Sparking Matagorda's future

February 8, 2008 9:33:09 PM PST
A proposed expansion of the nuclear power plant in Matagorda County could make it the largest electricity facility in the United States. A lot of us probably don't even know it's there.

For 20 years the two domes of the South Texas Project have dominated the rural skyline in Matagorda County. Last year they generated enough power to light up 2 million homes. But with all the growth in Texas, it may not be enough.

"Texas needs a lot more power and we think nuclear is a great option," said Thad Hill, president of NRG.

He should.

He's the plant of the company proposing the expansion, which could is expected to cost more than $6 billion. If it's approved, the two new reactors would be the first new nuclear construction in the US in 30 years. But before a shovel of dirt is turned out here, the federal government wants to hear from people nearby.

"I am very loyal to STP," said resident Susan Dancer.

But that doesn't mean Dancer is willing to welcome this huge expansion right away.

"These people who make a great deal of money need to be accountable," she said.

Sure there are concerns about safety.

"The big risk is of a catastrophic event," sadi Tom Smithwho is the Executive Director of the Texas Public Citizen.

And there are concerns about waste. Much of the spent fuel is stored on site. And there are concerns about the environment.

"[Water has] been a big issue in Texas forever," said former STP employee Bill Wagner.

Those concerns are sort of expected, but this may not be.

"The attitude shifted from not in my town to ok you guys can come here but let's get out in the open what we expect from each other," Dancer told us.

Dancer is a fourth generation Matagorda County resident who says it's time to make sure money made at the nuclear power plant, stays near the plant.

There will be 4,000 temporary jobs created by construction of the new reactors and 800 permanent jobs once the third and fourth reactors are running. But no guarantee yet for those people would live in Matagorda County. The company that owns the facility already asked for 10 years of property tax exemptions which would translate in to millions of dollars in savings for the company.

Dancer and some county government leaders, who didn't want to say so too publically, are pressing the company to make some financial promises.

"If the jobs are going to be kept here, if they're going to pay reasonable taxes, if it's going to benefit our community, absolutely," she said. "No community doesn't want to expand and grow."

The discussions over how much the company will pay in aid to the county and how much property tax will be forgiven are still going on. The company behind the expansion tells us they will be good neighbors, they've already invested more than a million in a school to train future employees and may announce more in the near future. The first two reactors were built in the late 1970s and 80s. That construction was way over budget and took years longer than expected. The company says this reactor design has been built reliably in the past overseas and will be done effectively here.

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