With the Georgia Public Service Commission beginning hearings last week on Georgia Power’s Integrated Resources Plan, the state’s energy future will be top of mind. When it comes to energy, I’ve always believed that the best policy is to pursue an all of the above strategy, ensuring that we have a diverse array of power generation resources providing a steady supply of reliable electricity. That’s also the policy that makes the most economic sense because it helps keep prices low for consumers. And it’s important to recognize the key role that nuclear energy has to play when it comes to this strategy. In Georgia, as well as nationwide, nuclear is critical to ensuring a clean, reliable and affordable energy future.
Nuclear energy has certainly been in the news recently in Georgia, with the construction of Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle. As part of that, there has been some debate around the cost of building these plants. However, when taken into context, the benefits of having these plants online in Georgia far outweigh the costs of building them. The initial capital outlay is almost like insurance to ensure that Georgians have cheap electricity for years to come.
To put a finer point on it — the economic benefits that accumulate over these decades are well worth the initial capital outlay. Once built, these plants have extremely low production costs for electricity — about two cents per kilowatt-hour at today’s current reactors. Additionally, nuclear plants also have operation costs that are inline with other sources of generation. A 2016 analysis conducted by the Energy Information Administration, looking at the levelized cost of new electricity options, found that nuclear energy facilities are competitive with other generation options. Given these factors, it would be extremely short-sighted — and also inaccurate — to say that nuclear power is uneconomic. The exact opposite is true.
It’s also critical to recognize that nuclear plants in Georgia and across the U.S. provide additional benefits, offering always-on, reliable, carbon-free electricity and driving state and local economies.
Just take a look at the contributions that Georgia’s two nuclear facilities provide. These plants, Plant Vogtle and Plant Hatch, produce nearly 26 percent of the state’s electricity — all without emitting any greenhouse gases. They are also very reliable, operating at a capacity factor of over 90 percent. Furthermore, they provide more than $60 million in state and local taxes each year. They also employ more than 1,700 individuals directly. Not only are these facilities big employers and major taxpayers, they also support other Georgia companies, accounting for more than $908 million in purchases of materials, services and fuel each year.
Clearly, nuclear’s benefits aren’t limited to economic contributions. In Georgia, these facilities produce more than 90 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity and really are the only source of clean-air energy that can produce large amounts of electricity around the clock. This prevents more than 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere. To put that in perspective, that’s the amount of carbon dioxide than would be emitted by more than 4.4 million passenger cars, which is greater than the number of registered cars in the state.
The same story holds true at the national level, where nuclear plants provide about one-fifth of the country’s electricity. A recent report from economic consulting firm The Brattle Group found that U.S. nuclear plants contribute $60 billion annually to the country’s gross domestic product. The industry as a whole accounts for roughly 475,000 jobs, in terms of direct and secondary employment. The nuclear fleet helps keep electricity prices low, about six percent lower than they would be in the absence of our nuclear energy plants.
Nuclear energy plants in Georgia and throughout the U.S. provide an astounding level of economic value to the country and truly are vehicles for long-term economic growth. Ensuring that we continue to reap the benefits of these plants will make us able to preserve all our options for new baseload generation going forward. As the Georgia PSC considers the state’s energy future, I hope that all stakeholders keep the benefits of nuclear in mind.