In addition, the City of Marietta plans to invest about $405 million over a 40-year period to help pay for the expansion of Plant Vogtle near the Georgia-South Carolina border. As a member of the Municipal Electric Association of Georgia, which is helping to pay for the reactors, it will own 65 megawatts of power each year generated by the two new reactors at Vogtle. The city will not need that power until 2036, and thus will sell it to other utilities until then, deeply defraying the city's overall investment to about $200 million.
Absent nuclear power, any clean-energy policy is largely decorative since the more-talked-about elements - wind, solar - can only supply power at the margins. Nuclear plants generate 20 percent of U.S. power now and 70 percent of the power considered to come from clean sources.
But the media-driven public backlash that followed the Three Mile Island mishap in 1979 saw to it that no new plants have been licensed since. The Georgia plants are among 13 applications pending and unlikely to be decided before 2011 or 2012. And, even at that, the plants aren't expected to come online before 2016 and 2017.
The economics could change, but on paper the plants make sense, providing power for 1.4 million people in an area of growing demand and creating 850 permanent jobs. Clearly, the Obama administration thinks these reactors will only be the first. The president's new budget triples to $54.5 billion the funds available to guarantee loans for clean-energy projects. That money is not exclusively for nuclear, but nuclear-power plants are the biggest-ticket items on the horizon.
While the proposed plants would go some ways toward Obama's goals of clean power and self-sufficiency, they are, thankfully, unlikely to achieve another objective - reviving the dimming prospects for his cap-and-trade energy bill.
In unveiling the loan guarantees, the president said, "We're not going to achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable. As long as producing carbon pollution carries no cost, traditional plants that use fossil fuels will be more cost-effective than plants that use nuclear fuel."
Cap-and-trade, an artificial market in permits to pollute, would exponentially increase government's reach into the marketplace, and by extension, into your home and wallet. It would be a poor way to attack that problem and political resistance to the concept is growing. Unhappily for the administration, so is opposition to carbon taxes and federal regulation of greenhouse emissions.
Perhaps the most effective way to make a statement on clean energy would be to demonstrate that for the first time in over three decades the U.S. is capable of building clean, safe and efficient nuclear-power plants. The Georgia reactors are a good place to start, and additionally are a good investment for Marietta and the BLW.