Panel votes to extend nuclear power tax credit

Panel votes to extend nuclear power tax credit
© Courtesy photo

The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to remove a key deadline for a nuclear power plant tax credit.

The legislation from Reps. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHouse votes to block aircraft sales to Iran Expand the health savings account 'safe harbor' to reduce health costs Time to pass the U.S. OUTDOOR Act to support American jobs and consumers MORE (D-Ore.) would remove the requirement that newly-built nuclear power plants be in service by 2020 in order to receive a tax credit for producing power.

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The credit was first enacted in 2005 to spur construction of new nuclear plants, but it has gone completely unused because no new plants have come online since then.

The bill passed 23-9, with only Democrats opposed.

It would likely benefit two reactors under construction at Southern Co.’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia and another two at Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina. Both projects are at risk of missing the 2020 deadline.

Rice emphasized that it is not an expansion of the tax credit, because it can still be applied only to a total of 6,000 megawatts of generating capacity, as it was written in 2005.

“This bill ensures that the 6,000-megawatt capacity authorized by Congress in 2005 is fulfilled as intended, and stops there. This is not an expansion of the program,” Rice said at the committee meeting.

“When Congress passed the 2005 act, it could not have contemplated the effort it would take to get a nuclear plant designed and licensed.”

Blumenauer said he supports the legislation because he believes it could make small modular nuclear reactors a reality.

“It’s part of our future to see if we can make nuclear energy work in a way that’s safe and effective and manageable. Making this production credit work with this technology is an important step in that direction,” he said.

But some Democrats and environmentalists opposed the bill due to their overall objections to nuclear power. They pushed the Ways and Means Committee to instead act on renewable power tax incentives, such as credits for geothermal and similar technologies that were left out of a wide-ranging tax bill last year.

“I think the real problem with nuclear power is that it does better in a socialist economy than in a capitalist one, because nuclear energy prefers to have the public do the cleanup, do the insurance, cover all of the losses and it only wants the profits,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

Friends of the Earth called the bill a bailout for the nuclear industry.

“The nuclear industry is incapable of building new reactors within budget or on time,” Ben Schreiber, director of the climate and energy program at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

“With catastrophic climate change staring us in the face, it is clear that continued efforts to save the nuclear industry are nothing less than a financial and technical distraction,” he said. “This piece of radioactive pork is a disgrace, and Rep. Blumenauer has let it contaminate his environmental record.”