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Exelon decides against locating nuclear plant in Victoria County

By ALLISON MILES
Aug. 28, 2012 at 3:28 a.m.
Updated Aug. 29, 2012 at 3:29 a.m.

Craig Nesbit

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For more information on Exelon, visit http://www.exeloncorp.com.

To learn more about Exelon, visit VictoriaAdvocate.com, click on this story and follow the attached link.

A timeline of Exelon's proposed Victoria County nuclear plant:

June 2007: Exelon Nuclear announces Matagorda and Victoria counties as front-runners for a possible $4 billion nuclear power plant August 2007: Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority passes reservation agreement allowing organization to negotiate water use with Exelon December 2007: Victoria County selected as primary site for proposed nuclear plant May 2008: Exelon opens Victoria office to further community outreach September 2008: Company submits Combined Construction and Operating License application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission July 2009: Exelon closes Victoria office March 2010: Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepts Exelon's early site permit application for a Victoria County nuclear plant Aug. 28, 2012: Company announces plans to withdraw project's Early Site Permit Sources: Exelon Generation news release and Victoria Advocate archives

A nuclear plant is no longer in the cards for Victoria County.

Exelon Generation on Tuesday announced plans to withdraw its Early Site Permit application for an 11,500-acre tract of land southeast of Victoria.

Company officials made the announcement at the Victoria Economic Development Corp.'s Victoria Partnership meeting. Shortly after, it notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its intent.

The decision was based mainly on economics, Marilyn Kray, Exelon Generation's vice president of nuclear project development, said. With current market conditions, it isn't possible to create electricity for less than what the company could sell it for.

"It has nothing to do with the leadership or the community," she said, explaining Victoria and its people made the company feel welcome. "It's all about economics."

Craig Nesbit, Exelon's vice president of generation communications, said it all came down to natural gas. With shale drilling - something that, five years ago, no one thought economically feasible - taking place nationwide, gas prices saw a substantial drop.

That means affordable electricity, he said, but makes it nearly impossible to build a large base load plant and make a profit.

"We thought we'd wait it out, and we did for a while," he said. "But our guys are telling us this is a long-term trend. Not a short-term trend."

Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp., said he felt good about the community's approach to attracting Exelon. It did what it could to have a positive impact, he said.

Market conditions, which proved the deciding factor, were beyond Victoria's control.

"I don't think we'd have done anything differently," Fowler said. "If it weren't for the change in the economy, we may have, in fact, had this facility."

For economic development to be successful, he said it was important for communities to realize that, while they want the added tax base and jobs, companies want profits.

"You have to satisfy all the criteria," Fowler said. "I'm very pleased, still, with our relationship with Exelon. We hope that, someday, there will be other opportunities."

David Huber, who farms and ranches in Victoria County, said he was glad to learn of Exelon's announcement. Huber has spoken out against the proposed plant and even attended a Chicago protest in opposition to the company.

He said his main concerns were the region's water supply, knowing that most power generated would go to other areas, and safety risks regarding malfunctions and attacks.

"I really did not want to become ground zero," he said. "A nuclear plant is an excellent target."

Differences aside, Huber said he regarded Nesbit as a friend.

He spoke with Nesbit during the Chicago protest and, when he didn't have the answers to all of Huber's questions, Nesbit asked another Exelon representative to join the conversation.

"We spoke for probably an hour on the square, and we never got cross with each other," he said. "We're both mature enough to see each other's sides."

Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong, during the partnership meeting, thanked Exelon for developing the project for as long as it did. He said it meant a lot that representatives ventured down and "looked Victoria in the eye" to make the announcement.

"That's how Exelon does it," he said. "They didn't want to pull the plug. Thank you all for staying as long as you did."

Project or no project, the relationships formed between the community and Exelon will last a lifetime, Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said at the meeting. The company made a significant investment in Victoria through the years, he said, and operates with honesty, integrity and openness.

Pozzi said he hoped Tuesday wasn't the last time Exelon officials would set foot in Victoria.

"I'm positive we'll be able to help each other out in the future," he said. "Thank you for running the course, for being here as long as you have and for being a friend to us in Victoria."

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