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What ratepayers should know about the Plant Vogtle expansion
Mary Landers, The Current
If you feel like you keep reading the same story about the expansion of Plant Vogtle, the only new nuclear power under construction in the U.S., you’re not exactly wrong.
Reactors No. 3 and 4 at Vogtle on the banks of the Savannah River near Waynesboro are more than five years overdue and $14 billion over budget. And that’s just a broad outline.
For more details, and for a take that’s sympathetic to consumers bearing these costs, read Georgia Conservation Voters‘ 32-page report “Ratepayer Robbery — The True Cost of Plant Vogtle.”
It includes timelines, data on expenses, and records of key decisions. The report reminds Georgia Power residential customers that they’ve been paying for Vogtle financing on their monthly bills for 10 years while industrial customers are exempt. It also spells out how Vogtle’s cost overruns actually increase Georgia Power’s profit. Footnotes link to news articles, and government and nonprofit documents.
“Plant Vogtle is a monumental example of failed leadership, oversight and lack of forethought,” said GCV Executive Director Brionté McCorkle. “What started out as an overpriced $14 billion project has ballooned into more than $30 billion, and that doesn’t take into account the future costs of completing the units.”
The report highlights the role of the Georgia Public Service Commission, an elected five-member panel, in moving the project forward. In a go/no go review of the project in 2017 after building contractor Westinghouse went bankrupt, expert witnesses and the PSC staff cautioned it wasn’t cost effective to continue. But the PSC voted to continue construction.
Commissioner Tim Echols has been an outspoken proponent of nuclear, arguing in 2017 that Vogtle’s expansion was needed for national security. He emailed The Current a response to the GCV report Monday.
“COP26 and even the Biden Administration continue to emphasize the important role carbon-free nuclear units will play in our climate future,” Echols wrote. “No one could have predicted that Westinghouse would go bankrupt and the difficult position that would put us in financially on the project. All that said, finishing the project is still the right thing to do.”
McCorkle is not against finishing the project, she said, but she is concerned about who will pay to finish it, residential ratepayers or Georgia Power shareholders.
“The responsible thing to do is to reassess the whole situation and reassess who’s picking up the tab for this and why customers are on the hook for paying for this energy,” she said.
Georgia Power, which owns 45.7% of the Vogtle expansion project, “has earned over $6 billion just from the delays of their own project,” the report states.
“They’re profiting, they’re making sky-high profits, while individual ratepayers are struggling to keep the lights on throughout a pandemic, people are losing family members,” McCorkle said. “And the squeeze is being felt everywhere. And our commissioners have a responsibility to do something about that.”
That decision comes later, Echols said.
“By law, we will conduct prudency hearing after each unit achieves 30 days of continuous operation,” said Echols. “At that time commissioners will hear evidence about overruns and determine how much responsibility Georgia Power should bear.”
“Ratepayer Robbery — The True Cost of Plant Vogtle” concludes with a list of suggested actions. They are:
- The Georgia Public Service Commission should disallow Georgia Power from placing all of
these nuclear construction costs onto our bills and share rate increases more fully between
- Voters should hold Commissioners accountable by ejecting them from their seats and electing pro-consumer candidates that commit to transparency.
- The Georgia State legislature should fully fund an independent Consumer Utility Counsel (CUC).
- The Georgia State legislature should create an independent study commission to document lessons learned.
Read the entire report at https://www.scribd.com/document/550992905/Ratepayer-Robbery-The-True-Cost-of-Plant-Vogtle
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with The Current, providing in-depth journalism for Coastal Georgia.