ATLANTA — One of the strongest supporters for nuclear power on the Public Service Commission announced Thursday intentions to delay studies for a new reactor for three years.
Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said he intends to introduce a motion when the five-man commission votes on Georgia Power’s long-range facilities plan that would deny the company’s request to study a new plant.
“I personally am very supportive of nuclear, and nothing in this draft motion would prevent the company, its affiliates, or its parent Southern Company, from spending any funds it desired or believed was necessary to investigate and preserve new nuclear,” he said. “Frankly, I hope they do decide to go forward.”
The company can spend its own money however it wishes, but its request is to have its customers pay $175 million to test the feasibility of building reactors at a site it owns in Steward County, along the Chattahoochee River below Columbus. McDonald said it was premature for the commission to make customers pay for the study.
Jacob Hawkins said the company will suspend preliminary work on the site if McDonald’s motion passes.
“A delay of even a few years in these actions will jeopardize our ability to keep new nuclear as a timely option for customers,” he said.
McDonald’s motion comes as the commission is set to hear testimony next week on construction of the nation’s first two commercial nuclear reactors in 30 years at Plant Vogtle, where Georgia Power is the majority owner. It is three years behind schedule and around $1 billion over budget, and the commission staff is investigating whether to recommend having electricity customers pay the tab for the overage.
Last week, SCANA asked the South Carolina counterpart to the commission to charge their customers for $852 million in overages for two reactors it is building at Plant Summer.
Around the time McDonald was making his announcement Thursday, Exelon Corp. announced it is shutting down two money-losing nuclear plants in Illinois. This year, other utilities have announced additional plants for closure due to operational costs. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates as many at 15 to 20 of the nation’s 99 commercial reactors are in danger of closure for financial reasons.
The positive side of nuclear energy is that the fuel is relatively inexpensive; it is reliable, and it doesn’t emit carbon or other air pollution. But fracking has brought the price of natural gas down, and technology has lowered the cost of solar panels, eroding much of nuclear power’s competitiveness.