Conservative group taking Georgia Power to task on Vogtle costs overrun

An aerial view of Plant Vogtle’s units 3 and 4 in January. SPECIAL aerial shot of the site is from January and shows construction in progress on Vogtle Georgia Power wants to proceed with finishing two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle that will come online in November 2021 and November 2022 at a total cost of $19 billion

A conservative Georgia group is calling out Georgia Power on the cost overruns on two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle and wants to repeal a state law that allows the company to pass along those costs to ratepayers while construction is underway.

 

The call puts the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots on the side of some more liberal groups opposing the project but President Debbie Dooley said some issues appeal to all sides. The group is also vowing to make it an issue in next year’s Public Service Commission elections.

The Atlanta Tea Party opposed Senate Bill 31 in 2009 that allowed Georgia Power to recoup the nuclear expansion costs at Vogtle and has supported efforts since to repeal it. But with the failure of a somewhat similar project in South Carolina at the V.C. Summer nuclear site, and the ensuing fallout over its ongoing burden on those ratepayers, Dooley said she believes there is renewed momentum to make the change in Georgia.

“I think there is a bigger demand for it this time because it is in the news,” she said. In the past, “I think people wanted to give Georgia Power the benefit of the doubt. But there’s no benefit of the doubt now.”

The conservative group’s opposition puts it shoulder to shoulder with groups such as Nuclear Watch South, which has also called for the law’s repeal, and with others opposed to the project, such as the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. But Dooley said conservatives and progressives can find common ground and have in the past in opposing public funding for sports stadiums or in opposing trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“This is the issue that transcends political ideology: Who wants to reward failure? Who wants to bail out irresponsibility?” she said. “There are some issues where the left and right on occasion line up.”

The tea party was trying to call attention to a Nov. 6 hearing before the PSC, when Georgia Power is expected to testify about its reasoning for wanting to continue the expansion. Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said passing on costs to customers during construction actually lowers the cost of the project overall and phases in the impact.

“From the beginning of the Vogtle expansion, we have worked to minimize the impact of the new units on customer bills by financing the project in a way which provides the most value to customers, including supporting Senate Bill 31 (the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act),” he said. “Collecting financing costs during construction saves customers hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing financing and borrowing costs, while also phasing the plant into rates over time helping to avoid ‘rate shock’ at the end of the project.”

According to a recent filing, the cost of Vogtle accounts for about 5 percent of bills and would rise to 10.3 percent by the end of the expected construction run. A Georgia Power official has said rates are currently 14 percent below the national average and would continue to be below that average and competitive with the additional expense. The PSC is evaluating the request to continue Vogtle and is expected to rule by early next year.

The tea party is also planning to make Georgia Power and Plant Vogtle an issue in upcoming elections for two PSC seats next year, Dooley said. PSC Chairman Stan Wise has already announced he will not run for re-election but Commissioner Chuck Eaton is up for re-election. Those seats normally do not attract a lot of attention but the group is planning to change that, she said.

“We’re going to be focusing on the PSC,” Dooley said. “It’s time for people to start paying attention.”

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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