Two weeks ago I wrote a blog I called “Georgia’s Shame” outlining facts about the only nuclear plant under construction in the U.S. which is being built in Waynesboro Georgia. Those facts include a construction timeline that is 6 years behind schedule and costs that are 100% over budget.
If you aren’t a Georgia Power customer and think this doesn’t affect you, think again. Although there are a few exceptions, nearly every municipal and rural cooperative utility in the state has agreed to take some of the electricity from this power plant through contracts obligating them and sharing the cost.
If you aren’t living in Georgia, this project still affects you. Federal loans and guarantees for nuclear energy provided to Georgia costs everyone in the United States.
$30 billion is nine times more expensive than other energy solutions Georgia could have spent for the equivalent amount of energy. When all is said and done Georgians are likely to be paying the highest electric bills in the country, and we are already in 4th place for high bills from previous poor decisions made by the Georgia Public Service Commission, which is widely known in the energy industry to favor utility profits over consumer bills.
Some readers have asked “What’s next?” or “What can be done about it?” In other words, why raise an issue that is out of their control and nothing can be done?
There are two things that can be done, actually. The construction can’t be stopped, and the plant will get built. But one of two important steps that CAN be taken is a change into who pays. Before we get to how “Who pays” is determined, let’s set the table:
Right now the Georgia Public Service Commission, a state agency with five commissioners elected by voters, has given Georgia Power everything they’ve asked for, a dream boat of profits which includes the following:
A blank check on construction costs. There is no limit to how expensive this project can go.
Authorization to put Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) into rates. This means that Georgia Power customers pay in advance for the Vogtle units prior to their delivery of any electricity. If you move, or die, you or your family have paid for something you never received. It is normally illegal for a for-profit company to charge people for something they didn’t buy and don’t have, unless the state decides otherwise, of course. Then it’s fine.
A financial scheme that allows Georgia Power to profit handsomely from project delays. So far Georgia Power has earned over $6 billion just from the delays of their own project.
All of Georgia Power’s billions in profit must be “grossed up” for taxes. In other words, Georgia Power will incur income taxes on this profit and Georgia Power customers, and not the company itself, will pay those taxes. It is normally illegal for a for-profit company to charge customers for the taxes it owes on profits, unless the state decides otherwise, of course. Then it’s fine.
Yes, this is an outrageous dereliction of the commissioner’s responsibility to protect the people of Georgia from high power bills.
And now, here is one of two steps that could be taken:
1. Disallow Georgia Power from placing all nuclear construction costs onto our bills.
When the first new nuclear unit comes online, there are more costs that will be placed into our rates. The Georgia PSC has the choice of putting 100% of these costs into our rates, none of the costs into our rates, or a portion of the costs into our rates. This is called a “prudency hearing” where the commission must decide which costs were reasonable and which were not. Given that the project is 100% over budget, many of these costs should be paid for by the company itself, and not the people of Georgia. This would require that their billions of dollars in profit streams be reduced. This is a very important hearing. It is expected to take place in summer of 2022.
To help commissioners decide what to do, experts are brought in to analyze what’s reasonable and fair. Over the past 12 years, every expert that does not support Georgia Power’s request for massive profits and no limits has been ignored by the Commission. Past prudency hearings and construction decision points always went against the people of Georgia and for the profits of Georgia Power. This has to stop.
2. Voters should punish commissioners for allowing this to take place by ejecting them from their seats.
Every Georgia election includes at least one, and sometimes two PSC commissioners. There are always competitors making promises to reduce your power bills. Listen to them: competitors aren’t blowing smoke by making those promises. You can be sure that no one is worse for keeping rates affordable than any commissioner already in that seat.
It’s time for these commissioners to pay a penalty for what they’ve done allowing this scandal to take place in our state. That is the most important, step you can take.
When I’m asked what’s next, here is the answer: defeat any commissioner in office the next time you can; demand commissioners offload some costs from the people of Georgia onto Georgia Power’s shareholders; and share my blog with others so more people know about this.