TVA scraps Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant, puts it up for sale

The two cooling towers at TVA's Bellefonte nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Ala., tower 500 feet above the ground.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is putting its Bellefonte nuclear plant on the block.

TVA directors voted Thursday to declare the unfinished power plant as surplus and move later this year to sell the 1,600-acre site in Hollywood, Ala., at a public auction to the highest bidder.

Although TVA has spent more than $5 billion to build and maintain the twin-reactor complex over the past 42 years, the TVA board was told Thursday a new property appraisal estimates the riverfront site and all of its reactor buildings, cooling towers and electrical switch yards is now worth only $36.4 million.

TVA is preparing to activate a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant next month, but TVA projects it won't need the power from any other major new power plants like Bellefonte for more than 20 years, if not longer.

"Our analysis of the property and its potential uses, and input from public officials, customers and Valley residents, indicate that offering the property for sale could better serve the public," TVA President Bill Johnson said.

TVA General Counsel Sherry Quick said TVA "is agnostic on how this will be developed" by any buyer, despite appeals by Alabama government and business leaders to reserve Bellefonte for another power producer that would commit to using the property as a nuclear plant or at least a major power or job generator.

TVA will hire a nationally recognized auction firm to prepare to offer the land to the highest bidder, without restriction on its use. Johnson said bidders for Bellefonte will have to be qualified and submit the plans they have for the site so TVA could consider what jobs and investment might be made from each bidder.

With two board members abstaining from the vote, TVA's board voted 7-0 that the utility begin a process to sell the plant through a federal surplus property sale.

Two of TVA's newest directors, Ron Walter and Gina Lodge, recused themselves from the vote since they had been contacted about selling Bellefonte by former Chattanooga developer Franklin L. Haney before Walter and Lodge were confirmed for the board.

Haney sought for nearly a decade to try to buy and finish Bellefonte, which was mothballed 28 years ago when its completion costs increased and TVA's growth in power demand slowed. Haney offered a $10 billion plan to finish both of the Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactors at Bellefonte. But Haney's offer was conditioned upon TVA agreeing to buy some of its power or financing some of its completion.

Haney also sought to take advantage of federal tax credits for new nuclear generation, but those credits have now expired.

TVA rejected Haney's offer as inadequate two years ago. The retired developer, who hired TVA's former chairman and chief operating officer to promote his idea three years ago, hasn't indicated whether he is still interested in buying Bellefonte.

Goodrich "Dus" Rogers, president of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority and chairman of the Regional Energy Resource Council that reviewed TVA's long-range power plans, acknowledged that TVA doesn't need another power plant like Bellefonte in the foreseeable future. But after four decades of starts and stops at Bellefonte, including efforts to convert the plant to natural gas or use the nuclear site to make tritium or develop next generation nuclear, Rogers said the local community needs the jobs and investments TVA has long promised for the area.

As home to both Bellefonte and TVA's Widows Creek coal plant shuttered last year, Jackson County, Ala., could lose a good share of the in-lieu-of-tax payments TVA provides that fund nearly 30 percent of the county's local tax coffers, Rogers said.

"Sometimes what is good for the Valley is not good for the local community," he said.

Rogers appealed to the board not to allow the site to be developed for just residential or recreational use, which would have far less economic benefit for the county than would a major power plant or industry.

Johnson said he hopes the site can be assessed and ready for sale by this fall, and he said TVA will consider the economic benefits of any purchase offer. TVA should set minimum bid requirements in 60 to 90 days, Johnson said.

TVA Director Eric Satz acknowledged TVA has "flip-flopped through the years" at Bellefonte, with alternative ideas for different types of plants by TVA over the past four decades.

"But past decisions do not bind this board, especially since we have a greater amount of information than in the past," he said.

TVA began building Bellefonte in 1974 when the federal utility planned to build 17 reactors to meet its growing power demand. TVA suspended work at Bellefonte in 1988 and the plant has remained mothballed since. Only seven of the original 17 reactors planned by TVA were ever completed.

When work halted at Bellefonte, Quick said Unit 1 was considered 90 percent complete and Unit 2 was rated as 58 percent built. But parts of both units were later removed, and new technologies adopted at nuclear plants since have rendered much of the previous work of little value, critics claim.

"If you put new wheels and a paint job on a 1957 Chevy, you still have a '57 Chevy, and this plant was never close to being finished," said Lou Zeller, executive director of the Blue Ridge Defense League and a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, which has fought against finishing the Alabama nuclear plant. "It's time to move away from nuclear power at Bellefonte."

Contact staff writer Dave Flessner at at 757-6340.