* Entergy has not decided to build new nuclear plant
* New reactor could enter service in 2024
NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - Entergy Corp’s (ETR.N) Louisiana power companies filed with Louisiana utility regulators last week to continue early development activities for possible construction of a nuclear power plant at the River Bend site.
In a release, Entergy, of New Orleans, said it has not decided to build a new reactor but wanted to keep the option available to remain in the running for any federal incentives that may be available.
The U.S. Department of Energy, which can now distribute $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors, is seeking an additional $36 billion of funding.
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Entergy said the Louisiana utilities, which serve more than a million homes and businesses, need more baseload power from plants that operate around the clock like nuclear reactors.
In addition, new nuclear would allow Entergy to diversify generation resources away from natural gas, which provides about half of the electricity in Louisiana.
Entergy said existing nuclear units saved customers hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs and stabilized electricity costs when natural gas price spiked. Natural gas sold for over $13 per million British thermal unit during the summer of 2008 before dropping to below $3 during the autumn of 2009.
Unlike natural gas and other fossil fuels, nuclear plants produce no carbon dioxide, a valuable feature if the U.S. government slaps a price on carbon to fight global warming.
Entergy said a new plant could be built as soon as 2024. In 2008, Entergy filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a new General Electric Co (GE.N)/Hitachi Ltd (6501.T) 1,550 MW Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) at River Bend.
That unit might have cost about $6.2 billion based on an industry estimate of $4,000 per kilowatt, but Entergy and GE Hitachi could not come to terms, so Entergy asked the NRC to suspend its application.
Through Jan. 31, Entergy said its Louisiana companies spent about $50.5 million in early nuclear development costs related to River Bend.
River Bend is located in St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish about 24 miles north-northwest of Baton Rouge. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio)