By Brian Wheeler, Senior Editor
In February, Southern Co. and its partners, Oglethorpe Power Corp., Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities, received the first Nuclear Regulatory Commission-issued combined construction and operating licenses (COL) for Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
Cheri Collins, General Manager of External Alliances, discusses the Vogtle project, expansion of nuclear in the U.S., and Southern’s energy strategy for the future.
Power Engineering magazine: It has been several months since the approval of the COL for Plant Vogtle. What does this project mean for Southern Co. and its customers?
Cheri Collins: Building Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 is an important part of Southern Co.’s “all arrows in the quiver” approach to providing its customers clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity. In other words, the company believes that nuclear should be a part of the nation’s diversified energy portfolio, along with 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency. Specifically, with Vogtle Units 3 and 4, the company is in position to deliver to customers up to $2 billion in benefits from the Department of Energy loan guarantees, EPC Agreement Amendment 3, production tax credits, the inclusion of CWIP (Construction Work in Progress) in rate base and reduced financing costs.
PE: How is construction coming along at Vogtle?
Collins: As of the start of May, there were some 2,200 construction workers on the site. Work progresses on the Unit 3 nuclear island in preparation for pouring the nation’s first nuclear concrete in decades. Progress also continues on the cooling towers, reactor vessel bottom heads, containment structure and the heavy lift derrick. The company believes that targets relating to schedule and costs to customers are achievable, with Unit 3 coming on line in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017.
PE: Following the approval from NRC for Plant Vogtle, SCANA Corp. was also given approval to proceed with full construction at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina. What do these projects mean for what some have referred to as the “nuclear renaissance” in the U.S.?
Collins: Southern Co. understands and appreciates its role in gaining NRC approval for and constructing the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in 33 years. Nuclear proved to be – and continues to be – the best cost options for our customers. While the initial costs to construct nuclear may be higher, nuclear proves very cost effective over the life of the units because of the historical price stability of nuclear fuel and lower overall operating costs. Units 3 and 4 will save consumers some $6 billion over the lifetime of the units when compared with natural gas and coal-fired units.
PE: Opponents to nuclear continue to voice their opinions strongly after the disaster at Fukushima. Can you talk about the technology that will be used at Vogtle, the safety features that will be in place and the difference between new nuclear in Georgia and the Fukushima plant?
Collins: Southern Co. fully accepts its responsibility to operate its plants safely and to bring these new units online in a manner that meets all safety standards. We share that goal with the NRC and we look forward to working with the agency to incorporate lessons learned from Fukushima into the construction and operation of Vogtle 3 and 4. The NRC’s Fukushima 90-dayTask Force noted that the AP1000 already met most of its recommendations. By nature of its passive design and inherent 72-hour coping capability for core, containment, and spent fuel pool cooling with no operator action required, the AP1000 “has many of the design features and attributes necessary to address the Task Force recommendations.” Further, the site is not in a seismically active zone and there is no potential for a tsunami impacting Plant Vogtle – since the site is approximately 130 miles from the coast and at an elevation of 220 feet above sea level.
PE: Finally, EPA has proposed new rules for coal-fired generation leaving some to believe many coal plants could be retiring. As an operator of both generations, how does Southern Co. view the future of power generation in the U.S.?
Collins: In addition to constructing the two new groundbreaking Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear units at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle, at Plant Ratcliffe in Kemper County, Miss., construction is under way that is intended to introduce 21st century coal technology to the U.S. in 2014. Georgia Power has brought on line three new combined-cycle natural gas units at Plant McDonough in Georgia. Southern Power is nearing completion of the nation’s largest biomass generation facility near Nacogdoches, Texas. And our Cimarron Solar Facility continues operation in New Mexico. This 30 MW facility, built in partnership with Ted Turner, is among the nation’s largest operational solar photovoltaic plants. We continue our 20-year (and counting) smart grid evolution by achieving nearly 90 percent of our goal of adding more than 4.6 million smart meters to our system. Meanwhile, we are promoting safe, clean, reliable and affordable electro-technologies that benefit customers throughout all phases of the delivery chain, from fuel to generation to transmission to consumption. We are engaging constructively on several external fronts to promote a common sense policy with two components: 1) to use all the “arrows in the quiver”–nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewable and energy efficiency; and 2) to develop innovative energy technology solutions through proprietary research and development.
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