Last week, Crane said he doesn't see more nuclear plants in the company's future.
"We cannot see in the next 20 years, under these market conditions, the reality that you would be a merchant nuclear plant," he said.
The company dropped its plan for a new reactor last month, citing cheap natural gas prices as a reason it couldn't finance the project.
Crane said that in order for a new nuclear plant to be viable in a competitive market, natural gas prices would have to rise to $14 per million British thermal units from about $3 today or carbon, which is not taxed now, would have to be taxed at about $25 per ton. He noted that the four nuclear units under construction in the U.S. are being built in regulated markets where the costs can be absorbed by ratepayers rather than investors.
"We don't see the appetite in Washington right now to address the carbon issue," he said.
Still, Crane expects the company's nuclear fleet to remain a hefty part of its portfolio.
"Nuclear is still the lowest-cost generating assets in the base load suite of generating assets," Crane said, referring to the cheap cost to run nuclear plants compared with other forms of power that aren't intermittent. "So what we could continue to do is evaluate our investments in those assets to make sure that they continue to have a positive return. The day you wake up and say, 'No, I can't get the return,' that's when you retire the unit early."
Exelon will continue to diversify its portfolio, he said, adding that the company has no plans to retreat from renewables and that a healthy mix of various technologies, including natural gas, wind and solar-powered energy, is important to maintaining a sustainable business.
The company's acquisition of Constellation Energy helped diversify a mix of generating assets with an output that was 92 percent nuclear before the merger; the mix is now more diverse, although the exact output won't be known until year-end.
That diversity was further bolstered by Exelon's acquisition prior to the merger of a new natural gas plant.
Then again, that thesis of ongoing diversification could change.
"A lot can happen in three decades," Crane said. "Economics could change. Technology could advance. Who knew shale gas was coming?"
Exelon also hopes to squeeze more profits from its regulated utilities. It is spending billions on smart meter build-outs in three states that ultimately will enable the company's utilities to reap larger returns on its lines to customers.
Currently, about half of Exelon's revenue stream comes from its three utilities: Commonwealth Edison Co., which serves 3.8 million customers in the Chicago area; Peco Energy Co., which serves 1.6 million electric customers and 494,000 natural gas customers in southeastern Pennsylvania; and Baltimore Gas and Electric, which serves more than 1.2 million electric customers and 650,000 gas customers in Baltimore and the surrounding area.
With a glut of natural gas and wind pummeling its generation business, sending profit margins down nearly 40 percent on a dollars-per-megawatt-hour basis, any upside from its regulated arm would be beneficial.
With the help of $400 million in federal grants under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the company is installing smart grid technology at its Illinois, Baltimore and Pennsylvania utilities.
Exelon has said it intends to spend $250 million on smart grid technology this year, an additional $400 million in 2013 and $475 million more in 2014 across its three utilities. The company's plan calls for a steady return on those investments, paid for by ratepayers.
Crane said the investments are more than just a way to make money.
"We don't just go lay poles or lay switches or lay meters just to make money," said Crane, who has not shared the impact those investments will have on earnings.
The smart grid investments, he said, also will benefit consumers because they'll face less frequent and less extensive outages and have more control over their electricity usage. The technology will allow ComEd to pinpoint where outages have occurred. Currently, that only happens when a customer calls.
"It's not efficient taking 1940s technology and running very qualified technicians up and down the road in a very expensive truck to find out where the outage is," he said.
Exelon continues to sell noncore assets it acquired in the Constellation deal and is putting off certain investments. In August, Exelon sold five biomass-based power facilities in California it said didn't fit the company's long-term plan. Exelon also is deferring a costly upgrade of its LaSalle nuclear plant in Illinois by two years, which analysts estimate will free up $400 million through 2014.
That said, Crane expects to see a recovery in the markets.
"We believe they have to recover. If we can't produce and thrive in this marketplace with the lowest-cost generating assets, who else is going to make it? Nobody has a portfolio like us," he said.
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