Millions collected from schools and taxpayers for Vogtle construction

By Thomas Gardiner – The Augusta Chronicle

Since 2009, Georgia Power customers have been paying upfront for construction costs at the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion. Some public entities will have paid over $1 million for construction before a single kilowatt hour of energy is generated by the expansion.

Georgia Power extended its interim agreement with Westinghouse by 24 hours Friday to give the two companies time to finalize a transition agreement as the utility company takes over in the wake of the Westinghouse bankruptcy. That bankruptcy was fueled by cost overruns at the Plant Vogtle and VC Summer nuclear expansion projects.

According to legislation passed in 2009 , Georgia Power shall collect costs related to nuclear construction financing and interest to support the plant’s construction, even though the project failed to meet its operational deadline in 2016.

Collection of those fees, called the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery tariff, isn’t limited to individual residential or business customers. Georgia Power also assesses those fees against public and government entities, leaving ratepayers to cover their own NCCR costs and pay through their tax dollars as well.

Public school systems across the state are tax supported entities with utility bills paid from taxpayer coffers. Georgia Power, the Public Service Commission and the state legislature, through S.B. 31 in 2009, all signed off on the tariff structure that some customers call “double-dipping.”

“They already charge customers with these add-ons to their bill for a nuclear plant they can’t finish,” said Rex Blevins, a former Dade County School Board member. “They charge the school system in Dade County so much every year they could afford to hire another teacher.”

According to a Dade County School System electricity bill from September 2016, the public entity was charged $3,000 for NCCR in one month. With over 2.5 million customers under the Georgia Power umbrella, they aren’t alone.

A Georgia Power invoice dated Feb. 2 shows the Richmond County School System had an energy bill of over $202,000. Of that bill, nearly $9,500 was directed to the Vogtle expansion.

The operational deadlines at Vogtle were moved from 2016 and 2017 to 2019 and 2020 for units 3 and 4, respectively. Earlier this year, those dates were pushed back several more months, still within 2019 and 2020.

But during last month’s Public Service Commission hearing, Georgia Power executives said the bankruptcy made those deadlines unfeasible. Given the 10 full years of the tariff between 2010 and the 2020 deadline, Richmond County School system could pay hundreds of thousands for the expansion before any electricity is provided by the utility.

Larger school systems like those in Atlanta will bear a heavier burden, all paid for by taxpayer dollars.

In this week’s energy committee hearing of the Public Service Commission, Commissioner Lauren McDonald recommended the PSC ask Georgia Power to voluntarily stop collecting the NCCR tariffs. Georgia Power regulatory counsel Kevin Greene told the commissioners that S.B. 31 uses the word “shall” that creates a tariff mandate and Georgia Power would not consider a voluntary removal of the tariff.

“We continuously work to ensure that our rates are fair and equitable while also ensuring we can deliver reliable and affordable energy for all customers. Our rate design is reviewed and approved with the Georgia Public Service Commission,” said Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins.

Hawkins said Georgia Power rates are consistently lower than the national average and have remained roughly 13 percent lower since 1987.

“Georgia Power ratepayers have already paid too much for this risky project,” said Liz Coyle, executive director of consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch. “Residential customers are doubly hit when local governments and schools recover their portion of the nuclear tariff on property tax bills. Georgia Power should not collect another dime until the units are in service –if they ever are.”

Copyright © 2017 The Augusta Chronicle

Source: The Augusta Chronicle