Deadline looming for Bellefonte nuclear plant purchase, group seeks $1 billion in Alabama incentives

HOLLYWOOD, Ala. — As we reported two weeks ago, the multi-billion dollar effort to complete the long-dormant Bellefonte nuclear plant in Jackson County is facing a looming deadline.

Supporters say it would mean thousands of construction jobs over several years and more than 1,000 permanent jobs.

Construction on the plant in Hollywood began back in 1974. But TVA pulled the plug on the project in 1988 in the midst of cost overruns and rising debt.

There have been a number of stops and starts since 1988. TVA says it considered a number of alternative uses for the site, including a coal plant, a natural gas plant, an advanced nuclear reactor plant and mixed commercial and residential uses. TVA figured the plant wasn’t worth it and an inspector general report found it would cost $7.5 to $8.7 billion to finish one reactor.

So far, TVA says it has spent $4.8 billion on Bellefonte.

The plant is owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, but a group led by Chattanooga developer Franklin Haney, Nuclear Development LLC, won an auction to buy the plant for $111 million. But the deal isn’t completed.

There are a number of moving parts, but the first real deadline is Friday.

Nuclear Development LLC has to pay TVA the $89 million balance it owes to officially buy Bellefonte. The deadline was extended once, but as of now, Friday is when the money’s due.

Nuclear Development is also seeking government money to pay to complete the two unfinished reactors at Bellefonte. It says since the plants have about half the work completed, they can be completed in a cost-effective way.

The group’s CEO, Bill McCollum, says they are seeking up to $8.5 billion in government loans for the project. But Nuclear Development needs a big customer to help convince the U.S. Department of Energy that Bellefonte is a viable project. Right now, they’re still waiting on Memphis Light, Gas & Water to say if it will pursue a power purchase agreement from a completed Bellefonte. The utility said it is waiting on a power market analysis, due in December, that will help guide its thinking on future power needs.

Haney has also indicated Nuclear Development is seeking incentive money from Alabama.

State economic development officials wouldn’t comment on if they’d been approached for incentives, but Haney told the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis last week, they’re seeking $1 billion in incentives from Alabama. That’s actually more than the new Mazda Toyota plant got for the Huntsville facility.

In that deal, the state is putting in about $380 million for the 4,000-worker car plant and Huntsville is putting up $320 million in incentives. Incentives are generally provided by governments to lure companies to a community.