BERWICK, PA-PPL Corp. has taken preliminary steps to preserve an option to build a third nuclear generating unit at its Susquehanna plant near here. The Allentown-based energy supplier says it would only undertake the project in a joint-venture partnership and estimates a total cost of $70 million.

The company has sent a letter to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission indicating its intent to submit an application for a combined construction and operating license for the facility. It has also filed a request with Valley Forge-based PJM Interconnection LLC for preliminary interconnection studies for the site. PJM is the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity across 13 states and Washington, DC.

A PJM analysis is one of many studies PPL says it needs to evaluate the feasibility of the expansion. The NRC notice ensures PPL of a place in the commission’s licensing process. Pursuing the license now preserves PPL’s potential for federal production tax credits and federal loan guarantees, according to James Miller, PPL’s chairman, president and CEO.

The PJM notice ensures that PPL will be included in the regional power pool’s plans for the future. “Given the growing concerns regarding climate change around the world and the growing need for power plants in the PJM, it absolutely makes sense to create this valuable option for the electricity users in the mid-Atlantic region and for the shareholders of PPL,” Miller says in a statement.

He stresses, “This effort is just one element of the company’s comprehensive plan to create options for future growth in our generating fleet.” The plan to joint-venture, Miller adds, is based on “the market, construction and regulatory uncertainties, along with the large capital commitment for a nuclear project.”

Miller also emphasizes that there is no decision to move forward. “A decision on construction would take as long as four years given the lengthy application process,” he says.

The existing two-unit, 2,360-megawatt plant about seven miles from here is operated by PPL and owned jointly by PPL Susquehanna LLC and Allegheny Electric Cooperative Inc., a wholesale power supplier based in Harrisburg. In all, PPL controls more than 11,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the US and delivers electricity to more than four million customers in Pennsylvania, the UK and Latin America.

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