$19 Billion for Dominion's New Nuclear Reactor?

Huge cost involved to expand North Anna plant.

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For years, Dominion Virginia Power has been considering building a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna station but has always been shy about suggesting how much it would cost.

Now, lawyer and activist Ivy Main has come up with a figure: a staggering $19 billion.

Main, who is associated with the Sierra Club, notes that Dominion was forced to cough up a number during rate case submissions before the State Corporation Commission.

Dominion and many in the state’s business elite have pushed nuclear power because it has high reliability rates and contributes little to nothing to greenhouse gases that are responsible for climate change. Nuclear has its obvious drawbacks, as the Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island disasters attest.

Dominion also likes building big power plants because it can make more money on them than buying power from regional grids. It gets to pass a large chunk of the cost along to ratepayers.

According to Main, the massive price of North Anna 3 would translate into electricity costs of about 19 cents per kilowatt-hour. Dominion now sells power to customers between 5.5 cents and 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Until now, Dominion executives have been coy, if not secretive, about estimating the cost of a third unit at North Anna. They'd said it would be “north” of $10 billion -- although not nearly double that.

There haven’t been any nuclear reactors built in the country since the 1970s, although several are going up. Atlanta-based Southern Co. is putting up two 1,117 megawatt units at its Vogtle station. The cost there (for two) is $14 billion and keeps rising.

The curious thing about Dominion is that it's balking at putting up two, small wind turbines off of Virginia Beach. The 12-megawatt project was projected to cost about $200 million, but Dominion suspended it when a new estimate came in almost double that.

The question, of course, is why Dominion seems so concerned about protecting consumers against the supposedly runaway costs associated with renewable energy when a third nuke at North Anna would be so expensive.

Another bizarre aspect is that last winter, Dominion pushed the compliant General Assembly to pass a bill that would shield the utility from rate reviews until 2022 if it agreed not to raise rates.

The reason was that the Clean Power Plan pushed by the Obama administration to cut greenhouse gas emissions supposedly would cost ratepayers up to $6 billion, Dominion and others said. When the final plan was issued Aug. 3, it turned out (surprise, surprise) that Virginia was very far along the path to meet its government-set goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

True, Dominion’s four current nuclear reactors helped a lot. But one wonders if the emergency legislation was a smokescreen to hide the real costs of North Anna 3.

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