Originally created 02/27/06

A great opportunity at Vogtle



There are a couple of ways to react to Georgia Power's plan to consider building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

No. 1 - the wrong way - is invoking panic.

Utility consumers panicking over increased rates to pay for the reactors and environmental alarmists panicking the public into believing the company's setting Vogtle up for another Three Mile Island-type disaster, or worse.

No. 2 - the right way - is embracing opportunity.

If Georgia Power opts to move ahead on constructing one or both new nuclear units, after getting approval from the state Public Service Commission and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it would be an economic bonanza for Burke County and surrounding areas. It would create several thousand construction jobs over a three- to four-year period, and several hundred permanent high-salaried nuclear science and engineering jobs after the reactors are built.

Concerning soaring utility rates to pay for the nuclear units - that's scare talk. Consumers wouldn't be hit with the higher utility bills until the reactors are producing power, which is nearly 10 years off - and that includes the $51 million Georgia Power is seeking in planning costs. If the company decides not to build the reactors, PSC would let the company recoup that money via regular rate-increase requests.

Consumers aren't getting rooked; if anything, they're getting a break. In coming years, nuclear power will be less expensive, environmentally cleaner and more stable pricewise than the other primary sources of energy - fossil fuels and natural gas.

"We expect to need additional generation to meet our customers' needs in 2015 and beyond," says Jeff Wallace, Georgia Power's vice president of planning and utility relations. "Nuclear power is becoming more and more attractive as an option to meet those needs economically, reliably and with low environmental impact."

Majority owner Georgia Power is not alone in that assessment. Plant Vogtle's co-owners, including Oglethorpe Power Corp., all agree - as do state lawmakers who have filed resolutions in both legislative chambers urging the PSC to green-light the nuclear plan.

PSC chairman Stan Wise won't need much convincing. "This measure will diversify Georgia's energy mix by expanding nuclear generation at existing plants ... . We all are aware of natural gas volatility and what it means to Georgians," he said in a public statement.

Anti-nuke scaremongers are not only talking up the alleged dangers of building new nuclear reactors, but also the price-tag, recalling the cost overruns in building Vogtle's two existing units - from an original estimate of $660 million to a final tab of $9 billion when they went online in the late 1980s.

That's not likely to happen again, says Georgia Power spokesperson Carol Boatright. Vogtle was being built during the Jimmy Carter era, when interest rates and inflation were soaring into double digits. Then Three Mile Island happened, triggering scads of costly new nuclear rules and regulations and expensive delays.

Under the 2006 plan, nuclear plants will be standardized, thus streamlining the regulatory process and keeping down construction costs. In addition, Georgia Power may become eligible for up to $500 million in federal loan guarantees and protection against litigation and regulatory delays.

That's an opportunity the company would be foolish not to pursue. It's win-win for both shareholders and consumers. Let's hope the scare talk falls flat.