Expert says price of Georgia power plant not competitive

Published Aug. 14, 2013

ATLANTA — If Georgia was starting from scratch, it could not financially justify the nuclear power plant now under construction.

That conclusion from Georgia's state utility regulators bluntly illustrates how an anticipated boom in nuclear power went bust as natural gas prices plummeted, the economy fell into a severe recession and construction proved pricier than expected.

The latest calculations show that finishing the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia by Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power is the cheapest financial option. But the numbers are a warning for other utilities considering new construction any time soon.

The figures came in a report filed Friday by Philip Hayet, a consultant who monitors the economics of the nuclear plant for Georgia's Public Service Commission.

Hayet said the nuclear plant is no longer economic compared to building gas-fired plants when factoring in total project costs, estimated fuel prices and the potential that the U.S. government may tax carbon emissions.

"If a decision had to be made today to build a new nuclear project, it would not be justified on the basis of these results," Hayet said.

The development is not surprising given recent trends. With the massive growth in the country's natural gas supply, utilities across the country have canceled or indefinitely delayed new nuclear plants and even shuttered existing ones.

Duke Energy earlier this month halted plans in Florida to build its proposed Levy County nuclear plant, though the utility is still seeking a license. Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility, also is seeking a license to build two new reactors south of Miami.

But other than the Georgia reactors and a similar project in South Carolina — both already under construction — the prospects for any more new nuclear plants in the near future appear dim.

"The likelihood of someone else going ahead with a new nuclear plant today is very low indeed," said Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Arnold.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation in May reached the same conclusion after comparing the cost of the proposed Levy project with an equivalent natural gas facility. Two months later, Duke announced it would cancel the Levy project as part of a settlement agreement over its failed nuclear ambitions in Florida.

The utility had hoped to upgrade and extend the life of its now broken and shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant as well as build the Levy facility. The two failed projects ran up a tab of $5 billion. Customers are on the hook for about $3.2 billion of the spending.

Times staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this report.