ATLANTA – Members of the environmental group the Sierra Club plan to use Wednesday’s Southern Co. annual shareholder meeting as an opportunity to grill executives about construction overruns and renewable energy.
Annual corporate meetings give shareholders the chance to raise concerns about their investment, but special-interest groups in recent years have used them as a way to publicize issues and needle executives they disagree with.
A dozen Sierra members who own stock in the giant electricity producer are primed to ask pointed questions about company policies, club officials told reporters Tuesday.
“I think tomorrow presents a really good opportunity for dialog,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of Sierra Club.
She said Southern’s board chairman and president, Tom Fanning, welcomes it.
“He really is open-minded and likes to hear from shareholders,” she said, calling the question session a way to “open executives’ minds to what people are thinking out there in the real world.”
The environmentalists say they will pose questions about budget overruns at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro where the company is adding two nuclear reactors for its Georgia Power subsidiary. Georgia Power revealed in February that construction is $737 million over budget midway through.
Kiernan said their questions will focus instead on safety concerns raised by the 2011 Japanese nuclear crisis and regulators’ decision to exempt industrial customers from paying financing costs during the construction while other consumers carry the burden.
But questions Sierra’s Mississippi members intend to raise about a nearly $1 billion construction overage at Plant Ratcliffe in Kemper County, Miss., may be on the minds of every investor in the room. The company has told regulators there that it would absorb $540 million in overruns, effectively coming out of shareholders’ pockets.
The president of Southern’s Mississippi Power subsidiary abruptly quit Monday amid company admissions that he failed to respond to regulators’ information requests.
Plant Ratcliffe is the company’s experiment in what it calls “clean coal” which comes from a process to gasify lignite coal mined nearby while capturing the carbon dioxide. If successful, the company could have a way to keep operating its coal plants across four states despite toughing environmental rules.
Thursday, Fanning told the Atlanta Press Club he supports clean-coal research because the United States has such plentiful coal reserves.
“What we need for the future is to take advantage of the resources America is blessed with,” he said.
Kiernan also hopes to bring up what seems like a comparatively small matter, the 178 megawatt Plant McIntosh near Savannah. Georgia Power is seeking regulator approval to switch the kind of coal it burns, but the environmentalists prefer closing it and using solar or wind power instead.