The South Texas nuclear plant in Bay City, which has been providing electricity for more than 20 years through two reactors, wants to double its size.
The plant is owned by the city of Austin, the city of San Antonio (through an entity called CPS Energy) and a company called NRG Energy (Whose theme song should be a retooling of Elvis Costello's "Radio Radio.")
Building or expanding nuclear plants is an expensive proposition, and the estimated costs for doubling STP's capacity have ballooned to $10 billion. Austin never signed on for the project, and now San Antonio is fighting like hell to get out.
(How does this affect Houston, you ask? The energy from an expanded STP could go to whatever utility buys it, so theoretically it could help keep electricity rates low for us -- without our lifting a finger or paying for construction. On the other hand, NRG bought Reliant Energy's retail electricity business last year, so if there's a boondoggle we theoretically could get hit with the fallout.) (Ha -- we said "fallout" in connection with a nuke plant!)
The head of NRG got on a conference call today to bitch to reporters nationwide about San Antonio's balking.
NRG is panicked that they'll lose momentum for billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees. Despite President Barack Obama's pledge this week in his State of the Union address to slip a couple billion dollars more into the kitty for nuclear generation, NRG President and CEO David Crane pointed out that "the deadine for the loan is past, and there are only two people (sic) who can get it: [NRG] and CPS."
He said his company has hedged against materials and fuels costs, even the cost of labor, but couldn't hedge against a stubbornly petulant town whose most recent claim to fame is drunken revelry along a riverwalk.
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Actually, Crane didn't put it quite like that -- he's diplomatic enough to continue to refer to the head of a mega-utility that failed in hostile takeover of NRG last year as his "friend" -- but he
indulged in an hour-long whine today before an audience consisting of the media, Wall Street and interested shareholders.
A judge may rule today on San Antonio's efforts to get out of the deal. We'll let you know what happens, and what it likely means for the plant in Bay City.
Update: The judge didn't really do all that much; he encouraged more talks among CPS and NRG. But some groups saw in his remarks hope that CPS could pull out and the expansion project would collapse.
Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen in Texas, called it "the first chime in what could
be the death knell of the so-called 'nuclear renaissance,' starting with the failed expansion of the South Texas Project (STP)."