“PSC sticks with current schedule to consider Vogtle cost increases”

By: Tom Crawford

The Public Service Commission agreed Tuesday to stick with its current schedule for considering how much of a cost increase it will authorize for the two nuclear reactors Georgia Power is building at Plant Vogtle.

PSC members voted 4-0 Tuesday – Chairman Chuck Eaton did not attend the meeting – to accept a staff recommendation that the cost hearings should not be moved up to an earlier date, as requested by the utility.

Under an agreement reached with Georgia Power in 2013, the PSC won’t review cost increases in the nuclear project until the first reactor has been completed and is in operation – a date now expected to occur sometime in 2019.

Georgia Power’s lawyers asked the PSC several weeks ago to hold earlier hearings on the cost increases that are now estimated at around $1.4 billion, citing the uncertainty of Wall Street and the investment community.

But the commissioners will stick to the current schedule for deciding whether the additional costs will be passed along to ratepayers or to shareholders.

“I’m not comfortable talking about any added costs until after they’re generating power,” Commissioner Tim Echols said.

Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said the company accepted the PSC’s scheduling order and noted that “Georgia Power will be allowed to recover all prudently incurred costs even above the certified amount.”

“We will build it right,” Green said. “These units will fuel a growing Georgia and building them correctly, and safely, is more important than building them quickly.”

“If the commissioners had decided to undo that order now to grant the company’s request to increase the certified cost to complete, it could have made it much more difficult for the commission to later disallow cost overruns they deem imprudent,” said Liz Coyle of the consumer organization Georgia Watch.

“It’s good for ratepayers that the commission didn’t act prematurely to grant Georgia Power a higher budget for the project,” Coyle said. “Cost overruns must be fully scrutinized before they are passed on to consumers.”

“While my client, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, would like to see the Vogtle costs reviewed before 2019 or 2020 because memories will fade and commissioners and PSC staff will retire and move on, they realize the PSC staff is going to be carrying the burden in any project cost review, and if they support delaying the review until later we will not argue with their decision,” former PSC member Robert Baker said.

In recent filings with the PSC, Georgia Power said the utility’s share of the Vogtle project costs has increased from an initial projection of $6.11 billion to $7.52 billion, with the scheduled completion slipping by about three years from the initial date.

The dates for the nuclear reactors to begin operating have now been moved back to the second quarter of 2019 for the first unit and the second quarter of 2020 for the second reactor.

SOURCE: Tom Crawford’s Georgia Report

© 2015 by The Georgia Report