Locals hear plan for nuke plant


Published: Friday, August 8, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

- Levy County residents and commissioners got to hear first-hand Thursday night from the power company that wants to build a nuclear power plant in the rural county involving two reactors. The 100 or so people at the meeting also got an overview from state officials on federal and state permitting procedures for nuclear plants.

Progress Energy is planning to build a $17 billion dollar nuclear generation facility and transmission lines on 5,200 acres that Progress Energy already owns near Inglis. If built, the plant is projected to generate $100 million in tax revenue annually that will go to county government and the school board. The earliest that power could be sold from the first reactor at the proposed plant would be mid-2016 and the second would likely follow in mid-2017, officials have said.

Thursday's informational meeting was part of a lengthy permitting process for nuclear power plants, according to Mike Halpin, administrator of the siting coordination office for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

During the meeting, Halpin described his agency's role as a funnel for other state agencies with an interest in the proposed plant, such as water management districts, the Department of Transportation and the county commission.

According to Halpin, his agency works with the others to determine what certificates and licenses are needed by Progress Energy to build the plant.

Any unresolved issues will go before an administrative law judge, probably in early 2009, Halpin said. A hearing before the judge would be at a time and a location yet to be determined but one that is near the area where the plant would be built.

Under current state law, final approval for the overall certification can be handed down by the secretary of his agency of there are no remaining disputed issues, Halpin explained. However, if some issues remain in dispute, it would be up to the Governor and Cabinet to grant final state approval for the project.

Department officials encouraged those at the hearing to follow the progress of the application at www.dep.state.fl.us/siting.

Halpin also told the crowd that the federal government is simultaneously working with Progress Energy to meet a separate set of requirements from agencies like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that must be met before the project will be able to proceed.

Progress Energy sent its vice president for nuclear projects and construction, Danny Roderick, to the meeting. He began his presentation with a explanation of why an additional power plant is needed in Florida.

"Our customers want that product (electricity) when the light switch is flipped," Roderick said. He said that demand for electricity is continuing to grow for several reasons, including more electronic devices in use than ever before and homes that are now 50 percent larger than they were in the 1970s, which means they require more power to heat and cool.

"There is no one answer that will solve the energy issues we are facing in Florida," Roderick said. He noted that the nuclear plant is a $17 billion investment, but said that without it, Progress Energy customers can expect their power bills to increase by $92 billion over the next few decades.

Following Roderick's presentation audience members were invited to comment and ask questions. While several people spoke in favor of the proposed plant, there were detractors and those with concerns about plant safety and security.

Williston resident Charles Goodman wanted to know how the nuclear waste would be disposed of. Roderick pointed out that the federal government has decided to handle all forms of U.S. nuclear waste, including from nuclear-powered submarines, medical uses as well as power plants, and that companies have no option to handle spent nuclear fuel in other ways.

Doug King of Chiefland said his family has been in Levy County for five generations and he views the proposed plant as "a God-send for Levy County. We need this power plant and the jobs it will bring our citizens."

In his presentation, Roderick said Progress Energy wants to hire as many of the approximately 800 full-time, permanent workers from the area as possible. He said the company must spend a lot of money training workers and has found that those with local ties are more likely to remain as long-term employees.

Earlier this week, the county's planning board voted 4-1 to recommend a special exception be granted to allow the construction and operation of the pair of nuclear reactors that will make up the plant.

A comprehensive plan change to allow Progress Energy to develop a training and educational compound along U.S. 19 was also approved.

Company officials said the training facility would be an 80,000-square-foot center that included a 400-seat auditorium and a simulated power plant control room that could be used to train employees.

The recommendations will be reviewed by county commissioners on Sept. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the county courthouse in Bronson. Commissioners have the final say at the county level on whether the changes will be granted.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 359-5656 or by e-mail at voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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