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Wisconsin nuclear plant to close

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It didn't make the news here, but it opened a few eyes at Manitoba Hydro. 

Back in late October, Dominion Resources Inc. announced it was closing its Kewaunee Power Station, a small Wisconsin nuclear plant built in 1974 on Lake Michigan about 40 kilometres southeast of Green Bay. 

There were two reasons, according to news reports. Dominion had been shopping around for a buyer and couldn't find one and the other was because of the low price of natural gas in North America.

The 556-megawatt facility is expected to stop producing power in mid 2013 and begin the slow process of shutting down. 

Reports also say that late last year, Alliant Energy Corp.-- its supplies energy to Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota--ended negotiations with Dominion on a power purchase deal. The remainder of Kewaunee's power is sold to Green Bay-based Public Service Corp.

To try to localize this, Alliant, Public Service Corp. and Manitoba Hydro belong to the same club. They are each part of MISO, the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc

MISO manages the grid in 11 U.S. states. Manitoba is the only Canadian province that's a member.

The move to mothball the Kewaunee plant is dependent upon a review to be conducted by MISO on the impact of its closure on the grid.

In 2008, Manitoba Hydro signed a ‘term sheet’ with  Public Service Corp. to provide up to 500 megawatts hydro power to Wisconsin over 15 years starting in 2018.

That deal was scaled back somewhat three years later.

The question now is does Kewaunee's closure change things back in Manitoba Hydro's favour?

The answer, it appears, is no.

The boom in North America's gas production, tied to hydraulic fracking, has kept natural gas prices so low that some U.S. utilities are switching over their power generation to natural gas from coal. 

It's that, coupled with the poor economy in the U.S., that's created a low demand for Manitoba Hydro's surplus power. 

And for now at least, it appears the plant's shutdown, and the loss 556 megawatts, will have little impact on the state's power supply.

Wisconsin just doesn't need it, some observers say. Energy conservation plus natural gas plus wind power have in a short time thrown the market upside down.

Which begs the question: If it can happen in Wisconsin can it happen here?

Hydro still wants go ahead with its new Keeyask generation station on the lower Nelson River near Split Lake to meet the growing domestic demand in southern Manitoba. Keeyask is expected to produce 695 megawatts.

Manitoba Hydro wants Keeyask's first turbine turning by 2019 with the other six spinning by 2021. 

Soon a panel of Manitoba's Public Ultilities Board will start to ask that question. What they come up with will define the province's place in hydro development for generations to come.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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