Judge partly denies lawsuit against Georgia Power

Group may file new suit when rates increase
A group was trying to stop Georgia Power from charging customers more to pay for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle.

ATLANTA --- An environmental group cannot proceed with part of a lawsuit seeking to stop Georgia Power from charging customers more to pay for building two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle before they start producing electricity, a state judge ruled Friday.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob said the Southern Alliance For Clean Energy cannot seek to overturn a law adopted last year because Georgia Power has not yet raised its rates to recoup the finance charges for the estimated $14 billion project.

"I just think it's premature," Shoob said in a brief ruling from the bench.

The judge said the alliance could file a new lawsuit when electricity rates start rising, which could happen next year. She set arguments for April 29 on whether state utility regulators made mistakes when they approved the new reactors last year.

The Atlanta-based Southern Co. and other partners are seeking to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, a project they hope will be complete by 2017. The project still requires final approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The state approved a law last year allowing Georgia Power, a Southern Co. subsidiary, to begin collecting $1.6 billion in financing and shareholder equity costs early. Supporters of the new law said the change would save about $300 million from an expansion with an estimated cost of $14 billion.

Under the new law, an average household would see a $1.30 additional charge on its electricity bill starting in 2011. That fee could reach $9.10 by 2017.

The Southern Alliance For Clean Energy argued the law is unconstitutional and forces residential users to bear a greater share of the costs than industrial power users. Michael Carvalho, a lawyer for the alliance, said the new law amounted to a public giveaway for Georgia Power.

Daniel Walsh, a senior assistant attorney general, said lawmakers were within their rights to pass the law.