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Federal loan cost estimates for Plant Vogtle expansion still secret

Thursday, April 12, 2012 4:25 PM
Last updated Friday, April 13, 2012 2:22 AM
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Cost estimates for the U.S. Department of Energy’s $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee for Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle expansion remain unavailable, despite a judge’s conclusion two weeks ago they should be made public.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2010 for the credit subsidy estimates and a host of other information – and later filed a lawsuit when portions of the material were not provided.

Credit subsidy fees, calculated as a percentage of the total loan guarantee, are paid by the utility borrowing money and help offset the government’s costs of financing major projects, such as Plant Vogtle’s new reactors. Utilities usually want the percentages very low, while government watchdogs believe higher fees will reduce risk to taxpayers.

Federal officials and Southern Nuclear contend the percentages under discussion are proprietary and that all estimates should be kept secret.

In a March 28 ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth, however, the Energy Department was directed to disclose the project’s credit subsidy cost estimates.

Sara Barczak, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s high risk energy choices program director, said the group is still awaiting the information and has only the redacted letters provided earlier.

“Those two documents, in unredacted form, were to be shared with us immediately, which of course, they have not yet done,” she said. “However, we understand that perhaps it takes some time to wade through the bureaucracy of all of this, but still, they are to be turned over to us.”

The court also gave the Energy Department 60 days to supplement inadequate justification for why it either redacted – or refused to release – other information sought by the plaintiffs.

Energy Department officials refused to comment on the litigation or whether there would be an appeal to the judge’s findings, but said efforts remain under way to complete the Vogtle loan guarantee.

“As part of our comprehensive due diligence process, the department is continuing to work closely with all parties involved with the Vogtle Nuclear Plant to reach a final agreement on the loan guarantee,” a department spokeswoman said.

Southern Nuclear officials say the loan guarantee agreement will be completed by the end of June.


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