The Yellowhammer State and the Palmetto State share many things: heat, southern culture, a love for football.
A more unfortunate commonality between the two, and one receiving lots of attention in both states, is that each has an unfinished nuclear power plant just sitting there, continually making news but not power.
Alabama’s Bellefonte Nuclear Generating Station, which has never generated a single watt of power, has become over the years a (literally) concrete representation of the federal government’s vast ambition coupled with its occasional – or frequent, depending who you ask – inability to follow through.
Recent developments indicate that the massive power plant could eventually be put to use, but that is still a long way off.
Still, Bellefonte is a case study of taxpayer investment in a dead-end project
In a way, though, Alabamians can be grateful that they themselves weren’t required to fund the dead-end project through increased monthly energy rates, as consumers in South Carolina were.
Back in March 2008, South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) – the South Carolina equivalent of Alabama Power – began the process of applying for authorization to built two new nuclear reactors at its VC Summer site just north of Columbia. The company already operated one reactor at the site.
SCE&G was approved and established contracts for construction. The project was estimated to cost $9.8 billion.
To help with the project’s funding, SCE&G proposed a rate increase, got it approved by the Public Service Commission in May 2008, and construction began later that fall.
Over the years, there were numerous project delays and extra project costs which have, up to the current day, resulted in nine rate increases.
Last July, the project was abandoned after Westinghouse, the company building the reactors, filed for bankruptcy.
As the legislative session winded down this year, the legislature passed a temporary 15 percent rate cut for energy consumers who have paid an estimated $2 billion into the nuclear project fund.
A disaster of nuclear proportions, you could say.
The failure of both Bellefonte and the expansions at VC Summer are disconcerting generally, and downright infuriating for those who were forced to pay into them. Both projects have the potential to succeed, but that will require some kind of co-aligned effort between ambitious big business and government, both of which delivered the failed projects in the first place.
Read about developments on the Bellefonte front here.