Consumer groups demand more details from Georgia Power on Vogtle

In the wake of the recent announcement of increased project costs at Plant Vogtle, consumer groups in the state are calling for the Public Service Commission to require Georgia Power to be more transparent during its bi-annual progress reports.

Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and the Partnership for Southern Equity questioned how the cost to complete forecast could have increased by $2.3 billion just six weeks after its Vogtle Construction Monitoring hearing. During that hearing, the utility company had assured commissioners there would be no added costs for the Vogtle 3 and 4 project.

“Our question is simply, what is the construction monitoring process for, if information like this does not come to light before and when actually witnesses are on the stand and actually talking about it?” said Kurt Ebersbach with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The consumer groups, along with the PSC staff, say Vogtle managers need to provide more details about the risks and costs associated with the overbudgeted project.

Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said the final cost forecast was not known when company officials testified before the commission in June.

The costs for Vogtle have changed several times since the project got certified in 2009. That’s cause for worry, said Ebersbach. He isn’t convinced this is the last time the project’s cost will change since no cap has been set.

“It apparently can keep going up like this,” said Ebersbach.

Georgia Power attributed the cost increases to the need for “craft labor incentives to both attract and retain adequate staffing levels and increased field supervision and engineering oversight.”

Reports emerged earlier in the year about craft labor shortages hitting the plant, as potential workers opted for projects offering better pay and incentives.

“The competition for craft labor is difficult,” said Commission chairman Lauren McDonald last week.

However, he said, the company decided to shoulder some of the extra costs, which is worth commending.

“They knew they could not come back to this commission for $1.1 billion and get recovery moving forward,” McDonald said during a recent PSC energy committee meeting.

Despite the company’s promise to absorb the extra costs, interest groups are concerned that the increased Vogtle costs will eventually fall on the ratepayer.

Citing the failure of big institutions such as Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and the V. C. Summer nuclear project, Mark Woodall, chair of the Sierra Club, said Vogtle was not too big to fail.

“In any other state, Vogtle 3 and 4 would already have failed,” said Woodall.

As debate continues around the viability of the project, commissioners decide Tuesday whether to approve $448 million the company said was spent on the plant between July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017.

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