Bill limiting Georgia Power profits would not apply to Vogtle delays

A newly proposed Senate Bill that would have limited charges on Georgia Power customer bills for the Vogtle nuclear expansion project has been amended, to apply only to future nuclear projects.

The amended version of Senate Bill 355, which received unanimous support from members of the Regulated Industries and Utilities committee Thursday, will target projects commissioned after January 1, 2018.

The bill, introduced by Rome Republican lawmaker Chuck Hufstetler also requires Georgia Power and other utility companies to seek prior authorization from Congress before pursuing new nuclear projects.

Hufstetler said Vogtle was not included in the bill as there would be no support to see it through the legislature.

He however said his decision to seek consumer protections for ratepayers stems from recent efforts by Georgia Power to seek a location for a new nuclear site in Stewart County.

The bill is now headed to the Senate Rules Committee.

“At least we can say something has gotten done with the legislators acknowledging we can’t let this keep going unchecked,” said Liz Coyle, the Executive Director of Georgia Watch.

Coyle is pleased with the traction that the Bill has gained with lawmakers adding that it would safeguard Georgians from a repeat of the mistakes made on Vogtle.

Georgia Power said it has tried to minimize the impact of Vogtle’s costs on its customers.

“While we don’t believe new legislation is necessary, we welcome the opportunity to be a part of the conversation if the Georgia legislature decides to move forward with discussions to revise the Georgia Nuclear Financing Act,” said Jacob Hawkins, a spokesperson for Georgia Power.

In 2009, the senate passed the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act allowing utilities to collect financing costs, profits and taxes from customers for new nuclear infrastructure prior to the units going into service.

Consumer advocates in the state have challenged the state law requiring Georgia ratepayers to shoulder the financial burden of Vogtle.

The average Georgia Power residential customer paid about $100 in extra charges for the project last year.

During Public Service Commission hearings in November, PSC staff pointed state regulators to the uneconomic nature of the project, saying Georgia Power stood to gain an additional $5 billion in profits as a result of construction delays. Vogtle 3 and 4 are 5 years behind schedule with completion dates set for 2021 and 2022.

A similar plant in South Carolina, the V.C Summer project, was shut down mid last year as a result of cost overruns, the bankruptcy filing of its project manager Westinghouse Electric Company.

With the recent approval of Georgia Power’s new costs and schedule changes by state regulators, the Georgia ratepayer is expected to pay almost double for the units that were initially projected to cost $14.3 billion.

While introducing the legislation in January, Hufstetler expressed hope that fellow legislators would look at it reasonably.

Hufstetler’s Senate Bill 355 and Sen. Lindsey Tippins Senate Bill 393 are the latest attempts by state lawmakers to seek more protections for consumers from Vogtle’s cost overruns.

“With this bill, Georgia Power will have a lot more explaining to do, before I would hope this body allows them to put all the risk on their customers with these kind of risky projects,” added Coyle.

Last week, three consumer advocacy groups presented a petition before the Fulton County Superior court challenging the decision by the PSC in December, to approve new project costs by Georgia Power and keep construction going in Waynesboro.

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