Opinion: On Plant Vogtle, Ga. needs to protect consumers, not corporate profits

  • Debbie Dooley and David Staples
7:15 p.m Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 Opinion
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Plant Vogtle nuclear power plants under construction near Augusta. Photo: Georgia Power

Over a decade ago, our nation decided to pursue more nuclear power generation. Two reactors were to be built here in Georgia at Plant Vogtle in Burke County and dozens more across the country. We supported that effort and those investments for a number of reasons.

But what we did not support was providing corporate welfare to big power companies and unfairly picking winners and losers for our energy future. This combination has put all the project’s risks on the backs of electric customers – Georgia’s families and businesses – instead of on Southern Co.’s shareholders.

The Georgia General Assembly made a terrible mistake in 2009 when they passed Senate Bill 31, the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act. This established a tax that Georgia Power’s customers, mainly small businesses, residential users and municipalities, had to pay every month in advance of any electricity being produced to cover the Vogtle project’s financing costs, including company profits. Since 2011, over $2 billion has been collected.

The federal government offered many corporate handouts too, at the expense of taxpayers, to make this project work. This included over $8 billion in loan guarantees — 16 times more than the federal loans provided to Solyndra, which was a failure and cost taxpayers dearly. And guess what? The Vogtle owners want $3.7 billion more in federal bailouts.

These state and federal policies unfairly picked winners and losers. The marketplace was never given a chance to decide what energy choices were actually competitive. Without having to compete, new nuclear power was handed a victory here in Georgia over options such as wind and solar that are now proven winners in free markets. New nuclear is a proven loser – so much so that no other reactors are being built here in the U.S. and nearly all those proposed have been canceled.

The new Vogtle reactors should have been operating by now but are delayed until 2022, if not later. And the costs, due to a combination of factors including mismanagement, years of delays, and the bankruptcy of designer and builder Westinghouse Electric, have now doubled to at least $25 billion. And there is no guarantee that is the final price tag or that they will ever operate. To add insult to injury, Georgia Power is making a profit off the construction cost overages.

And to make matters even worse, there is not even a viable long-term plan in place for disposing of spent fuel from the existing reactors, let alone future waste.

Why continue rewarding failure?

Georgia Power has now put the Georgia Public Service Commission, with five elected commissioners, in a corner – demanding they grant everything the company wants: higher costs, guaranteed profits and no risks to their shareholders or partners. If the commissioners don’t agree, the company says they’ll cancel the project. Georgia Power wants assurance that customers will pay for multibillion-dollar mistakes.

After years of granting Georgia Power many billions in pre-approved costs at the expense of customers as the project was going off-track, the commissioners now need to stand firm: stop bailing out irresponsibility. It’s Georgia Power’s and their partners’ decision on whether to continue with Vogtle or not – the PSC just needs to make sure it’s not done at the expense of Georgia ratepayers.

And the Georgia General Assembly needs to own up to their costly mistake of encouraging corporate welfare and repeal SB31 to prevent any future financial meltdowns.

The bungled Vogtle expansion transcends political ideology. If the General Assembly and the Georgia Public Service Commissioners don’t stand up to these greedy corporate interests, Georgians need to hold them accountable in next year’s elections.

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