July 24, 2017

Not A Guarantee, But a Fighting Chance

Heath Knakmuhs

            Here at the Global Energy Institute, we have always advocated for a diverse, reliable mix of energy resources that contribute toward keeping America secure, prosperous, and clean.  A key cornerstone of that energy mix is our fleet of 99 commercial nuclear reactors that provide approximately twenty percent of the electricity that we reply upon every day to power our lives and run our economy.

            The vast majority of these plants were built many decades ago, and while many of them are designed to perform well into the future, the last five years has seen the retirement of a number of nuclear generation resources due to local pressures, economic reasons, and sometimes mere economies of scale.  Even in the wake of these retirements, however, nuclear generation technology remains our most dependable carbon-free generation resource, with dispatch rates and fuel security unrivaled by any other source of electricity.  Therefore, the retirements we have seen should not signal the end of nuclear’s contribution to our energy security, but rather the beginning of a new generation of nuclear plants that can power our way toward the 22nd century. 

            With that being said, nuclear is not cheap to build.  The expansion of the Plant Vogtle nuclear facility in Georgia, with the addition of two new nuclear reactors, is currently estimated to cost in excess of $14 billion, given that Southern Company most recently estimated that its 45.7% share of the project would top $7 billion.  While securing loans of this magnitude can be difficult even for Fortune 500 utilities, the Department of Energy’s Section 1703 loan guarantee program enables projects like Vogtle to happen.  In total, Section 1703 has provided Vogtle with upwards of $8 billion in loan guarantees.  Not only do these guarantees support approximately 5,000 construction jobs and the 800 permanent jobs resulting from the construction and ultimate operations of the Vogtle expansion, but they also stand to provide the project’s ultimate customers with hundreds of millions in cost savings.

            Unfortunately, like many government programs, the Section 1703 loan guarantee has its critics who seek to eliminate the employment and clean energy benefits the program supports.  Not only does Section 1703 support America’s next generation of nuclear power, but it is also designed to assist with the development and deployment of biomass, hydrogen, solar, wind, hydropower, and clean coal energy projects.  Section 1703 also exists to accelerate the development of alternative fuel vehicles, industrial energy efficiency projects, and advanced pollution control equipment. 

            Through the support of Section 1703, America can become the world’s supplier of these advanced and clean energy technologies.  This is not only good for America’s economy, but also for the electrification of billions of this planet’s residents in an environmentally sensitive manner. 

            That is why we signed onto this letter to express our support for the retention of the Department of Energy’s Section 1703 loan guarantee program.  Advanced technologies depend upon an extra push in the beginning, but they payoff many times over in the end.  Let’s make sure we continue America’s leadership role and the concomitant economic benefits this leadership provides.