Nuclear Power Generation in Georgia
and Avoided Emissions
The first nuclear reactor in Georgia, Plant Hatch Unit 1, came online at the end of 1975. This was followed by Plant Hatch Unit 2 in mid-1979, Vogtle Unit 1 in mid-1987 and Vogtle Unit 2 in mid-1989.
Combined, these four units have generated over 1 billion MWhrs of zero-emission electricity, which is equal to the electricity consumed by Georgia over the past nine years total. Moreover, the emissions these nuclear plants allowed Georgia to avoid total to 1,009,174,666 mtons of CO2 and 6,416,696 mtons of SO2 if coal had been the alternative, and 413,761,613 mtons of CO2 if natural gas had been the alternative. The CO2 emissions avoided is equivalent to thirteen years of CO2 emissions while the SO2 emissions avoided is equivalent to nine years of SO2 emissions. This has been quite the deal for Georgia—avoiding environmental emissions with reliable baseload power while keeping rates affordable.
However, since these nuclear plants were planned and constructed during the 70s and 80s, it’s worth noting a couple of policy points that highlight the challenges facing those who set energy policy. First, the Power Plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act of 1978 mandated that the power sector shift from gas to coal. The Act was subsequently repealed in 1987 putting natural gas back on the table as an alternative, which was critical because of the eventual regulation of SO2. While scrubber technologies were deployed to properly and safely manage SO2, fracking technology eventually tilted the economics to the point that Georgia, and also the U.S., is now offsetting coal-fired power with natural gas-fired power. Moreover, as climate change concerns have escalated, so have concerns regarding CO2 emissions.
None of these environmental policy issues could have been easily anticipated when Georgia’s current nuclear fleet was originally being discussed back in the 1970s. So, it’s easy to look at the environmental value of these plants in hindsight. And that’s the key word—hindsight. However, hindsight is not how energy portfolios for the future are determined. Rather, those portfolios and the energy policies that govern those portfolios require foresight, sound judgement and pragmatic thinking that is not reactionary or fundamentally populist. Not only as pertains to energy as a natural resource that’s critical to our quality of life and our economic wherewithal, but also energy as a political entity. A case in point being the recent Clean Power Plan that would have had quite an impact on the U.S. electric power sector but with little-to-no impact on global climate. This plan leaned heavily toward solar and wind as clean energy resources, to the exclusion of nuclear as a clean energy resource. I had a couple of commentaries pertaining to this, which can be reviewed here and here.
The summary point to this being, Plant Vogtle Units 3&4 will continue the Georgia legacy of pragmatic energy policy based on long-term planning rather than short-term populism that has decided renewable energy is the only way forward. Just as hindsight justifies that the current nuclear fleet was a wise move, a few years from now hindsight will once again justify Vogtle Units 3&4 as sound investments and critical assets in Georgia’s diverse portfolio of natural gas, nuclear and renewables.
We’ll need all of them in the foreseeable future, but we’ll need nuclear for the long haul—and that’s the pragmatic way forward.