Issue #21.26 :: 06/25/2008 - 07/01/2008
New Law Sparks Rush to Build Nuclear Plants
Environmental Groups Prefer Promoting Conservation
BY FREE TIMES WRITERS
By David Baker
Utility companies are in a mad rush to build nuclear power plants in South Carolina, following passage of a state law in 2007 that shifts the preliminary costs of the facilities from the companies to their ratepayers.
The utilities say the plants are necessary because in 10 years or less, South Carolina’s consumption of electricity will outpace the state’s production of power.
South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and state-owned Santee Cooper filed a joint proposal with the S.C. Public Service Commission on May 30 outlining their plan to build a nuclear power plant with two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in the small Fairfield County town of Jenkinsville.
The proposal is running into opposition on financial and environmental grounds from organizations that include Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and the USC group Students Advocating a Greener Environment.
“We think promoting energy conservation and efficiency would be a much better way to spend the money,” says Tom Clements, nuclear issues regional coordinator for Friends of the Earth.
Sarah Tansey, a leader with the SAGE group at USC, says she is helping to coordinate listening sessions with Jenkinsville residents, who would not be the only ones potentially in harm’s way of the plant. “The people of Columbia, being only 30 miles from the reactor, will be at risk for any accidents at the plant,” Tansey writes in an email.
Meanwhile, Duke Power also wants to build a nuclear power plant with two reactors, near Gaffney in the Upstate.
Among other environmental concerns, Clements notes that nuclear power plants require massive amounts of water to cool their reactors.
In the cases of both proposed facilities, much of their cooling water would be drawn from the Broad River that flows through Columbia. “When both of the power stations begin operations, they will be forced to change the name of the Broad River to the Skinny River,” Clements says.
The state law that facilitated the rush to build new nuclear power stations in South Carolina is called the Base Load Review Act. It allows utility companies, if they can justify a need for a new facility, to pass the preconstruction costs of a plant on to their customers up front, rather than later as was the case prior to the law’s passage.
The act also allows a utility to recoup costs from its ratepayers even if the company does not finish a project, if the company can justify those costs as prudent.
SCE&G and Santee Cooper have accrued $16.5 million in preconstruction expenses for their proposed V.C. Summer plant, which they estimate will run $9.8 billion.
And the Public Service Commission has given Duke approval to incur preconstruction costs for its proposed plant, according to Friends of the Earth.