TVA Board, Watchdogs to Weigh In on Watts Bar Cost Overruns

A retro logo on the wall of the Watts Bar control room symbolizes TVA's goal to get Unit 2 online. (photo by Stephen Jerkins)

A retro logo on the wall of the Watts Bar control room symbolizes TVA’s goal to get Unit 2 online. (photo by Stephen Jerkins)

The board of the Tennessee Valley Authority will be asked Thursday morning to approve a near-doubling of the budget to complete a second nuclear reactor at Watts Bar. TVA has already spent the $2.5 billion originally projected to finish the East Tennessee power plant.

Watchdogs plan to comment at the meeting in Greeneville, Tennessee, and basically say “we told you so.” Activists argue that they suspected from the beginning that TVA would need more money and more time to revive the stalled reactor.

Stephen Smith is executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and says the extra $2 billion being requested could have been spent on something else.

“They could be putting that money into energy efficiency investments. They could be investing in cleaner technologies that in the long run are going to be cheaper overall, and much less risky.”

TVA CEO Tom Kilgore has been dismissive of calls for greater investment in solar and wind power, saying they’re still nowhere near “cost-competitive” with nuclear, even in spite of the cost overruns. And while natural gas is cheap right now, he says it won’t be forever.

Residents of Spring City, Tennessee, are hoping that the TVA board of directors approves the extra time and money. The town 50 miles north of Chattanooga has grown up around the Watts Bar power plant.

Construction began in 1973, with several starts and stops along the way. Unit 1 was the last nuclear reactor brought online in the U.S. That was 1996.

Finishing Unit 2 has been an economic shot in the arm to Rhea County, says county executive George Thacker. Then TVA recently laid off more than a thousand contractors as the federal utility ran out of money to finish.

“They’ve had some bumps in the road, but they said it was still a viable project, so…there’s a lot of people here that work for TVA, generations of people who’ve worked out there. TVA has been a great success for our community.”

Thacker says for the sake of his county’s tax revenues, he hopes the TVA board does go forward with Unit 2 as many expect it to do.

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