Opting for a middle of the road approach, the Covington City Council voted to seek 35 megawatts of nuclear power through the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia at their Monday meeting.
As a member of MEAG, Covington was invited to purchase a portion of new nuclear power from Georgia Power, which is currently seeking state and federal approval to construct an additional two nuclear units at Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro. The new power is set to become available in 2018.
Following the recommendations of Bill Meecham, utility director for the city, the council has decided to ask for 20MW initially with an additional 15MW to be deferred until 2038. Covington is currently short on electricity and often has to purchase as much as 30 percent of its energy needs from the market, which can result in higher utility bills.
In formulating his recommendation, Meecham and the city solicited the advice of MEAG as well as two independent consulting firms.
"It's the most informed decision you could make," Covington Mayor Kim Carter said of the research put into the decision.
According to Meecham, MEAG recommended a much higher amount of power for the city than what was ultimately selected, recommending 30.5MW initially with an additional 10 MW in 2038.
One consultant recommended a figure slightly higher than MEAG's Meecham said and the second firm, GDS Associates, recommended a much lower figure - 10MW to 14MW initially with an additional 10MW in 2038.
The differing recommendations were a result of different population projections used by the consultants.
"We certainly need power but we don't need excess," Meecham told the council at a work session before their Monday meeting.
While specific cost figures are not yet available, Meecham said the latest figures he saw put the price of a single MW at close to $3.9 million.
Meecham said the purchase of the power by the city will be financed through bonds sold by MEAG.
"You're really not paying on this until you begin to receive the power 10 years from now," Meecham said. "We don't have to sit down and right them a check nor do we have to go and take out our own bonds for it."
Meecham recommended the city pursue a middle of the road approach, not purchasing so little power that the city must continue to buy its power from the market and not so much power that the city has excess it can't use or sell.
Meecham said he recommended this approach due to the uncertainty of future energy decisions coming from the state and federal government as well as new alternative energy technologies which could affect the future use of nuclear power.
"If growth slows down, you're carrying the baggage. Our risk is that we come up short," Meecham told the council, adding that he did believe new power-generation technology would become available before that happened. "We know that MEAG will pursue other projects of generation."
Just because the city has requested 35MW does not mean that is the amount they will be granted. All 49 MEAG member cities have been invited to participate in Plant Vogtle. Of that number, Meecham said he believed approximately 40 cities would agree to purchase power. The city of Oxford has already decided not to participate in the project.
"They're not sure what the results will be," Meecham said, adding that MEAG only has 500MW of new Plant Vogtle power to be distributed among participating cities. "You are guaranteed a certain amount, but it depends on how much everybody else takes. If everybody takes how much they're allowed, we end up with 14 to 15MW and we'd take that all at once."
Meecham said the city should know sometime in July just how much nuclear power it will be guaranteed by MEAG.
"I think this is a good investment for the future of Covington's power supply," Meecham said. "I think the council has been visionary for looking forward to the future and making arrangements instead of taking it as it comes."