Anti-nuclear group: Comanche Peak expansion could cost $27.6 billion

> Apr 30 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Jack Z. Smith Fort Worth
> Star-Telegram, Texas
> The price tag for adding two new generating units at the Comanche
> Peak nuclear power plant near Glen Rose could be a staggering $23.8
> billion to
> $27.6 billion, according to the author of a report that raises
> concerns about the cost of new nuclear facilities and a potential
> escalation in electric rates.
> Clarence Johnson, a former state utility regulatory official,
> prepared the report for the Texas office of Public Citizen, an
> organization that opposes new nuclear plants.
> The report instead favors energy conservation and efficiency,
> along with accelerated development of renewable energy alternatives
> such as wind and solar power, calling them more environmentally
> friendly and cheaper in the long run.
> Luminant, the Dallas-based power generator that operates Comanche
> Peak, 45 miles southwest of Fort Worth, estimates that it could cost
> $15
> billion to build two 1,700-megawatt units there and that a license
> might be secured by December 2012. Construction of the additional
> 3,400 megawatts of capacity could take about four years, the company
> said.
> In a statement Wednesday, Luminant said it is "taking prudent
> steps in considering this project," including "carefully evaluating
> cost, capital and market conditions throughout the process."
> Luminant plans to partner with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,
> designer of the proposed reactors.
> In his report, Johnson said a "reasonable estimate" of the cost
> of adding nuclear capacity in Texas would be $7,000 to $8,130 per
> kilowatt.
> Based on that, Luminant's proposed addition of 3,400 megawatts of
> generating capacity at Comanche Peak would cost $23.8 billion to $27.6
> billion, Johnson said in a telephone conversation with the Star-
> Telegram.
> A megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts.
> Johnson's report raises the specter of enormous costs not only
> for expanding Comanche Peak, but also for constructing two additional
> units that NRG Energy, a New Jersey-based utility, proposes at the
> South Texas Project near Bay City on the Gulf Coast.
> The report made only brief mention of plans by Chicago-based
> Exelon to build two nuclear units near Victoria in South Texas.
> Johnson, in his report, warned that Luminant, already the
> dominant power generator in North Texas, would have even more power to
> influence wholesale electricity prices if it expands Comanche Peak.
> Higher wholesale power prices could result in higher retail
> electricity prices for homeowners and businesses.
> Proponents of added nuclear power in Texas say it would help
> diversify the state's power-generation mix and reduce its heavy
> reliance on natural-gas-fired generation, which is more expensive than
> coal-fired plants.
> Natural gas and coal fueled 80 percent of Texas' power generation
> in 2008, with nuclear providing about 10 percent.
> Nuclear proponents note that the plants are largely emissions-
> free.
> Coal plants in particular have been criticized by environmental
> groups for emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the primary
> "greenhouse gas"
> that many scientists say contributes to global warming.
> Robert Black, a spokesman for Nuclear Energy for Texans, which he
> said is funded mainly by Luminant and Exelon, took issue with the
> Public Citizen report.
> Black, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry, questioned why Texans
> should care about how much new nuclear units cost, since their
> builders have to absorb the expense in the state's deregulated
> electricity market.
> But Johnson, in his report, cited various federal subsidies
> available to builders of new nuclear plants, including loan
> guarantees, production tax credits, investment tax credits and
> insurance.
> "As the owners of nuclear construction projects experience cost
> overruns and realize that the projects will produce large financial
> losses, the firms may become desperate to appeal for greater public
> subsidies," the report said.
> "Loan guarantees probably impose the greatest risk on taxpayers."
> Johnson said costs for previously constructed nuclear plants far
> exceeded initial estimates.
> The current two-unit Comanche Peak plant, completed in 1993, cost
> at least $12.18 billion, Johnson said, citing Federal Energy
> Regulatory Commission records as his source. It is the most-expensive
> nuclear plant ever built in the U.S., he said.
> The $12.18 billion amount is more than 15 times the original cost
> estimate of slightly less than $800 million for Comanche Peak. The
> Star-Telegram has previously estimated the final plant cost at about
> $11
> billion.
> Nuclear power proponents stress that the cost of Comanche Peak
> and other existing plants was hit by unusually high inflation and
> changing federal regulations that delayed projects after an incident
> at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.
> They note that plant designs have improved, and the licensing
> process has been streamlined.
> JACK Z. SMITH, 817-390-7724