ATLANTA — Plant Vogtle, where two nuclear reactors operate and two more are under construction, was rejected as the site for an additional reactor to minimize concentration concerns, Georgia Power executives testified Wednesday.
The explanation came during a hearing before the Georgia Public Service Commission on the utility’s proposed 20-year generation plan, which includes a request to charge electricity customers $175 million to evaluate land below Columbus in Stewart County as a site for a nuclear power plant.
PSC member Tim Echols asked why not use Vogtle, it has ample room and already has the wires, roads, security and other infrastructure. It is also where the company is having built two AP-1000 reactors, the same design it is leaning toward for the reactor being considered.
“Everything else would say if you’re going to build an additional reactor, which is likely to be an AP-1000, wouldn’t it make sense to build it there rather than picking up everything and moving it all the way across the state?” he asked.
Alison R. Chiock, Georgia Power’s director of resource policy and planning, said that the company considered it but that there are stronger reasons for building it elsewhere.
The need for the power is more likely to be on the western end of the state, she said, but a bigger reason is to avoid what she called a “concentration of assets.”
When the current construction is complete, Vogtle will be the site of the nation’s largest concentration of reactors – four. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is leery of greater concentration, she said, because of the additional risks during malfunctions or other trouble.
That also concerns the company, Chiock said, because it affects reliability. For example, a windstorm that destroys transmission lines from Plant Vogtle could cut off 14 percent of the company’s generating capacity from customers after all four of the reactors are running.
Adding another reactor would raise that outage to 21 percent.
“Asset concentration is one of the main reasons it fell from our list of attractive options,” she said.
Another plus for the Stewart County site is a major natural gas transmission pipeline running through it, allowing the company to build a gas-fired plant there if it doesn’t build a nuclear one.
Plant Vogtle, however, is a main reason the company is asking to investigate a new reactor now, 17 years sooner than it’s needed. That is because the company has employees who know how to get a reactor permit from the NRC and know how to build one after getting Vogtle’s Units 3 and 4 approved.
If Georgia Power applies to the NRC for that permit before 2021, it can use the approved AP-1000 design, saving considerable time and money that would be necessary to get a new design approved or to renew the existing one. The company wants to skip the bother it is experiencing now as the first U.S. utility to construct an AP-1000.
“We don’t want to be another first-of-its-kind plant,” Chiock said.
A major point of the hearing is for the PSC to decide whether electricity customers should pay the cost of evaluating the Stewart County site and preparing the NRC application.
Commission member Lauren “Bubba” McDonald repeatedly urged the Georgia Power executives to make their investors, not the electricity customers, cover the costs.
“If you’re that positive about it, put your money up,” he said.
But Jeffrey A. Burleson, the vice president of planning for Georgia Power’s sister company, Southern Company Services, pointed to a 1991 Georgia law that requires utilities to get Public Service Commission approval of its plans and ensures that the end users pay for what they benefit from.
“The company is making the investment solely for the retail customers, so it is appropriate for the retail customers to pay for it,” he said.