SELC intervenes to stop Georgians from bearing financial burden of mismangagement at Plant Vogtle

SELC Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach questions representatives from Southern Nuclear during cross examination at today's hearing before the Georgia Public Service Commission. (© Emily Driscoll/SELC)

Following today’s opening hearing in Georgia Power Company’s 17th Semi-Annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report proceeding, several Georgia groups are urging the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to reject the utility’s request for approval of its revised cost and schedule for building two new nuclear units.

Georgia Power is asking the PSC to approve as “reasonable,” a price tag that is nearly double what was originally projected. The project is five years behind schedule and more than $6 billion over budget. Georgia Power has threatened to cancel the project if the commission does not give its blessing to the new costs and schedule.

“If Georgia Power wants to continue down this risky path, it should not be allowed to shift risk away from its shareholders and make customers bear the entire burden of this boondoggle,” said Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach. “The prudent way forward is to cancel, or at least pause, this risky project—and to invest in energy saving programs and local solar power that will lower bills for Georgians.”

To that end, SELC has intervened today in the proceeding on behalf of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and the Partnership for Southern Equity, and filed a petition for declaratory ruling, making the case that approving the project under the current circumstances would force customers to pick up the tab for the increased costs. Under Georgia law and past orders of the commission, Georgia Power must bear the risk that it may be unable to recover its cost overruns, if and when the units are ever complete.

“Georgia Power customers, especially individuals and families struggling to stay on top of their monthly bills, should not be forced to bear this enormous financial burden for decades to come,” said Nathaniel Smith, Chief Equity Officer at Partnership for Southern Equity. “After years of paying for units that have yet to—and may never—deliver a kilowatt-hour of electricity, Georgia consumers need the real bill relief that solar and energy savings programs have been shown to deliver.”

Georgia Power has already collected $2 billion dollars from its customers to “finance” these projects—but over half of those funds are actually profits for the monopoly utility. Now, based on the documents presented by Georgia Power, the utility wants to stick 2.5 million customers across the state with the additional costs to keep the project alive.

The Georgia Public Service Commission approved the Vogtle expansion, as well as the upfront charges to utility customers, in 2009. Since then, spiraling costs and years-long delays have dogged the project. The units are currently five years behind schedule and more than $6 billion over budget.

The key contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed for bankruptcy in March 2017. Westinghouse was also the contractor at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina. That project was abandoned in July.

The two new units at Plant Vogtle are now the only nuclear units still under construction in the United States. Despite delays and cost overruns like those that caused state regulators to pull the plug on the V.C. Summer project, Georgia Power proposes to continue with the Vogtle expansion.

Our position is that replacing the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion with new investments in solar power and energy efficiency would be less risky, more affordable, and more than up to the job of powering Georgia’s economy.

“We are concerned about the moral implications of throwing billions more of Georgians’ hard earned dollars on this wasteful project, which will raise electric bills for years to come and dampen our state’s potential for economic growth,” said Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. “Greater investments in energy efficiency can directly benefit our low-income citizens, for whom utility bills can constitute a substantial and overwhelming share of monthly income.”

Georgia Power wants its customers, rather than its shareholders, to pay for all of its cost overruns. The groups are asking the PSC force Georgia Power and its shareholders to shoulder the burden resulting from its ballooning budget.

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