ATLANTA (AP) — Southern Co. announced Friday that it is accepting $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees from the federal government, setting the stage for the construction of the first new nuclear reactors in the United States in a generation.
The loan guarantees are contingent on the project in Burke County winning approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Southern Co. Chief Executive David Ratcliffe on Friday called the agreement "another step forward on the road to nuclear power playing a prominent role in America's energy future."
President Barack Obama announced in February that the Atlanta-based energy powerhouse would be the recipient of the first nuclear loan guarantees, part of the Democrat's push for more non-fossil fuel energy. The company was selected despite lobbying heavily against cap and trade legislation championed by the Obama administration to combat climate change.
The Knoxville, Tenn.-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy blasted the announcement on Friday calling the development a "raw deal for taxpayers."
"(T)his is what it takes to build new nuclear reactors — lots of handouts and bailouts to big companies along with closed-door negotiations," the group's executive director Stephen Smith said.
Southern Co. argues the loan guarantees will save ratepayers millions of dollars in interest costs annually.
The new reactors are scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2016 and 2017.
The two new units at Plant Vogtle could be the first new U.S. reactors since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 halted nuclear expansion.
The plan has already won approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission which also granted Southern permission to begin charging ratepayers for some constructions costs before the new reactors come online.
The Atlanta-based Southern Co. is the nation's largest generator of electric power.
It owns utilities in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and has 4.4 million retail customers.