COVINGTON - A major hurdle has been cleared toward construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, which will supply the city of Covington with future power needs for the next few decades.
On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of New Reactors issued an Early Site Permit (ESP) and Limited Work Authorization (LWA) to Southern Nuclear Operating Company for the site where the new units will be constructed.
This means safety and environmental issues with the site have been resolved and the site is suitable for future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant, according to a press release issued by the NRC.
The city of Covington has invested in the project through its partnership with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG). The city has been allocated about 26 megawatts of power. The first reactor is set to go online in 2016, with the second to follow in 2017. The city's investment amounts to $102.4 million in today's dollars or $162.8 million in "2017 dollars," Mayor Kim Carter said earlier this year.
In addition to meeting residents' future power demands, the city's participation "helps stabilize the cost of power in the future," Utilities Director Bill Meecham previously told the Citizen.
"Electricity is like a commodity or like stock; it goes all over the place," he said. "When you own the facility, you're not at the mercy of the market."
MEAG will have a 22.7 percent ownership in the nuclear units at a cost of approximately $3.1 billion.
Thirty-nine other communities, including the city of Mansfield, have also signed on to participate. Mansfield will purchase .309 megawatts.
Plant Vogtle is a two-unit nuclear power plant located in eastern Georgia near the South Carolina border and is jointly owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, MEAG and the city of Dalton.
"MEAG Power is very pleased on behalf of its customers, such as Mansfield and Covington, that this permit has been granted, which is a major hurdle in Plant Vogtle projects three and four ultimately being available to help provide the electric supply needs of Georgians," said Frank Crane, director of government and corporate affairs for MEAG.
Southern Nuclear filed the ESP application on Aug. 15, 2006, and filed the LWA request on Aug. 16, 2007, seeking permission for limited construction activities.
The NRC reviewed site characteristics that could affect plant safety, environmental protection and plans for coping with emergencies.
A final environmental impact statement was published in August 2008 and a final safety evaluation was published on Feb. 5 of this year. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board conducted a hearing on the matter and ruled Aug. 17 that the permit could be issued.
"This is an important step for the Vogtle project, because the demand for electricity in the Southeast, and particularly in Georgia, will continue to grow," said Georgia Power President and CEO Mike Garrett in a press release. "The new Vogtle units will help meet our growing energy needs by providing safe, reliable and economical electricity with a zero-emission technology. The project represents a $14 billion capital investment in Georgia that will create thousands of construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs once the units are operational."
The NRC staff is currently reviewing Southern Nuclear's application for a Combined License to build and operate two reactors at the site. The license must be issued before full construction can begin.
Southern Nuclear is a subsidiary of Southern Company, which operates three nuclear plants in Georgia and Alabama. Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.