Groups challenge court decision regarding Plant Vogtle over cost concerns

By Staff – Albany Herald

Several Georgia groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Wednesday they would be challenging a ruling from the Fulton County Superior Court late last month dismissing their appeal of the Georgia Public Service Commission’s decision approving expected cost increases at Plant Vogtle.

The anticipated price tag to build two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle has nearly doubled to roughly $26 billion in recent months. Officials with the groups said their attorneys have filed a notice of appeal.

“The court dismissed the appeal on technical grounds without addressing its substance,” Kurt Ebersbach of SELC, who is representing Partnership for Southern Equity and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, said.

Georgia Watch, joining SELC in opposition, is represented by Roy Barnes and John Salter of the Barnes Law Group LLC.

“The commission effectively gave Georgia Power a blank check by approving project continuation without the cost cap recommended by their own staff,” Salter said. “The utility’s customers are saddled not only with the higher construction costs, but up to $5 billion in increased profit for Georgia Power’s shareholders.”

Issued on Dec. 21, the court’s decision found that dissatisfied customers cannot raise concerns about the unfairness of that process until 2022 or later, after the project is complete.

“While Georgia Power continues to profit from failing to complete the project on time and on budget, the stakes only get higher for customers who are on the hook for those mistakes — there is something fundamentally wrong with that equation,” Nathaniel Smith, chief equity officer at Partnership for Southern Equity, said. “As families across the state are feeling this burden through their wallets, we need sound energy decision-making to create accountability and allow for a more transparent, inclusive process where Georgians can make their concerns heard.”

Officials said the PSC’s own staff has consistently expressed concerns about the likelihood of timely completion even under the currently approved five-year scheduling delay. A report was filed last month by the staff with strong recommendations for additional consulting expertise to oversee the Vogtle expansion to keep the project on track and prevent more budgeting surprises.

“The people of Georgia have been pre-paying for this mismanaged project since 2011, while the price tag has ballooned and the project timeline has slipped again and again,” Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch, said. “Unless the court reverses the commission’s decision, Georgia Power customers remain exposed to significant financial risk with seemingly no end in sight.”

In early 2018, the groups filed an appeal in the Fulton County court charging that the approval violated state law and the commission’s own rules concerning “ex parte” communications.

“In light of the project’s soaring costs and unreliable timeframe, Georgians are right to be concerned about the moral implications of bearing all of the financial burden and none of the benefits of this faltering project,” Kate McGregor Mosley, executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, said. “Our families, communities, and faith congregations deserve to have a say in major energy decisions, especially in advocating for cleaner, cheaper alternatives that would help those struggling with high monthly bills.”

In May, the groups filed a joint motion for limited discovery regarding the communications between the PSC and Georgia Power in the days leading up to the commission’s decision to continue the project, and to present evidence of those communications to the court.

In an October hearing in Fulton County, the parties presented oral arguments concerning two pending motions before the court — one seeking limited discovery, and another to dismiss filed by Georgia Power. The court ruled to dismiss the groups’ appeal on the basis that the PSC’s decision was not “final” and appealable until the project is complete.

Copyright © 2019 Albany Herald

Source: Albany Herald