Groups Challenge Georgia Public Service Commission’s Approval of Plant Vogtle Cost Increases
Atlanta, GA—The Southern Environmental Law Center, 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 the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion.
On behalf of PSE and GIPL, SELC filed an 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 Kurt Ebersbach, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Unless corrected, this error will have grave implications for decades to come. It rewards failure."
The groups charge that the Commission violated Georgia law and its own governing rules by purporting to approve and declare "reasonable" billions of extra costs before those sums are even spent. The Commission failed to give detailed consideration to the new circumstances, which include a doubling of the project cost and more than five years’ of delay.
The Commission significantly shortened the timeframe for decision when it was required to devote more time and resources addressing such issues as whether the project is still needed and whether cheaper alternatives are available. The decision approves continuing the project but without any detailed findings or conclusions supporting why that 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."
"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."
The Southern Environmental Law Center intervened in Georgia Power Company’s 17th Semi-Annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report proceeding on behalf of the Partnership for Southern Equity and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, urging the Georgia Public Service Commission to reject the utility’s request for approval of its revised cost and schedule for building two new nuclear units.
In filed testimony, the Commission’s staff had recommended the PSC reject any price above $9 billion—beyond which customers will not benefit.
After shortening the schedule for the proceeding by 47 days, the Commission voted unanimously on December 21st to continue the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project, and to declare “reasonable” Georgia Power’s additional costs and delayed schedule.
In the decision, the Commission ignored its staff’s recommendation to limit the approval to an amount that would make it economic for customers, and instead approved a revised capital cost of $7.3 billion and financing costs of $3.4 billion, approximately $1.5 billion more than staff’s break-even point. Together these sums represent an increase in the total project cost of 75 percent over the original certified cost.
While Commission’s decision included some reductions to Georgia Power’s profit in 2020 and 2021, those reductions are miniscule compared to the overall profit Georgia Power will reap as a result of its delay in bringing the units online.
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.
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About Partnership for Southern Equity:
The Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that advances policies and institutional actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in the growth of metropolitan Atlanta and the American South through an ecosystem-based model for multi-demographic engagement. www.psequity.org
About Georgia Interfaith Power & Light:
Georgia Interfaith Power & Light is a state-wide interfaith ministry that in response to climate change and environmental injustice engages communities of faith in stewardship of Creation through worship, education, and the sustainable generation and efficient use of energy. GIPL’s goal is to help people of faith recognize and fulfill their responsibility for the stewardship of creation. www.gipl.org