Virginia consumers who are bracing right now for the hefty bills associated with another winter heating season need to know that it could be worse. In fact, it could be much worse. Under an ill-conceived plan now being advanced by Dominion Resources for a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna facility, Virginia consumers could see their electricity bills go up 25 percent.
That’s what’s likely after Virginia lawmakers passed reregulation legislation in 2007 and last year reiterated that Dominion Resources has the right to bill in advance for the construction of a new reactor – in this case the North Anna 3 nuclear reactor that the Attorney General’s experts have estimated could cost an astonishing $19+ billion.
The projected cost for the North Anna 3 nuclear reactor project makes it the biggest single threat posed today against the pocketbooks of Virginia consumers. This has the potential to make the huge consumer backlash of a few years ago against Virginia’s infamous car tax seem like a mild disagreement. Just how huge a sum is $19 billion? It is more than what the state of Virginia collected in taxes annually.
The ever-escalating cost of this new reactor project and the fact that it is at least twice as expensive as safer and cleaner alternatives, including energy efficiency and renewable energy resources, makes this a situation that cries out for responsible action. Ratepayers in this state already have been soaked for half a billion for the “development” of this new North Anna 3. State officials need to speak up now and call a halt to this monumental waste.
Consumers should applaud Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s Division of Consumer Counsel for having the courage to challenge those who are trying to ram North Anna 3 through with no regard for its impact on consumers. The Virginia Citizens Consumer Council agrees that, since this project is so unacceptably expensive and since it is still unclear whether it will ever be built, the state must insist that ratepayers immediately stop paying for it.
Why is abandonment at ratepayer expense a concern here?
This is not the first time rate payers have paid for this project. They paid company costs after building was stopped when the last nuclear building spree was interrupted, even though the law at that time did not require ratepayers to pay for new infrastructure before it was put into use. Current projections make North Anna 3 by far the most expensive nuclear reactor ever proposed in the U.S. – and possibly in the world. It would cost approximately $10 billion more than cheaper alternatives, including renewable energy and increased energy efficiency.
The construction of North Anna 3 would dramatically, and unnecessarily, increase consumer electric bills by about 25 percent for Dominion rate payers. While this would be a boon for Dominion’s bottom line, state officials must not allow this stripping of consumer pocketbooks to happen.
It’s not like Virginia is short on nuclear power. We already have four reactors in the state. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, nuclear contributes about 38 percent of total electricity generation in our state; that’s twice the 19 percent portion of all U.S. electricity generation that nuclear provides.
If fuel diversity is the concern, Virginia would be far better off catching up with other states by developing more renewable energy resources and better supporting energy efficiency. Bloomberg data show that Virginia lags far behind many other states in terms of wind and solar development, with no utility-scale renewable energy projects currently in place and minimal consumer owned solar. When it comes to energy efficiency, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy just ranked Virginia in the bottom half of states at #31, compared to neighboring Maryland (#7) and the District of Columbia (#14). Even North Carolina, which has been criticized for state environmental protection rollbacks, does better at #24.
What about the notion that more nuclear will put the state in a better position on the climate?
The bottom line is that North Anna 3 is not needed to meet the targets in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. It would create “excess” reductions in carbon, which, because of the very high cost of the resulting nuclear power, would have no value in the marketplace.
There is no mistaking the facts here: The proposed North Anna 3 nuclear reactor is prohibitively expensive. It will continue to redirect money that should be used to develop high-tech, clean energy in Virginia. It will not help our state meet its obligation to reduce carbon pollution. There is simply no good reason for the state of Virginia to allow this attack on the pocketbooks of Virginia residents to advance.
Irene Leech is president of the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, the oldest consumer group in Virginia. This op-ed previously appeared in The Virginian Pilot.