Projected nuke power's price tag inflating

Activist group places figure as high as $22 billion

Greg Harman

[email protected]

A new report about the ultimate cost of new nuclear power in Texas suggests the figure could reach almost three times earlier company projections.

Officially released from the steps of San Antonio City Hall this week, the report by a former director of regulatory analysis for the Texas Public Utility Commission, Clarence Johnson, overshot NRG Energy's earlier projection of $8 billion and hit into the $20 billion to $22 billion range.

Members of several area environmental organizations ran down their list of objections to nuclear â?? from its long-lived radioactive waste, to the drain it could put on local clean-energy generation â?? but it will undoubtedly be the new cost analysis that captures local officials' attention.

While San Antonio-owned CPS Energy, a 50-50 partner with NRG at the twin-plant South Texas Project, hasn't released any numbers on its projections, Luminant, hoping to expand by two more reactors at Comanche Peak in North Texas, has suggested a range between $8 billion and $20 billion. That projection is “so broad,” Johnson's report states, “it may not be very meaningful.”

The new number of $22 billion (itself a $5 billion stretch beyond projections offered a year ago by anti-nuclear activists) will likely register with the city's front-running mayoral candidates, all of whom said recently that the city's commitment to nuclear should be decided largely by the financials of the project.

Mayoral candidates Julian Castro and Trish DeBerry-Mejia have also said a slowed global economy will force them to delay some aspects of Mission Verde's objectives. Only councilmember and current mayoral candidate Diane Cibrian stated she would still work to implement all aspects of the sustainability plan.

“This new report indicates that we're going to have to decide now which energy future we want for San Antonio,” Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson states in a recent press release. “If CPS becomes a partner in the South Texas Project expansion, we are simply not going to have the financial resources to front Mission Verde. We can either choose the most expensive option possible and send our jobs to Bay City and overseas contractors, or pay a fraction of the cost to create thousands of jobs here at home and power the city with clean, green energy.”

While Johnson's report spends a great amount of energy explaining the cost overruns and construction delays of STP's existing reactors, local boosters have been able to counteract much of that critique by pointing to San Antonio's low electricity rates.

That argument doesn't fly far beyond CPS Energy's service area, however.

Prior to deregulation in 2001, ratepayers were drained of $5 billion in capital costs for the nukes in North Texas and Bay City, according to Johnson's “Costs of Current and Planned Nuclear Power Plants in Texas.”

Also, much of the overruns associated with Comanche Peak and STP have been borne by electric consumers in Texas' deregulated market since, who “continue to pay off at least $3.4 billion for nuclear assets through transition charges, as well as $45 million in annual payments for nuclear decommissioning,” Johnson writes.

Additional associated STP costs have also been passed along by AEP and CenterPoint to their customers.

You can view the entire report below:

Costs of Current and Planned Nuclear Power Plants in Texas

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