Nuclear plant hearing today

State makes first step toward Constellation affiliate's third reactor at Calvert Cliffs

August 04, 2008|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun reporter

State regulators will begin hearings today to determine whether an affiliate of Baltimore's Constellation Energy can build a third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Lusby.

The project, which could cost up to $9.6 billion, is among a handful of applications being considered as the nation's first new nuclear reactors in nearly 30 years. Government and energy company leaders are looking to the new plants to remedy energy shortage concerns across the country - beginning as early as 2011 in Maryland.

The hearings, held by the state's Public Service Commission, are among the first steps in a complex process that requires local, state and federal approval, which could take years to secure.

The reactor Constellation proposes to build through its UniStar affiliate, a joint venture with Paris-based Electricite de France SA, could generate 1,600 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1.6 million average homes. It's meant to be a longer-term solution to the state's energy problems; other efforts, including new power lines, are being considered for the short term.

Already, a lack of in-state power plants is being blamed in part for an 85 percent rise in electricity rates since the industry was deregulated in 1999.

The PSC will hold evening hearings to get public comment on the Calvert Cliffs proposal today, Aug. 11 and Aug. 19. Daytime evidentiary hearings will begin Aug. 11. Commissioners are expected to reach a decision by December, said a PSC spokeswoman, LaWanda Edwards.

UniStar could build four reactors in the U.S. based on a French design - first in Maryland, then others in New York, Missouri and Pennsylvania. It hasn't yet committed to any of the sites, including Calvert Cliffs.

Early this year, that plant became part of a fight between Constellation and state politicians who were looking for ways to revisit industry regulation. Constellation threatened to build elsewhere first if it deemed the political and regulatory climate too hostile.

UniStar President and Chief Executive George Vanderheyden said Friday that Maryland was still the No. 1 focus, however.

"Our position has been that we won't proceed until we're confident that our expectations have been met for safety, cost, regulatory stability and bipartisan federal, state and local support," Constellation spokesman Rob Gould said.

The company expects to decide whether to begin preliminary site work at Calvert Cliffs next year if the PSC approves.

The unit has also filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the plant, and near the end of July began a similar process for the Missouri site.

The NRC could take more than three years to complete its application review, said spokesman Scott Burnell. It could take years after that to construct. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that the country will need 25 percent more electricity by 2030. Such statistics have led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider applications for the first new nuclear reactors in the country since the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.

The Calvert Cliffs plant wouldn't emit greenhouse gases, and it would recycle water, drawing 98 percent less from the Chesapeake Bay than the two existing reactors, which were built in the 1970s.

Some environmentalists have praised that aspect, though many still question the safety of nuclear power.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

Nuclear reactor hearings

What: Public Service Commission hearings on the proposal to build a nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs in Lusby

Who: The public can comment during three evening hearings, or submit written testimony to the commission by Aug. 19 (information: http://www.psc.state.md.us/

psc/index.htm).

When: Public comment hearings will be held from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. today, Aug. 11 and Aug. 19

Where: Holiday Inn Select,155 Holiday Dr., Solomons, Md.

Note: Separate, evidentiary hearings will begin Aug. 11 at 9 a.m. and continue on successive days as long as needed. The public is welcome to observe, though no comments will be taken.

SOURCE: Maryland Public Service Commission

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