It is not often that a vote by a relatively little-known state agency has broader impact across the nation.
But when the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Georgia met December 21, their actions reverberated across the country and in doing so gave renewed hope to reinvigorating America’s nuclear power industry.
The PSC voted unanimously to approve the completion of the Plant Vogtle nuclear project in Waynesboro, Georgia.
The implications of this particular project are considerable, given that its approval by the federal government five years ago marked the first time since 1978 that regulators gave a green light to a new nuclear plant.
To say Plant Vogtle has been beleaguered since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a construction license for two new reactors in February 2012 is not unfair.
There was a near-immediate lawsuit filed by liberal activists to block the project. Westinghouse, the company that was building the plant, declared bankruptcy, creating further delays.
The cost for Plant Vogtle, originally scheduled for completion in 2017, has roughly doubled and the plant isn’t likely to be online until 2022.
But these and other issues swirling around Plant Vogtle obscure the larger point of providing the affordable energy necessary to power Georgia — and the rest of the nation — for future generations.
This power plant, once it is operational, will provide some of the cheapest, most reliable power available, for about 80 years. That’s four generations of Georgians. Not only will Plant Vogtle provide a stable baseline of power to the electrical grid, it will do so at an affordable consumer cost.
Energy prices are a central concern for many American families, particularly for the millions of senior citizens who live on fixed incomes and benefit enormously from the affordable power created through nuclear energy. It is clean, it is abundant, it is reliable and it is relatively inexpensive.
In fact, Georgia Power, which owns and will operate Plant Vogtle, researched a renewable energy approach to provide electricity and found that a solar and battery storage option that could provide comparable amounts of electricity tipped the economic scales at a cost of $25 billion. That figure makes nuclear power look like a bargain.
My organization and our supporters are keenly interested in this issue. American seniors should never have to choose between heat and food or medicine, and one way to ensure they never make such a decision is through reliable and affordable electricity like that provided through nuclear power.
None of this is to suggest we should not invest in other forms of energy production. We, like many Americans, consider ourselves to be in the “All Of The Above” camp when it comes to energy.
A diversified portfolio of energy production should include wind, solar, hydro, fossil fuel and yes, nuclear too. That’s why the Plant Vogtle project is so critically important right now.
About 20% of America’s electricity comes from nuclear power today, but we could — and should — do more. This is particularly important in light of the fact that more existing nuclear plants are approaching retirement, meaning our nuclear capacity is at risk of continuing to shrink.
The virtual moratorium on new plant construction for nearly 40 years exacerbated the situation by impeding production of affordable energy.
The problems Plant Vogtle has experienced cannot be ignored and they have not.
The Georgia PSC is fully prepared to hold accountable the plant’s owner/operators regarding of the delays and cost overruns, and the parent company of Westinghouse, whose bankruptcy hamstrung the entire project, has agreed to pay a fine of some $3.68 billion.
Consumers now and in the future will be protected and Georgia regulators have done an admirable job ensuring that.
There are important lessons being learned from Plant Vogtle. Once the plant is online, it could, with the application of these lessons, herald the beginning of a renaissance in nuclear energy in America.
It’s been nearly four decades since the U.S. surrendered its role as a global leader in nuclear power and the time has come to reclaim that leadership.
Read more at IBD
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