(WAFF) - After more than three decades after work was halted at what was primed to be one of TVA's largest nuclear power plants, backers of the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant gathered to voice support for finishing the incomplete reactors to boost both power generation and economic development in North Alabama.
In a press conference Monday, government officials and business executives announced that Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Nuclear Development LLC have cleared most of the hurdles in the $111 million deal that began two years ago, after TVA decided to auction off the plant.
Aerials from 1985 show encouraging times at Bellefonte, but months later construction was halted on the unit 2 reactor and unit 1 work stopped in 1988.
Today, local leaders feel the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant is closer to becoming a reality than ever before.
"Since purchasing Bellefonte Nuclear Plant two years ago, Nuclear Development LLC has made significant progress. They've assembled an investment team,developed a business plan and obtained all of the nuclear production tax credits necessary," said Jackson County's Development Authority's Director Sheila Shepherd at Monday's press conference.
Shepard has lived in Jackson County her entire life and is thrilled with the progress happening at Bellefonte.
In 2015, TVA determined that it would be unlikely for them to need a large plant like the Bellefonte for the next 20 years. In May of 2016, TVA declared the plant a surplus and sell the 1,600 acre site at auction for a minimum price of $36.4 million.
Nuclear Development LLC, led by Chattanooga-based developer Frank Haney purchased the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant with a winning bid of $111 million- three times the minimum sale price.
Nuclear Development LLC plans to complete the two, nearly 40-year-old, unfinished nuclear reactors with an estimated $12 billion investment, making it the largest private industrial investment in Alabama's history.
Haney's bid beat the only other bid Jackson Holdings of Alabama LLC, which was hoping to use components from the unfinished plant for a reactor under construction in India.
Nuclear Development LLC was given two years to close on the property. TVA is responsible for maintaining the property until the deal closes.
Franklin L. Haney, who organized the investment group is finalizing his plans and pursuing production tax credits to make the project financially viable. Haney hired the Canadian construction and design firm, SNC-Lavalin, to complete Bellefonte.
During the press conference, SNC Lavilin President and Chief Nuclear Officer, and former TVA Nuclear Chief Preston Swafford laid out the strategy for the site developed by the firm.
"95 percent of the plant was done at one time. Nuclear fuel was on site and ready to be loaded into the reactor. As we looked at the existing structures and designs it became apparent that plant needs to be completed as originally designed and we need to implement most of what was already approved," said Swafford.
He says about 20 percent of the design needs updating to bring it up to the current industry standards.
While TVA sold number of parts and components from the plant in 2005, in an effort to recoup some of its investment, many of the original systems and components remain.
Nuclear Development Group and SNC Lavilin have cataloged and assessed the current site.
"Our strategy is to finish and issue the design for a fixed price to multiply players and let them have reign to access the problems and create innovative ideas to compete in pricing," said Swafford.
Swafford said vendors will be given the opportunity to walk through the facility and access the current systems for missing components or systems that need to be replaced.
"70 to 80 percent of the project is quantifiable based on materials, so it behooves the vendors to innovate and be competitive. They have skin in the game," said Swafford.
If completed, the deal is poised to bring thousands of jobs to North Alabama and generate billions of dollars in tax revenues.
During the five to six year construction phase of the plant, the project is expected to bring eight to ten thousand jobs to the area.
"Once completed, the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant will bring 1,140 full-time jobs to North Alabama and the Tennessee Valley with an average salary of $136,000 annually. It will bring an additional 3,136 indirect jobs to the Tennessee Valley with an average salary of $52,000," said North Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.
According to a recent University of Alabama economic study the plant will generate $2.4 billion in worker's state and local taxes on income, sales and property.
On the plant side, the Bellefonte plant will raise an estimated $6.6 billion in tax revenues during the operation phase from utility gross receipts tax, state property tax and local property tax.
In addition to the substantial economic impact on the area, the project will also provide a more environmentally sustainable to North Alabama.
"Nuclear power has the best environmental and safety records of any competing source of electricity or power generator," said Brooks.
The remaining hurdles in the project have not been disclosed, but both public and private officials are confident the deal will reach fruition by its November deadline.
"I'm not going to say that we have cleared all of the hurdles, but in my judgment most of them are cleared, and the few that remain look like they will be cleared as well," said Brooks.
If everything happens as developers plan, construction at Bellefonte could begin as early as next year with possible completion by 2024.
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