Opinion: Dear Georgia Power: The answer is no


More than a decade ago, our good friends at Georgia Power proposed to build two new nuclear reactors — the first on U.S. soil in a generation — at its Vogtle site outside Augusta.

Georgia Power recruited the partners it needed from electric co-ops and city utilities around the state. It lobbied its obedient servants at the state Public Service Commission to rubber-stamp the project, which they did by a 4-1 vote. (All four “yes” men are still on the PSC today, still collecting their six-figure salaries, their durability testament to the wisdom of not crossing Georgia Power.)

The company also hired the most powerful lobbyists in the state, then strong-armed a law through the Legislature that forced consumers to start paying for the nuke projects immediately, long before they produced any power. It chose the design; it hired the contractors. It also assured everyone that the problems that had long dogged nuclear power — the safety concerns, the massive cost-overruns and construction delays — had been resolved, and that the units would be up and producing power by 2017 just as scheduled.

The message from the company was steadfast: “Don’t worry, we got this.”

They didn’t. They were wrong, spectacularly wrong, and their critics have been proved right. Under the original schedule, both new nuclear units should have been producing power by now. Instead, they are less than half built. The cost overruns have been enormous, basically doubling in cost even if nothing further goes wrong. And what is the price to be paid for such failure?

For Georgia Power, the price is none. No price, and to hear Georgia Power tell it, no failure. In a meeting last week with journalists from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers was asked whether the company deserved any blame for this financial catastrophe.

“The answer to that question is no,” Bowers said.

No? The answer to that question is no?

As long as they maintain that absurd position, Bowers and other Georgia Power officials understand that their company and its shareholders will pay no financial penalty for its role in botching this project. You and I will pay — have been paying already — through our power bills. The company that employs you will pay, the businesses where you shop will pay — we’ll all be paying billions of dollars. Not Georgia Power.

Because as Bowers says, they’ve done nothing wrong. They’re not responsible. Things just … happened.

The same four PSC commissioners who approved the Vogtle expansion back in 2009, the people whom we elect and pay to put the “regulated” in “regulated utility,” are now sitting in judgment not just of Georgia Power, but of their own complicity in this. They can choose to press ahead, committing several billion dollars more of your money to prove that they were right back in 2009; they can also choose to abandon the project and by doing so admit their own error.

Guess which way they’re leaning?

Once again we hear the assurances: The cost estimates are solid; the construction schedule will be met. Don’t worry, they’ve got this. But is Georgia Power so confident that it is willing to put its own shareholder money at risk if these new assurances prove no more valid than those it offered almost a decade ago?

To borrow a phrase from the company’s CEO, the answer to that question is no.

So should the PSC commit ratepayers to that deal, knowing the track record, without requiring any skin in the game from Georgia Power?

“The answer to that question is no.”


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Alabama rolls toward a high-stakes skirmish

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — But for the bomb, the four would be in their 60s, probably grandmothers. Three were 14 and one was 11 in 1963 when the blast killed them in the 16th Street Baptist Church, which is four blocks from the law office of Doug Jones, who then was 9. He was born in May 1954, 13 days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board...
Opinion: You’re not worried enough about judicial appointments

You are not worried enough. Granted, that may seem a nonsensical claim. Assuming you don’t belong to the tinfoil hat brigades who consider Donald Trump the greatest thing to hit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since Abraham Lincoln left for the theater, you’ve spent the last year worrying as much as you know how. There has certainly been no shortage...
Opinion: “The works I’ve done ….”

We lost the great Sharon Jones a year ago tomorrow, after a long and heroic battle against cancer. Before her departure, however, the Georgia-born Jones left us with this, a cut off her new, posthumously released album “Soul of a Woman.” In an interview shortly before her death, she referenced her fondness for a gospel classic...
Opinion: Hospice care helps make every day count

There are two things certain in life, death and taxes. We talk a lot about taxes, but rarely talk about death — or the dying process. Most people, especially people of faith, don’t fear death. They fear the dying process. They fear being in pain and having other symptoms, such as nausea or shortness of breath. They fear dying alone and...
Opinion: A humble suggestion to improve our politics
Opinion: A humble suggestion to improve our politics

AP File Photo / J. Scott Applewhite Angels do not govern men, a fact we face more and more often. The U.S. Senate this week alone featured one member who may face an ethics investigation (Robert Menendez of New Jersey, whose corruption case ended in a mistrial ), one...
More Stories