By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Aiming to become the first U.S. jurisdiction since 1996 with a newly operating nuclear energy reactor, officials in Calvert County this week offered tax breaks valued at $300 million to induce a Baltimore company to expand its nuclear power operation along the Chesapeake Bay.
County commissioners took action at the request of the company, Constellation Energy Group Inc., and appeared to push Calvert ahead of the two counties in New York that have similar operations run by Constellation.
"We've done what they've asked; the ball is kind of in their court," said David F. Hale (R-Owings), president of the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners.
He and other county officials, hoping to take advantage of the nation's renewed interest in nuclear power, said an expansion would be a huge economic boost for Calvert. About 3,200 workers would be needed to build the reactor, and construction would take about five years. After that, the power plant would employ about 400 workers.
The existing Calvert Cliffs nuclear operation, with two reactors, employs 800 people, making it the largest private employer in the county. The operation pays Calvert County nearly $16 million a year in taxes, or about 9 percent of its total tax revenue. It is generally popular among residents, some of whom fish next to it.
Though Constellation Energy has made no secret of its desire to build nuclear reactors, a new one in Calvert is far from reality. Operation could be at least 10 years away.
In a statement thanking Calvert officials for offering the incentives, reported yesterday in the Baltimore Sun, the company held its cards close to its chest. "Constellation Energy continues to move forward in evaluating Calvert Cliffs as one of several potential sites being considered. . . . Much work remains before a final decision to build can be made."
But officials in two New York counties with Constellation reactors indicated they are behind Calvert in offering incentives. In Oswego County, home to Constellation's Nine Mile Point plant, county administrator Steve Lyman said officials have not decided what incentives they'd offer for an expansion. He said he would certainly welcome the jobs. "Like other counties in upstate New York, this area has experienced an erosion of its manufacturing base," he said.
Peg Churchill, director of Wayne County's economic development corporation, said Constellation has not approached her with requests for incentive packages for Constellation's Ginna plant.
Calvert County is near huge energy demand in the Washington-Baltimore region. That the plant would be east of all those people is another advantage because there is so much pressure on existing power grids when they are sending so much energy from west to east, said Aris Melissaratos, Maryland's secretary of business and economic Development. He indicated that the state would be willing to provide incentives, on top of Calvert's, if discussions progress.
If Constellation selects Calvert County, it would still have to get federal approval. The last nuclear reactor to start commercial operation was in 1996, in Tennessee, said Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute. And that was for a facility already planned and approved. The last time an energy company officially ordered a new reactor was 1978, Kerekes said.
But there may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.
But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. "No ifs, ands or buts," he said. "Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear."