WAYNESBORO, Ga. — U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz signed loan agreements Thursday backing the first two nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in more than three decades.
Following a tour of Plant Vogtle nuclear facility, Moniz completed approval of a $6.5 billion federal loan guarantee to help Southern Co. and Oglethorpe Power finance the new reactors, finalizing an offer first extended in 2010.
Investing in nuclear energy helps ensure the nation’s energy infrastructure competes with China and other countries building nuclear reactors, the secretary said.
“If we don’t move out with these kinds of projects, we are not going to be at the head of the train,” Moniz said. “We, in the United States, should not be running to catch up to the caboose.”
Moniz said nuclear is part of diversifying the nation’s energy portfolio with alternative sources to reduce carbon emission with clean, advanced technology.
“We are advancing getting projects done across the board to serve the clean energy needs in our country,” he said.
The Energy Department has not finalized a $1.8 billion loan guarantee with MEAG, one of the partners building Vogtle’s new reactors about 30 miles south of Augusta. In 2010, an $8.3 billion government offer included up to $3.46 billion for Georgia Power, which owns 45.7 percent of the two Westinghouse AP1000 units, and up to $3.05 billion for Oglethorpe, which owns 30 percent. The project’s remaining 1.6 percent is owned by Dalton Utilities.
A day before his Vogtle visit, Moniz announced at the National Press Club in Washington that years of negotiations with Atlanta-based Southern Co. had ended, although the details of the deal were never made public.
Loan guarantees, in which the government promises to assume a company’s debt if the company defaults, were developed in 2005 as an incentive to help build new nuclear reactors. Plunging natural gas prices have stalled other proposed nuclear projects.
The $14 billion reactors under construction at the Burke County site are scheduled to go online in 2017 and 2018.
Georgia Power said the federal loan guarantees lower interest rates for the project and represent cost-savings for Georgia Power customers.
“This financial tool provides $250 million of savings and financing costs directly to our customers that benefit from this plant being built,” said Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers.
Antinuclear activists criticized the nation’s investment in nuclear energy, saying the loan program passes on costs to taxpayers without transparency.
“Despite the dangers nuclear reactors pose and the lack of any sustainable solutions for nuclear waste disposal, President Obama’s commitment to nuclear energy succeeds only in condemning future generations to live with the fallout,” said Katherine Fuchs, nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called upon Congress to investigate the loan guarantee program and filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the terms and conditions of the loans.
“How the agency can finalize a large portion of this deal without providing the full details and terms of the loan offers to American taxpayers before they’re on the hook is beyond unacceptable,” said Sara Barczak, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Southern Co. President and CEO Tom Fanning said conditions of the loans were specific to Georgia Power and publishing them would impact other projects seeking similar loans.
“I don’t think they necessarily need to be shared with anybody else that may be competing for these funds,” Fanning said.