Another Multi-Billion Dollar Nuclear Gamble for TVA

Guest Blog | April 9, 2012 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

Hot on the heals of the biggest Mega Millions jackpot in history, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has just upped its ante on a different game of chance: completing the Watts Bar nuclear reactor at their existing nuclear plant in Tennessee. TVA announced last week that the construction cost estimates to resurrect the abandoned reactor “were wrong.” The initially proposed $2.49 billion reactor now needs another $1.5 to $2 billion to be completed, according to TVA. And remember, this is on top of the $1.7 billion that utility spent decades ago on the reactor before abandoning the project. Just as we highlighted last summer when the TVA board approved billions of dollars to spend on completing the Bellefonte reactor in Alabama, we don’t think this nuclear gamble bodes well either for TVA ratepayers.

That announcement (along with the news that none of us won the lottery) led some of us at SACE to wonder: What would you do if you had an extra $4 billion lying around? Here are a few things at the top of our list…

  • Buy 2 billion energy efficient light bulbs. At $2 a pop, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) aren’t much more expensive than a regular lottery ticket – but they’re bound to save a consumer money (around $40 over the course of a bulb’s life). Replacing 2 billion traditional, incandescent light bulbs with CFL’s could save 9,400% more electricity annually than what the Watts Bar plant could generate in a year.
  • Purchase 3.3 million American-made efficient water heaters. For instance, the new General Electric GeoSpring water heater (which is manufactured in Louisville, Kentucky) can cut electricity use by about 62% over standard water heaters. They cost about $1,200 but pay for themselves in energy savings within 4-5 years. Replacing that many water heaters could save 116% more electricity than the Watts Bar plant could generate in a year.
  • Build 1,587 wind turbines. That’s enough wind turbines to have a nameplate capacity of over 2,850 megawatts – more than twice as big as the proposed second reactor at Watts Bar. That amount could power about 730,000 average homes annually and could generate more electricity than the Watts Bar reactor in a year,  depending on the location. Let’s remember that it’s been just over a year since the Fukushima nuclear disaster happened in Japan that caused the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from their homes. The chance of a radioactive meltdown at a wind farm is zero – we like those odds.
  • Install 4 million solar panels. That many solar panels is nearly the equivalent of planting 26.5 million trees in terms of carbon dioxide reductions. TVA even has a program called “Generation Partners” that helps promote solar energy.
  • Give away 113,600 Nissan Leafs. The Leaf is an all-electric car that is manufactured in Tennessee. Those cars would reduce gasoline consumption by approximately 54.5 million gallons annually – or the equivalent amount of oil from five Exxon Valdez spills every year. This is a great idea – even without a hokey gambling-related pun.
  • Build 800 miles of high-voltage direct current transmission line for wind energy. The Clean Line transmission project is expected to cost about $3.5 billion and carry up to 7,000 megawatts of clean, safe wind energy from Oklahoma to Memphis – or about six times more capacity than the second reactor proposed for Watts Bar.

One striking difference between all these other options (energy efficiency, renewable energy and electric cars) and nuclear power is that they are far less risky economically, and don’t have a historic default rate of 50%.

What would you do with $4 billion?

Learn more about the $4 billion gamble TVA’s taking with ratepayer money on completing the Watts Bar Nuclear Reactor.

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