Groups challenge approval of Plant Vogtle cost increases

SELC filed its appeal at the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta.

SELC, Partnership for Southern Equity, and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light are challenging the Georgia Public Service Commission’s decision to approve billions of dollars in cost overruns for Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion.

SELC filed the appeal today in Fulton County Superior Court, charging that the approval violates state law and the commission’s own rules, and that it puts the interests of Georgia Power shareholders above customers.

“The commissioners rushed a decision concerning the single most expensive capital project in state history, giving Georgia Power everything it asked for and sticking customers with all the risk,” said Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach. “Unless corrected, this error will have grave implications for Georgians for decades to come. It rewards failure.”

In December hearings over whether to continue the troubled project in light of further major delays and cost overruns, the commission’s own staff recommended it not approve any price above $9 billion—beyond which customers will not benefit. The commission rejected its staff’s recommendation and approved a total cost of $10.7 billion— a 75 percent increase over the original certified cost.

In response, the groups filed today’s appeal charging that the commission violated Georgia law and its own governing rules by approving and declaring “reasonable” billions in extra costs, before those sums are even spent.

The commission also significantly shortened the timeframe for a decision, cutting the hearing schedule by 47 days. But under the circumstances, which included a near doubling of the project cost and more than five years’ of delay, the commission was required to devote more time and resources addressing issues such as whether the project is still needed and whether cheaper alternatives are available. Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, the commission’s decision to truncate the schedule was unreasonable and an abuse of agency discretion, the groups say.

The commission’s accelerated decision approved continuing the project but failed to make findings and conclusions supporting why this is the best path forward for customers.

“The Public Service Commission has a responsibility to protect the public interest, yet this decision favors Georgia Power’s bottom line while saddling customers with billions of dollars in additional expense,” said Nathaniel Smith, Chief Equity Officer at Partnership for Southern Equity. “The burden of continuing the Vogtle project will fall particularly hard on Georgia’s most vulnerable communities who need real bill relief now.”

The additional project delays approved by the commission will add more than $5 billion to Georgia Power’s bottom line. Additionally, customers will now pay for the Vogtle construction for at least 10 years before the nuclear units begin producing energy—and will continue to pay higher bills for decades.

“While Georgia Power continues to profit off of these project delays, its customers—including many faith communities—will spend more money on their electric bills for the next few decades than they would have otherwise because nuclear power costs more to build than any other power source,” said Reverend Kate McGregor Mosley, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. “By locking up billions of dollars for decades, the commission’s decision means there will be far fewer resources to invest in cleaner, affordable renewable energy and energy efficiency in Georgia.”

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