The proposed $15 billion expansion of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant has flared up as a campaign issue between U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, and Republican challenger Bill Flores.
A day after Flores campaigned in Glen Rose last Thursday, Edwards arranged a conference call with reporters. During the call he charged Flores with proposing a “jobs-killing plan” that would stop the plant's proposed multi-billion-dollar expansion and take away thousands of jobs in Somervell, Hood and Johnson counties.
Edwards seized upon comments made by Flores, a retired oil and gas executive who spent most of his career in Houston but now lives in Bryan, at a Republican “Tea Party” rally in February in Waco. The Edwards campaign provided a link to the audio from the rally on its Web site.
Flores told the audience that it's not the federal government's responsibility to build nuclear power plants or to be “loaning the money for those plants or to be guaranteeing the debt on those plants.”
His comments came after the Obama administration announced $8.33 billion in government loan guarantees for the construction and operation of two new nuclear reactors at a plant in Burke, Ga. The project is scheduled to be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades.
"Mr. Flores’ plan to end federal loan guarantees for nuclear plant construction would kill the Comanche Peak plant expansion in its tracks,” Edwards said. He is the vice chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the Department of Energy’s nuclear loan guarantee program.
The nuclear power industry has said such loan guarantees are crucial to justify building new plants.
"An essential part of the planning for the possible expansion of the plant is the availability of federal loan guarantees," Luminant CEO David Campbell said in a letter to Edwards, which the campaign provided Friday.
While visiting Glen Rose, Flores met with County Judge Walter Maynard. The two discussed Comanche Peak, Judge Maynard said, and Flores expressed his support of nuclear energy.
“He stated that he thought nuclear power had to be part of the mix” of the nation’s energy production, Maynard said.
When the judge told Flores that federal loan guarantees were critical to finance Comanche Peak’s expansion, the candidate didn’t comment on that, Maynard added.
Flores’ spokesman Matt Mackowiak told reporters that Flores had changed his opinion about the federally backed loans but felt they wouldn’t be needed if congressional Democrats had passed a comprehensive energy plan.
Edwards quoted figures from economist Ray Perryman, who has estimated that the proposed expansion of Comanche Peak would create 2,847 permanent jobs in the Somervell County area and 6,264 permanent jobs throughout Texas.
Luminant, which operates Comanche Peak, has applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build two new 1,700-watt nuclear reactors. Once loan guarantees are approved, The company could begin construction on the new units at Comanche Peak by 2013.
Luminant estimates that more than 5,000 jobs would be created at the Comanche Peak site during five years of construction and over 500 permanent, full-time jobs would be created once construction of the two new units is completed. The Comanche Peak expansion would provide power to an additional 1.7 million Texas homes.