July 8, 2008

Nuclear Power on the Way for JEA The Utility is Finalizing a Contract That Will Save Money, Lower Emissions.


JEA is finalizing a contract that would blend 206 megawatts of nuclear energy - enough energy to light up about 20,000 homes - into the region's power portfolio.

The energy, which will be critical as the region grows, will be purchased from a nuclear plant in Eastern Georgia and make up about 5 percent of the utility's energy mix.

JEA's board of directors decided earlier this year that nuclear energy should make up about 10 percent of its power. The move was in response to a changing political climate at the state and federal levels calling for lower carbon emissions.

The 20-year contract with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia is expected to start in 2016, after Plant Vogtle is expanded. The plant is about 30 miles south of Augusta.

Randy Boswell, JEA's vice president for corporate data, said the deal is done and he's awaiting the final paperwork. He said the city- owned utility likely will pay about $80 for every 1,000 kilowatt- hours it needs from the plant. The cost would add up to millions of dollars annually, he said.

"That's in 2016 dollars. It would be the equivalent of about $50 today," Boswell said. "That's a big number, but based on where we are with coal and gas, that's competitive."

Using natural gas to generate 1,000 kilowatt-hours generally costs from $90 to $100, he said, which cuts into revenue potential. Consumers had been paying $95.93 for the same amount of energy, but this month will begin paying $110.93. JEA raised the rate to offset a $61 million deficit as the cost of fuel skyrocketed in recent months.

Fuel costs and pollution concerns thrust into question how many nuclear reactors could be built in the United States in coming years. Boswell said it's unclear at this point how nuclear energy will affect JEA customer bills.

While the plants cost billions to build, they generally are cheaper to run than coal and natural gas plants, Boswell said. Another plus is that they don't emit the carbon dioxide that more- widely-used fossil fuels do. That could be a key step in curbing future utility costs as federal legislators continue to debate whether businesses should pay for the pollution they create.

An additional factor: Gov. Charlie Crist challenged the state's utilities last year to reduce coal in their energy diet. The move crushed plans to build new coal plants, including one for JEA.

Boswell said JEA has no plans to build a nuclear reactor, but is continuing to shop around for a share of the power generated at plants such as the one in Georgia.

Florida's growth could have several reactors sprouting statewide. Five plants already have a combined capacity of 3,902 megawatts, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group.

Nine companies have developed plans to build 17 nuclear reactors, three of which would be in Florida: one near the Panhandle and two south of Miami.

"Florida has a big demand for electric. It has some air-quality issues, as well," said Mitchell Singer, an institute spokesman. "This is going to make people realize that nuclear has no carbon footprint and needs to be part of our energy picture."

Nuclear energy production has grown 20 times over since 1971, according to the institute's records. In the past decade alone, the United States has seen a 28.3 percent jump.

The Florida Public Service Commission projects the state's electric needs will increase by 2.74 percent every year for the next decade. [email protected], (904) 359-4025

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