people, and for each of these workers, another 2.5 jobs in other industries are supported, according to Camoin Associates’ “Oswego County Economic Advancement Plan — Targeted Industry Analysis.”

    With an additional 600 jobs, Exelon is now the top employer overall in Oswego County in both the private and public sectors, according to the 2018 Oswego County Business Guide.

    It narrowly edged SUNY Oswego by 37 employees to jump into the No. 1 employer slot overall.

    SUNY Oswego had dominated as the No. 1 top public employer for many years, while Oswego Health now sits at No. 2 among private employers.

    FitzPatrick alone has an annual payroll of approximately $65 million. The average annual wage for a worker at FitzPatrick is $120,000.

    Wages at these facilities are generally well above county medians, the analysis noted.

    “Additional workers associated with periodic refueling make significant contributions as well,” the study stated.

    The report noted the refueling at the Fitzpatrick plant in 2017 required contract workers along with regional union labor, including pipefitters, boilermakers, electricians, laborers, and radiation protection technicians.

    “The influx of more than 1,000 outside workers and their associated spending at local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and stores provide a major economic boost to the community,” the analysis noted.

    Since the acquisition, 140 new employees have joined the FitzPatrick workforce, replacing personnel that left for other employment or retired after the announced shutdown of the plant, according to Chris Mudrick, senior vice president Northeast operations and chief operating officer, Exelon Nuclear.

    The sale announcement came after the Clean Energy Standard was adopted in New York. Without the CES, FitzPatrick was slated for closure in January of 2017.

    New York’s nuclear energy plants — Units 1 and 2 at the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station, the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant and Ginna Nuclear Generating Station in Wayne County — are a critical carbon dioxide bridge while New York moves from its current renewable energy baseline of 25 percent to its aggressive 50 percent renewable goal, according to Mudrick.

    The CES is credited with saving $3 billion that nuclear plants contribute annually to the state’s economy and 25,000 direct and indirect jobs, while spurring hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in energy infrastructure.

    Without the CES, FitzPatrick was slated for closure and other nuclear plants would also have been at risk of closure, according to state officials.

    Maintaining zero-emission nuclear power is a critical element to achieving New York’s climate goals, state officials claim. Starting in April 2017, the CES required all six New York investor-owned utilities and other energy suppliers to pay for the intrinsic value of carbon-free emissions from nuclear power plants by purchasing zero-emission credits.

    Taxpayers will subsidize Upstate nuclear power plants in the amount of $965 million over the next two years with adjustments to follow.

    Powerful transition — F
    itzPatrick’s 2017 refueling outage was a tangible accomplishment of the Entergy-Exelon agreement, reached in August 2016, for Exelon to purchase the plant, Mudrick said.

    Exelon sent numerous technical experts to assist with refueling outage work, provided equipment necessary to complete the outage and purchased new fuel for the reactor, according to Mudrick.

    Additionally, closing the transaction required regulatory review and approval by state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New York State Public Service Commission.

    “It took significant effort from FitzPatrick’s highly skilled nuclear professionals to go from decommissioning and shutting down to refueling and integration to a new company,” Mudrick said. “Their constant commitment to the safe, reliable operation of FitzPatrick never wavered throughout the process.”

    Immediately following the close of the sale transaction, teams of employees from across the Exelon fleet were on hand to help FitzPatrick personnel transition to company procedures and processes.

    “The FitzPatrick integration has moved along well. All activities are on or ahead of schedule and site morale is very high,” Mudrick said.

    “More than 75 percent of planned activities were complete at year-end and our target is to be 100 percent complete by the end of the first quarter,” said Mudrick, who has more than 30 years experience in plant operations in support of nuclear power stations, including his responsibilities at Exelon Nuclear.

    Mudrick was the senior vice president Mid-Atlantic Operations for Exelon nuclear sites at the Limerick, Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island generating stations in Pennsylvania, and the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey.

    Nine Mile Point Unit 2 will complete a refueling and maintenance outage this spring. Approximately 1,700 contract workers will support the endeavor.

    The FitzPatrick plant will complete a refueling and maintenance outage in the fall, receiving support from approximately 1,000 contract workers.

    During both outages, in addition to changing out one-third of the facilities’ fuel rods, a number of modifications will be performed to upgrade plant systems and components.

    High-end performers: Exelon's New York state-based nuclear power plants, including the R.E. Ginna station near Rochester, all had strong performances in 2017, Mudrick noted.

    Exelon’s nuclear plants are among the most efficient in the industry, achieving more than a 94 percent capacity factor, a key measure of efficiency, he noted.

    “This reliable production helps offset the potentially severe price volatility of other energy sources — such as natural gas and fuel oil — and the intermittency of renewable electricity sources,” Mudrick said.

    In comparison, according to a report by the New York Independent System Operator, the capacity factors for wind are approximately 25 percent while solar is 15 percent.

    The demand for electricity is managed by NYISO, the regional transmission organization.

    Across the board, Exelon Generation’s plants had an average capacity factor of more than 94 percent in 2017, Mudrick noted.

    As a base-load generator, Exelon produces energy at full power unless refueling or conducting maintenance, which accounts for its high capacity factor of more than 94 percent, said Mudrick, who is responsible for the oversight of Exelon’s Nine Mile Point, FitzPatrick, R.E. Ginna and Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plants. Calvert Cliffs is located on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, Calvert County, Md.

    These sites, along with the other 10 Exelon sites, contribute more than 22,000 megawatts of electricity.  Exelon Nuclear is the third-largest nuclear fleet in the world and the largest in America with nearly 20 percent of the nation’s nuclear generating capacity.

    Spent fuel issue: Meanwhile, used nuclear fuel at Nine Mile Point and FitzPatrick is being safely stored and managed at the reactor sites, Mudrick said.

    The NRC has certified continued on-site storage as safe while the federal government works to honor its legal commitment to remove the fuel for permanent disposal, he added.

    The Obama Administration halted work on the Yucca Mountain, Nev., site as a permanent repository, but the Trump Administration and a bipartisan group of members of Congress are working to restart work at the site, Mudrick said.

    “It remains uncertain when the federal government will be in a position to begin removing used fuel from reactor sites,” he said. “Regardless of outcome, we know that the used fuel is stored safely onsite and monitored daily.”

    Used fuel is safely stored at both FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point in either fuel pools or dry fuel storage casks, Mudrick said.

    The “defense-in-depth” philosophy used in the construction and operation of nuclear energy plants provides high levels of protection for public health and safety, he noted.

    “This is also true for dry cask storage. All dry fuel storage facilities meet federal regulatory design requirements, including cask designs to withstand the effects of natural phenomena such as tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes and flooding,” he added.

    Community player:
    Exelon is highly regarded as a corporate leader in its communities, supporting education initiatives, environmental and conservation projects, and numerous charitable organizations.

    Mudrick noted that Exelon has five giving focus areas: education, environment, health and human services, arts and culture, community and neighborhood development.

    Exelon donates more than $200,000 to Oswego-area charities and community events.

    The company is a premier sponsor of Harborfest and will continue supporting the event well into the future, Mudrick said.

    “Our employees are also generous with their time and money. Our employees logged more than 12,000 volunteer hours in 2016 alone,” he said.

    Beyond volunteer work, Exelon employees give back through financial support of hundreds of charities.

    “Our three New York nuclear facilities are among the largest contributors to local United Way campaigns each year, thanks to the generosity of our employees and a company match of 50 cents for every employee dollar donated,” Mudrick said.

    Employees across the three New York locations donate more than $300,000, making the company match another $150,000 for a total of $450,000 in local charitable contributions for the “Employee Giving Campaign” alone, said Mudrick, who completed the Harvard Business School advanced management program in 2015.

    Exelon also works to engage our broader community through educational outreach activities such as speaking with local elementary, high school and college students as well as hosting on-site events for groups such as the Girl Scouts,” Mudrick said.

    In the fall of 2017, Nine Mile Point achieved gold level certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council, the organization’s highest level of conservation certification.

    Employees involved with the station’s environmental stewardship committee pursued certification having completed a number of projects onsite, including installation of bat and duck houses, a bee hive and pollinator garden.