(The Center Square) — Groups want the feds to investigate after state regulators codified an agreement this week that will leave Georgia Power ratepayers with a $7.5 billion bill for Plant Vogtle construction costs.
Nuclear Watch South and the Georgia WAND Education Fund want the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the Georgia Public Service Commission and Georgia Power.
According to officials, Georgia Power expects to spend more than $10.7 billion on Vogtle Units 3 and 4, higher than the nearly $7.3 billion estimate the PSC previously deemed “reasonable.” Georgia Power previously indicated that “average retail rates” would increase by roughly 5%, and “a typical resident customer using 1,000 kWh per month” could see their monthly bill increase by $8.95.
“This is another unconscionable financial hit to Georgia Power customers who have been consistently burdened with rate increases from a utility that realized $17 billion in profits during the span of Vogtle construction when construction costs were underestimated and behind schedule,” Kimberly Scott, executive director of Georgia WAND, said in a statement.
“Georgia Power executives admitted to mistakes in the planning and execution of the new reactors, but have refused to shoulder the financial burden of these mistakes, and instead have passed the increased costs off on to customers, with the approval of PSC Commissioners,” Scott added. “This enormous rate hike is based on a stipulated agreement between PSC staff and Georgia Power which was struck before any public hearings or presentation of any evidence.”
Vogtle Unit 3 started operations in July, and Georgia Power expects that Vogtle Unit 4 will start operations in the first quarter of 2024. The rate increase kicks in once Unit 4 goes live.
Georgia Power owns nearly half (45.7%) of Plant Vogtle. Oglethorpe Power Corporation, which serves 38 electric membership corporations across Georgia, owns 30%, while the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia owns 22.7%, and Dalton Utilities owns 1.6%.
“The Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear expansion project represents a long-term investment for our 2.7 million customers and Georgia, providing clean, safe, reliable, and emission-free energy for decades to come,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft in a statement. “Throughout the Vogtle project, the Georgia PSC has thoroughly evaluated all costs. We believe this decision by the Georgia PSC acknowledges the perspectives of all parties involved and takes a balanced approach that recognizes the value of this long-term energy asset for the state of Georgia and affordability needs for customers.”
Kraft also said the costs for the Units 3 and 4 have “been thoroughly evaluated and reviewed through the open and transparent VCM (Vogtle Construction Monitoring) process and that the PSC and its staff had monitored the company during the past 14 years through semiannual progress reports for the VCM.
“This process provided transparency, oversight, and a regular review of the project as it progressed,” Kraft said. “We would strongly disagree with any claim to the contrary.”
Southern Company, Georgia Power’s parent company, says the plant is crucial to its plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“This has been one of the most open projects that the state of Georgia has ever had,” PSC spokesman Tom Krause told The Center Square. “Over the past 14 years, we’ve held 29 semi-annual construction monitoring hearings. All of that is available online — from the videos of the hearings to any of the testimony that was printed, probably tens of thousands of documents literally can be viewed online.
“This project has obviously had some problems from the beginning, and the PSC has worked hard to save the ratepayers as much as they can,” Krause added, noting that several groups previously opposed to the project signed onto the agreement. “Until this most recent agreement, we’ve saved more than $2 billion for the ratepayers, and this particular agreement that was approved Tuesday saves another $3 billion for the ratepayers.”
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor