Groups protest Constellation's nuclear partnership

December 24, 2008|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,

More than a dozen members of consumer watchdog and environmental groups protested Constellation Energy Group's nuclear power partnership with a French utility at the company's Baltimore headquarters this morning, saying they were concerned about the cost and financing of proposed new plants.

Last week, Paris-based Electricite de France agreed to invest $4.5 billion in Constellation's nuclear facilities in exchange for a 49.99 percent ownership stake in them. The partnership follows a joint venture started last year between EDF and Constellation to develop four new nuclear reactors, including one at Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland.

But the new reactors require federal loan guarantees that could be better used to help develop new technologies, said Allison Fisher, energy organizer for Public Citizen. Fisher said the guarantees are intended for nascent industries - unlike nuclear, which has been in use for decades. "We need money for wind and solar," said Ruth White, a protester from Columbia. The federal loan guarantees would be "putting money into the wrong place. We need to fund wind and solar first."

Constellation spokesman Robert L. Gould said that the company has invested in alternative sources of energy but that nuclear has to be part of that mix. Nuclear plants have high production capacities, he said.

The guarantees are "giving the banks certainty so we can move forward with this project," he said. Other factors, including regulatory approval, safety, cost and government support, must meet expectations before the company will decide to proceed, he said.

The protesters, part of the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition, tried to deliver a petition signed by 8,000 people opposing the nuclear plans, but Constellation employees would not accept it.

"The group is welcome to send their petition to the company, but to be clear, the company does not agree with their position," Gould said.

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