State may fol­low lead of South Carolina

Cost of nu­clear plants hin­der plans

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY ALAN SUDERMAN

RICH­MOND | A multi­bil­lion-dol­lar mess over par­tially built nu­clear plants in South Carolina could im­pact whether Vir­ginia goes for­ward with a pricey new re­ac­tor of its own.

Two South Carolina en­ergy com­pa­nies re­cently de­cided to aban­don con­struc­tion of two un­fin­ished nu­clear re­ac­tors over de­lays and their high costs, a move that leaves ratepay­ers there on the hook for bil­lions of dol­lars with noth­ing to show for it.

The fail­ure in South Carolina to make new nu­clear work could make it harder for Vir­ginia’s largest elec­tric util­ity, Do­min­ion En­ergy, to move for­ward with a new re­ac­tor it has been con­sid­er­ing for years and al­ready spent mil­lions on.

The pro­posed plant, known as North Anna 3, has a sky-high price tag — one state reg­u­la­tor last year cal­cu­lated it to be about $25 bil­lion — and would sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease cus­tomer’s elec­tric bills.

But Do­min­ion has ar­gued it’s an op­tion worth con­sid­er­ing, as nu­clear en­ergy pro­vides re­li­able, car­bon-free en­ergy.

Sen. Frank Wagner, a leader in en­ergy is­sues in the state Se­nate and strong sup­porter of Do­min­ion, told com­pany of­fi­cials at a com­mit­tee hear­ing last week that South Carolina’s woes con­cerned him about the vi­a­bil­ity of North Anna 3.

“My com­fort level is not what it used to be,” Mr. Wagner said.

Do­min­ion has not com­mit­ted to con­struct the new plant. It has spent more than $600 mil­lion pre­par­ing for a po­ten­tial build and re­ceived a fed­eral op­er­at­ing li­cense ear­lier this year, but Do­min­ion says it needs more cer­tainty in car­bon reg­u­la­tions and its ef­fect on en­ergy prices to make a de­ci­sion.

“The eco­nom­ics at this time don’t sup­port mov­ing for­ward,” said Mark Webb, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Do­min­ion.

North Anna 3 has plenty of op­po­nents, with one con­sumer group call­ing it one of the big­gest po­ten­tial ratepayer rip-offs in the his­tory of elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion.

But Vir­ginia’s elected of­fi­cials have gen­er­ally been sup­port­ive.

State law gives util­i­ties a higher rate of re­turn for build­ing nu­clear plants than other types of power plants and law­mak­ers passed a law in 2014 that al­lowed Do­min­ion to write off about $300 mil­lion in North Anna 3-re­lated costs, a move that helped the com­pany avoid hav­ing to give big­ger re­funds to its cus­tomers.

Mr. Wagner said he wants Do­min­ion to have a di­ver­si­fied fuel source, but he’s not sure whether it makes sense to keep North Anna 3 on the ta­ble.

“Up un­til a few weeks ago, I felt like we were on the right track. Now that I’ve learned about South Carolina, I’ve got to get in and learn more,” he said.

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