Opinion: Local utilities, customers will benefit from Vogtle’s added energy

Nuclear energy’s a prudent choice for our growing state.

At some point in early 2023, the new nuclear power Unit 3, at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, near Augusta, is expected to come fully online, after years of construction and cost delays. Unit 3, and Unit 4 right behind it, are expected to generate sufficient baseload power generation to power 500,000 homes across Georgia, out of Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers statewide.

However due to the growing energy demands of this state, and the massive costs of designing and constructing a nuclear power plant, and then clearing all regulatory hurdles, even an energy giant like Southern Co has operating and financing partners in a venture this big.

The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corp. (30%), the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG - 22.7%), and Dalton Utilities (1.6%). MEAG, created in 1975 by an act of the Georgia General Assembly, provides affordable, reliable and competitively priced wholesale electricity generation for 49 communities across Georgia.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The city of Lawrenceville owns and operates both a natural gas and an electric utility, the latter of which is a member of MEAG. The service area for our electric utility is 13 square miles with more than 13,000 metered home and business customers, and a transmission grid co-owned and maintained by Georgia Power, Jackson EMC, Walton EMC and MEAG. On the natural gas side of the ledger, we began service in 1950 after the installation of our first natural gas supply line and head end, and we now have 51,000 customers and 1,500 miles of pipeline reaching across Gwinnett and into Walton and Rockdale counties.

Our utilities are customer- and community-owned, and as a result, invest back heavily in our communities. That payback also comes in quicker customer service response to power outages, and with no shareholders or quarterly dividends (as with a publicly traded utility), our rates have remained stable and well below the national average.

Like most utilities, a decade ago, our primary fuel source had been coal. As the industry shifted toward natural gas, so did our consumption. For the past 18 months, as the utility industry has been moving rapidly towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar (both in limited supply in Georgia), we began to focus on the critical need of system resilience and for baseload energy supply which does not create additional carbon emissions.

We made the prudent and obvious choice, several years ago, to make a major investment in new nuclear energy sources. These new AP 1000 reactors, coming online soon and currently undergoing testing with spent fuel rods in Vogtle Unit 3, utilize several changes in obvious physical design, such as placing massive water tanks above the reactors, which automatically release hundreds of thousands of gallons of cooling water, to flood the reactor chamber and reduce temperatures in the reactor core if needed.

Georgia is the only state in the nation with new nuclear capacity coming online, although China has several AP 1000 reactors in operation now. And once Vogtle units 3 and 4 are fully operational, the fuel mix for the city of Lawrenceville will be coming 85% from sustainable and non-carbon emission-based sources.

Our climate and planet are warming, and whether or not we believe human behavior and energy consumption are driving all of that shift and increase in global average temperatures, we are doing our part to calm the weather, flatten out those temperature spikes and reduce carbon emissions across metro Atlanta and north Georgia, as well as the neighboring Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains, where a lot of existing weather patterns eventually move our air.

Lawrenceville residents and utility customers will receive clean, green and largely carbon-free electricity. And after construction costs have been covered, ongoing nuclear energy is also the least expensive to generate per kilowatt. Plant Vogtle units 1 and 2 have been safely and affordably generating power since 1987 and 1989, respectively, and are expected to continue operation for potentially decades more to come.

As Georgia appears poised to become a center for the manufacturing and innovation of electric vehicles and battery technology, Plant Vogtle will generate the bulk of both baseload and expanded generation capacity, allowing for further development and population growth in all regions of Georgia. We are proud to play a small part in bringing this green energy source to our customers, while also improving air quality across the state and simultaneously placing Georgia at the forefront of new and nuclear energy production.

David Still is mayor of Lawrenceville.