PSC member: Stop Vogtle charge on electric bills

A Georgia Public Service Commission member plans to ask Georgia Power to stop collecting a surcharge on customers’ bills that finances the company’s troubled Plant Vogtle nuclear project.

But he acknowledged it may be difficult to erase the surcharge, which adds about $100 a year to the typical residential customer’s bill, because it was authorized by state lawmakers rather than the PSC.

Tuesday’s PSC meeting agenda includes an item for a proposed motion by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald regarding Georgia Power’s “Nuclear Construction Financing Cost Recovery Tariff.”

A lawyer for Georgia Power told commissioners last week that it wouldn’t comply with McDonald’s motion if it passed because the issue would have to be decided by the state legislature. The 2009 law does say the company “shall” collect the surcharge.

“That’s a good reason to say ‘no,’ ” to dropping the surcharge, McDonald conceded in an interview Monday. He also expects the other four elected PSC commissioners to vote against his motion.

Still, he said he hopes the company will voluntarily consider halting the surcharge, which allows Georgia Power to collect about $500 million a year from customers. The charge is itemized on monthly bills.

“The circumstances of approving something like that have changed. And so I suggest we change the circumstances, and stop collecting,” McDonald said last week at a PSC committee meeting, according to a report by WABE radio.

“My motion is as much (a message) to my colleagues as to the company,” McDonald said Monday.

The utility’s project to build two new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta is more than $3 billion over budget and more than three years behind schedule. Georgia Power is now trying to figure out what to do with the project after a key contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed bankruptcy due to losses on the project.

Georgia Power and its parent company, Southern Company, faced a deadline Monday night to reach a deal with Westinghouse on the use of its reactor designs if the bankruptcy court voids the companies’ old agreement.

Southern is also in talks with Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba Corp., regarding billions of dollars in guarantees by Toshiba on the Vogtle project.

Since Westinghouse’s bankruptcy, the company has continued to work on the Vogtle project under a temporary agreement that has been extended three times, most recently on Saturday.

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