Georgia Power eyes site for possible new nuclear plant

Georgia Power has chosen a site south of Columbus where it may build a new nuclear plant sometime after 2030, according to documents filed with state regulators.

The company said it has not decided yet to build more nuclear plants in Georgia, but confirmed that it has begun preliminary studies for a possible plant on 7,000 acres that it owns next to the Chattahoochee River in northern Stewart County.

The rural county is just below Fort Benning and Columbus in west Georgia.

“It’s an ongoing, long-term planning process,” said Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins.

Georgia Power is currently years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget on a project to build two new nuclear power units at its existing Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta.

The company first disclosed its preliminary plans in answer to a question from the Georgia Public Service Commission's staff about the utility's long-term projections for energy needs and new power generation plans.

News of the potential nuclear plant site was first reported by Energy Wire.

Georgia Power told the PSC that it expects to do preliminary studies on the site during the next five years “to ensure that the option (to build a new nuclear power plant) is available when it is selected.”

The utility told the PSC that it would likely take about seven years to obtain a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a new plant, and about a decade after that to build it.

“We haven’t made that decision yet, but when the time comes, we’ve done our preparation, we’ve done our homework,” said Hawkins.

In its latest 20-year-plan filed earlier this year, Georgia Power said it didn't need any new power generating capacity for several years, beyond what is already in the works. If the PSC approves Georgia Power's long-term plan, the utility plans to shut down a number of coal- and oil-fired plants and replace capacity with new renewable power sources such as contracts with wind and solar power producers.

The new Vogtle units are also expected to come online in 2019 and 2020.

Georgia Power and its parent company, Southern Co., have also rapidly shifted much of the utility’s power generation to natural gas-fired plants as that fuel has become cheaper and clean air regulations have raised the cost of operating coal-fired plants.

But Hawkins said Georgia Power remains committed to keeping nuclear power as part of its energy generation mix.

“Vogtle’s progressing well. We’ve certainly had challenges,” said Hawkins. But “we continue to believe nuclear’s got to be part of a diversified energy generation mix,” he said.

The fact that Georgia Power has identified a potential site for a new nuclear plant is “all tied back to how long it takes,” he said, to design, license and build one.