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Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 11:51am

PSC To Vote On Vogtle Agreement

The debate over the rising cost of building a new nuclear power plant in eastern Georgia would be deferred several years under a deal that Georgia regulators will consider Tuesday.

The members of the Public Service Commission decided Thursday to consider the preliminary agreement between agency regulators and Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power at the PSC's meeting next week.

Under the proposed deal, Southern Co. would withdraw its request to increase its budget to build two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, southeast of Augusta. The power company had previously asked to increase its budget by $737 million to $6.85 billion.

Instead, the debate over whether to formally raise the construction budget would not happen until the first of the two reactors comes online, probably January 2018 at the earliest, according to the latest timelines from a state monitor.

The deal shifts some financial risk onto Southern Co. If the utility exceeds its budget, then the burden would be on Georgia Power to persuade regulators that the excess spending should be passed along to its customers. But if the PSC votes to raise the project budget, then the law would assume Georgia Power was entitled to collect all of its budgeted costs from customers, so long as regulators couldn't prove the spending was imprudent, reckless or somehow criminal.

The preliminary agreement also helps Southern Co. avoid a politically charged fight over project spending while it deals with a separate rate case in Georgia and an over-budget coal gasification plant in Mississippi.