Jobs would vanish almost immediately if Vogtle expansion canceled

It’s a question few in this area want to think about: What happens if state regulators pull the plug on Plant Vogtle’s units 3 and 4 Thursday?

 

The immediate scenario would mirror what happened this summer during the V.C. Summer construction shutdown in Fairfield County, S.C.

The first thing to empty would be the 42-acre lot where Vogtle’s 6,000 construction workers park. Then there would be an exodus of RVs, travel trailers and campers from the mobile home parks and campgrounds they’ve called home for the past few years.

“The day they announced here, the parks were vacant within three hours,” said Ty Davenport, Fairfield County’s director of economic development. “They all just drove off.”

Rental homes and apartments would see “for rent” and “for sale” signs sprout up almost overnight.

Orders from local wholesalers, industrial supply companies and equipment rental businesses would plummet. Area restaurants, shopping centers and highways would become a little less crowded.

“It will ripple though the economy,” Davenport said. “It was a kick in the gut here.”

And it would be a long time before people in metro Augusta stopped lamenting the loss of the “nuclear renaissance” going on 20 miles south of town in Burke County.

“It would be a substantial detriment to the building of new nuclear across the country if we don’t build Vogtle,” said Brydon Ross, Southeast director for the Consumer Energy Alliance. “It’s our last best chance to build new nuclear in the U.S. If we don’t build Vogtle, we’re not going to be building new nuclear for a long, long time.”

Georgia’s five Public Service Commissioners are expected to decide in Atlanta on Thursday if Georgia Power and its co-investors should cancel the long-delayed project ratepayers have been funding since 2011. The new reactors were supposed to be finished this year for $14 billion but aren’t projected to go operational until 2022 at an estimated $25 billion.

Project opponents range from anti-nuclear activists pushing natural gas and renewable energy sources to Georgia Power ratepayers upset with the “cost recovery fee” the utility has collected in advance of the ever-expanding completion date.

Few have talked about the impact of a Vogtle shutdown because it never seemed possible.

That changed in March when the main contractor, Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric Co., filed for bankruptcy protection because of delays and cost overruns at Vogtle and the V.C. Summer plant, the latter of which was shuttered in July after costs ballooned from $9 billion to $18 billion.

Another blow came Friday when the final U.S. House-Senate tax bill did not include a provision sought by Vogtle backers to extend tax credits for the nuclear project that would have netted about $800 million over several years, according to media reports.

Most Vogtle discussion has centered on its economic positives: its nearly 6,000 temporary construction and project management jobs and the more than 800 high-paying permanent jobs that would be created once the power plants are finished. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median nuclear plant operator earns an average annual wage of $91,170.

The loss of those jobs would send a shock wave through the community, said Andy Crosson, executive director of the CSRA Regional Commission, a 13-county planning and economic development agency.

“It would have a major impact in an immediate sense,” he said. “In a long-term sense, we would lose those potential jobs and the indirect jobs that would come with those jobs.”

Crosson said each nuclear job supports 1.6 jobs in other industries. Based on his multipliers, abandoning units 3 and 4 would rob the economy of 800 direct jobs, 528 additional jobs and more than $33 million in annual payroll.

The loss of construction jobs would have the effect of pulling $115 million in annual payroll from the regional economy. That figure doesn’t count the hundreds of temporary contractors brought in every 18 months to refuel the reactors and perform scheduled maintenance. With a total of four operating units at one site, operators would constantly be preparing for the next maintenance and refueling period, known in the power industry as an “outage.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1579 in Augusta supplies the site with nearly 500 electricians. Barring a shutdown, that number would climb to 1,200 in March, when the most intense electrical work begins.

At a time when building trades have struggled to attract the next generation of workers, Brent Booker, secretary of North America’s Building Trades Unions, testified to the PSC that skilled journeymen and apprentices are generally earning between $24 to $36 per hour in direct wages on top of pension and health benefits.

“Apprenticeships provide access to a quality career and a pathway to the middle class,” he said. “…(These jobs) can prove an individual with a personal income above the median household income in Burke County, which is $33,641.”

There’s also the property tax windfall that Vogtle provides Burke County.

Units 1 and 2 comprise the majority of the mostly rural county’s tax digest, putting roughly $22.3 million in county coffers from Vogtle’s co-owners, Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Completion of the new units would essentially double that tax bill, two-thirds of which funds Burke County Public Schools. Georgia Power Spokesman Jacob Hawkins said $70 million in property taxes for units 3 and 4 have been paid through 2016.

Shutting down 3 and 4 would have no bearing on units 1 and 2, which have operated since 1987 and 1989 and are licensed through at least 2047 and 2049. The typical nuclear plant purchases $470 million in goods and services from the communities in which they operate, Nuclear Energy Institute President Mary Korsnick testified to the PSC.

Burke County officials have followed the project’s fits and starts since construction began in 2009. They’re hoping for the best but are prepared for the worst. “We would love to see them (3 and 4) finished,” said Merv Waldrop, Burke County Administrator. “But I don’t see it being the end of the world if they shut down.”

Added Burke County Commissioner Allen Delaigle: “The only thing you can do is keep your fingers crossed.”

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

By the numbers

Nearly 6,000 temporary construction and project management jobs and more than 800 high-paying permanent jobs would be created once the power plants are finished.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median nuclear plant operator earns an average annual wage of $91,170.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1579 in Augusta supplies the site with nearly 500 electricians. Barring a shutdown, that number would climb to 1,200 in March, when the most intense electrical work begins.

 

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