By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON Feb 19 The Obama administration will
finalize about $6.5 billion in loan guarantees this week for the
nation's first two new nuclear reactors in three decades, ending
years of delay.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will travel to
Waynesboro, Georgia, on Thursday to mark the completion of an
agreement backing the construction of two new reactors at
Southern Co's Vogtle nuclear power plant, the Department
of Energy announced on Wednesday.
The department issued a conditional agreement for the Vogtle
plant totaling $8.3 billion in 2010, offering loan aid to
Southern's Georgia Power unit as well as project co-owners
Oglethorpe Power and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia
While loan assistance to Georgia Power and Oglethorpe will
be finalized, the planned $1.8 billion loan guarantee to MEAG
In a wide ranging speech at the National Press Club in
Washington on Wednesday, Moniz said the Obama administration was
committed to promoting innovations in energy technology that
would help lower U.S. carbon dioxide emissions - but dodged
questions on the Keystone XL pipeline and other contentious
Despite criticism of Energy Department's loan program after
the bankruptcy in 2011 of solar panel maker Solyndra, Moniz said
the federal government must not be limited to strictly funding
research and development.
"The need to accelerate the pace of change in response to
climate change makes it essential that we continue investments
... that get the first movers out there in commercial market
pushing the technology envelope," Moniz said.
Originally expected to be finalized in 2012, the loan aid
for the Vogtle expansion was held up by haggling over new
conditions requested by the Obama administration in the wake of
Solar panel maker Solyndra folded after receiving a $535
million federal loan guarantee, leading to accusations that the
Energy Department had mismanaged taxpayer dollars and favored
political allies in doling out funds.
REVIVAL ON HOLD
When it was offered four years ago, the loan deal for Vogtle
was supposed to herald a new era for the U.S. nuclear power
sector, which had stalled after the Three Mile Island nuclear
accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.
Since then, surging U.S. natural gas production, weak growth
in electricity demand and the lack of a cap on carbon emissions
have dampened expectations for a nuclear renaissance.
Only a few nuclear plants are expected to be built and
Vogtle is the only nuclear power plant to be offered a federal
loan guarantee so far.
With "substantial" funding authority still available, Moniz
did not rule out additional loan guarantees. He said the
department plans to move ahead with the loan program to back
deserving low-carbon projects across the energy spectrum.