Kempner: Christmas ‘cookies’ Georgia Power will be eating for decades

Jan 03, 2018
Commissioner Tim Echols (left) listens during Georgia Public Service Commission meeting on Dec. 21, 2017 before the commission voted unanimously to allow continued construction of two nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s embattled Plant Vogtle, which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com

Some people think about cutting weight at this time of the year. Not Georgia Power.

The most influential company in Georgia just got a fresh batch of its own special recipe for Christmas cookies. With your help, it expects to be chewing on them for decades to come.

Georgia Power ordered the sweets from its favorite present givers, the elected members of the Georgia Public Service Commission, who delivered the goods in a meeting four days before Christmas.

Georgia Power currently spends $50 million per month on the project. In March 2017, Vogtle’s lead contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed for bankruptcy. The project was already three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget. Georgia Power’s Paul Bowers argues the project presents “long-term benefits to customers.” Critics have fought against Vogtle's expansion for years, citing cost and safety concerns. Cost and schedule estimates presented by Georgia Power may determine the p

You might have been distracted at that busy time of the year. So here’s a quick catch-up on the radioactive recipe for Georgia Power’s Most Scrumptious Nuclear Fiasco and Plant Vogtle Expansion Snickerdoodle.

It’s a recipe that only works when a for-profit monopoly goes billions of dollars over budget on a nuclear plant expansion and then demands that that PSC members order a financial bailout for the company, paid for by grandmas, small business owners, families with kids, neighborhood schools and other captive customers.

Radioactive recipe

Ready to get cooked?

— Pre-heat oven with hot air from powerful political leaders. Have them highlight Georgia Power’s forecasted energy needs (which the company has been way off on). Play up how the thousands of construction workers from around the nation (who often sat idle on the project) should continue to get paychecks for years longer than planned. Focus on hundreds of permanent jobs for the expanded plant. But avoid starting a fire: don’t mention that it will cost Georgians around the state billions of dollars more to fund such jobs.

— Set the timer for a decision right before Christmas, when the public’s attention is distracted. (The PSC has followed this recipe before.)

— Gather main ingredient: A whole lot more customer money. Add preservatives: future generations’ money, if they grow up to pay power bills in Georgia.

— Ignore other cooks in the kitchen. Don’t follow any advice from the state’s own experts, who warned against okaying lots of Georgia Power costs that resulted from “mismanagement” and “ineffective practices by the company and the delays caused by those practices.”

— No matter how it tastes or looks, agree in advance that it is reasonable for customers to have to eat pretty much all the cost overruns, even those not yet incurred. Again, ignore the state’s experts who warned that would “negate a very important rate payer protection and shift the financial impact of additional delays and costs overruns almost entirely on ratepayers.”

— Add lots of lard. Georgia Power will devour an additional $5 billion in profit over decades because of the problems. That’s in addition to the $7.4 billion the company already was set to make if the work had been done on time and on budget.

— Cover bad taste with icing. Assure reporters that the PSC has put in place new profit limits that mean Georgia Power will take “a significant cut,” as PSC Chairman Stan Wise said, but then insist you don’t know the actual new figures. One estimate suggests Georgia Power’s profits tied to overruns and delays might be curbed from $5.2 billion to about $5 billion, but that slice might be negated by other PSC changes.

Seconds, anyone?

Follow this recipe closely and it should make enough to feed a hungry Fortune 500 company (as in Georgia Power parent Southern Company) for a long time.

But the power company has a voracious appetite.

The PSC hasn’t set a cap on costs, and Georgia Power said its latest cost estimates aren’t guarantees. Which means the company could return for more helpings of its Most Scrumptious Nuclear Fiasco and Plant Vogtle Expansion Snickerdoodles.

Yum.

Related coverage:

Georgia underdogs confront power, get smacked

Georgia Power’s Vogtle gets approval to continue with new conditions

Vogtle saga puts Georgia Power clout in the spotlight

Want more Kempner? Find his columns here: http://www.myajc.com/news/opinion/matt-kempner-unofficial-business/j9F7R2mOGomS5FMjfhho2O/

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AJC Unofficial Business columnist Matt Kempner offers you a unique look at the business scene in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these columns:

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