UPDATE 2-Dominion says high interest in sale of 3 power plants

Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:08pm EDT

* Dominion to shut Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin next year

* Glut of natural gas from shale depressing power prices

* Builds thousands of megawatts in Virginia to meet growth

By Scott DiSavino

NEW YORK, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Dominion Resources Inc said potential buyers have shown high interest in the three power plants it is offering for sale in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast.

"We've had many, many parties express interest," Tom Farrell, Dominion's chairman, president and chief executive officer, said Thursday on the company's third-quarter earnings call.

The three plants Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion is looking to sell are the 1,536-megawatt (MW) Brayton Point coal, natural gas and oil-fired plant in Massachusetts; the 1,158-MW Kincaid coal plant in Illinois; and the company's 50 percent stake in the 1,424-MW Elwood gas plant in Illinois.

Earlier in the week, Dominion said it would shut the 566-MW Kewaunee nuclear power plant in Wisconsin next year after the company failed to find a buyer for the reactor.

A glut of natural gas, primarily from increases in shale production, has depressed power prices to levels not seen in a decade, making it tough for generators to earn enough money to keep some power plants such as Kewaunee running.

"I don't think you should compare Kewaunee to Kincaid, Elwood or Brayton Point. Kewaunee is a very unfortunate situation. We couldn't make it work and, apparently, nobody else could either since we found no buyers," Farrell said.

"It's a ... relatively small nuclear facility and there are no capacity payments (in the Midwest power grid), gas prices have reduced energy prices there. It is very difficult for a single unit nuclear facility to work in that market," Farrell added.

The Midwest power grid, where Kewaunee is located, has no capacity market. Generators make money in the capacity market just to keep their plants available for reliability reasons - like an insurance policy - even if they are not needed to operate.

The three plants the company is looking to sell are either located in or sell their capacity to the PJM or New England grids, which have capacity markets.

PJM is the biggest U.S. power grid, serving more than 60 million people in 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest states and the District of Columbia.

VIRGINIA GENERATION

The demand for power in Virginia is growing faster than much of the rest of the nation, in part due to a rapid rise in computer data centers and other growth in the Northern Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C., Dominion has said.

To meet this growth, Dominion is adding thousands of megawatts of new or repowered generating capacity.

Over the summer, the company's 585-MW Virginia City coal and biomass plant entered service. Farrell said the $1.8 billion project was on budget and on schedule following four years of construction.

He said construction of the 1,329-MW natural gas-fired Warren County plant in Virginia was also on budget and on schedule. The $1.1 billion combined cycle plant will have three combustion turbines and one steam turbine and was scheduled for commercial operation in late 2014.

Farrell said the company was in advanced development of another 1,300-MW combined cycle, natural gas plant in Brunswick County, Virginia, which was expected to enter service in 2016 at a similar cost to Warren County.

He said the company was also working to convert units 3 and 4 at the 227-MW Bremo Bluff plant from coal to gas in 2014.

And he said the plans to convert the three coal units at Altavista, Hopewell and Southampton into biomass units were on budget and on schedule to be complete by the end of next year.

In the past, Dominion said it would convert the 63-MW coal-fired peak demand units at Altavista, Hopewell and Southampton into 51-MW baseload biomass plants at an estimated total cost of about $165 million.

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