Owners Reach Last-Minute Deal That Saves Nuclear Plant Project

Jason Hopkins | Immigration and politics reporter

The owners of a Georgia nuclear power project reached an agreement Wednesday to continue, saving the only two nuclear reactors under construction in the country.

“We are all pleased to have reached an agreement and to move forward with the construction of Vogtle Units 3 & 4 which is critical to Georgia’s energy future,” the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant’s co-owners said in a joint statement. “While there have been and will be challenges throughout this process, we remain committed to a constructive relationship with each other and are focused on reducing project risk and fulfilling our commitment to our member-consumers.”

The decision followed uncertainty over the fate of the nuclear reactors. Originally planned to cost $7.3 billion and be completed by 2017, the two reactors are now to cost $27 billion and be completed by 2022. The long delays and balloon in construction costs have led to a pledged buyer of the reactors’ energy — the Jacksonville Electric Authority — to sue to get out of the contract. (RELATED: Owners Vote To Stick With Beleaguered Nuclear Plant Project)

The majority owners of the Vogtle — Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities — all agreed Monday not to abandon the project. However, Oglethorpe Power, which owns 30 percent of the plant, hinged its support on the condition that the project’s costs be capped.

Oglethorpe’s condition forced the plant’s owners into negotiations for two days. By Wednesday afternoon, the owners reached an agreement, saving the project.

“This decision saddles ratepayers with the burden of funding the project’s more than $30 billion price tag … JEA will continue to act in finding a resolution that protects the interest of ratepayers in Georgia, Alabama and northeast Florida first,” read a response from the Jacksonville Electric Authority. The Florida electric utility has led a full-throttle campaign against the Vogtle project, even buying attack ads in Georgia newspapers and billboards.

The preservation of the Vogtle project — the only nuclear reactors currently being constructed in the country — hands a major symbolic win to the U.S. nuclear industry. Like the nation’s coal fleet, nuclear plants have been hit hard with subsidy backed renewable energy and cheap natural gas, resulting in many nuclear plants facing early retirement.

However, unlike coal, nuclear reactors produce reliable energy with zero carbon emissions, prompting many to argue that the industry is worth preserving.

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Tags : federal energy regulatory commission georgia plant vogtle
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