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Council says no to nuclear power plant expansion

Friday, February 13, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council tackled two major issues Thursday relating to the future of the city’s power supply. The Council unanimously rejected the chance to buy into the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant, but postponed a decision on a 30 solar array on city-owned land near Webberville. NRG Energy, Inc had invited Austin to participate in.


Austin Energy had recommended against participating in the nuclear plant expansion, but not because they’re opposed in principle to expanding the plant. The firm they hired to evaluate the plan, Worley Parsons, is an advocate of nuclear energy. But there were several reasons the utility was against participating. For one thing, it would force Austin Energy to buy more power then it needs. Furthermore, Austin Energy only owns 16 percent of the plant, so the utility would have little control over the details of the plan. But the deal breaker was the enormous price tag. Austin Energy would have to spend $2 billion over seven years. “It is simply too large of a risk financially for the city,” said Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan.


Council Members stressed their decision was based on the financial aspects of the project, not on the merits of nuclear power. “We would have no control over some of the operational decisions and construction decisions,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “As more engineering occurs, as potential cost overruns or time delays are decided upon by the controlling entity there, we would not participate in those decisions.”


Austin Energy has a plan to meet the city’s energy needs through 2020. It includes around 900 MW of additional capacity, including an expansion of the utility’s natural gas-fueled Sand Hill Energy Center, a small biomass plant, a doubling of the utility’s wind-generation portfolio, and around100 MW of solar capacity. Austin Energy will make final recommendations on the plan to the Austin City Council in mid to late summer.

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