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Friday, July 19, 2013

Georgia Power wants customers to pay more to fund new nuke reactors

A recent construction photo of the new reactors at Plant Vogtle.
  • Courtesy Georgia Power
  • A recent photo of one of the new nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle.

Less than one week since the Public Service Commission's vote to force Georgia Power to increase its use of solar energy, the state utility regulatory agency is hearing about another contentious issue involving the massive utility.

Yesterday's PSC hearing focused on whether Georgia Power will be allowed to increase what its customers pay to cover cost overruns for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta. Ratepayers already pay an additional fee of around 5 percent each month for a "nuclear construction cost recovery fee" to fund the building of the reactors.

The move is necessary because Georgia Power is now acknowledging cost overruns and delays at the plant, which is located about 175 miles from Atlanta. One year ago the company said its "targets were achievable." The reactors are the first new nukes being built in the United States since the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1976. The disaster ranks as the country's worst nuclear accident.

Georgia Power is $6.1 billion of the $14 billion project's cost. The utility is asking the PSC for an increase of $737 million dollars to the project's budget to cover the overruns. If the PSC approves the request, more than $380 million could be passed onto the energy company's 2.3 million customers.

Georgia Power has already twice postponed the date of the opening of the new nukes and is now pushing back the online dates more then a year, WAND officials say. The nonprofit has been protesting the $14 billion project since it was first proposed.

WAND claims Georgia Power wants to get the cost overruns OK'ed before next year's legislative session begins. Last year, legislation sponsored by state Reps. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, and Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, would have prohibited Georgia Power from profiting from cost overruns at Plant Vogtle. The bill did not make it out of committee last session. However, it is expected to be resubmitted when state lawmakers return to Atlanta. The thinking is that if Georgia Power can get the cost overruns approved before the next session, it can preempt the bill and can make sure their customers - rather then the company - bear the excess costs of the new nuke construction.

Georgia Power disputes that claim, saying the utility is following the PSC's schedule.

"The schedule for when these costs are approved are set by the PSC," said Mark Williams, a Georgia Power spokesman. "They issued on March 29 on when hearings would be, when testimony would need to be filed, and when they would make their decision. That's all done according to their statute... That's the facts, that's what they PSC has said. It's the way this process has gone from the beginning."

"We certainly hope they won't let Georgia Power pass the buck to ratepayers when the company's lack of oversight is largely to blame for the overruns," Hansen said in a statement. "It's past time that Georgia Power share the financial risk of this massive project with the customers that have been bearing the burden."

The vote on whether the cost overruns will be approved is scheduled to take place on Oct. 15.

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