South Texas Set to Make Energy History

The resurgence of nuclear power to cut dependence on Middle East oil has been predicted for a few years, but so far no public utility has taken the first step to actually construct a new commercial nuclear power reactor.  Until now.

Yesterday, the San Antonio-Express News reported that San Antonio’s City Public Service Energy company has joined forces with New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc. to file the first application in more than 30 years for constructing not just one, but two new nuclear reactors to satisfy the area’s booming energy needs.   The reactors will be added to an existing nuclear power plant known as the South Texas Project located in Matagorda County.  This reactor currently provides about 36 percent of the electricity for San Antonio, which has a population of about 1.3 million, and is steadily growing.  The majority of electrical power (42 percent) is provided by coal fired plants.

To Mayor Phil Hardberger, the decision was difficult, but the circumstances clearly point the way to the nuclear option.  Natural gas prices have gone up, and while coal is relatively inexpensive, Hardberger sees “the era of building coal-fired plants […] ending” due to environmental and political considerations.
Of course, construction costs and the return on investment are the primary concerns for the project.  But there are several factors that should mitigate the risks including that the land and utilities are already available since there is already an operational reactor at the site, and the new plants will be built using a proven reactor design already in use in Japan.

There are no concrete cost guarantees in a project of this magnitude, and the benefits might not be realized until many years after the plants come on line.  The existing reactor powered up in 1988, and was eight years behind schedule and had multiple cost overruns of over 5.6 billion.  Yet, by 2006, Nucleonics Week reported that the plant,

…had the lowest production cost reported by nuclear power plants nationwide [and] also bested all 33 two-unit U.S. plants in output last year, generating 21.37 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Meanwhile in September, Texas surpassed California as the nation’s biggest generator of wind power
(subscription required) for electricity.  The state has nearly 3,000 megawatts of wind generated electricity with an additional 1,700 megawatt production goal for 2008.
Perhaps the Blue States could learn a lesson or two about real energy independence from us disease-ridden, dullard hicks down South.

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