PSC will not reconsider decision to continue Vogtle reactors construction

By Tom Corwin – Augusta Chronicle

The Georgia Public Service commission voted unanimously Thursday morning not to reconsider its decision to allow Georgia Power and its partners to proceed on two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Burke County.

But some implications from part of that decision, such as to allow the company to begin charging customers for one completed reactor before the whole project is finished, have increased costs for consumers and will continue to be challenged, a consumer advocacy group said.

Georgia Watch had asked the commission for a rehearing and reconsideration on the Vogtle decision on a number of issues, including allowing the company to begin charging customers for the first reactor, Unit 3, once completed instead of abiding by an earlier settlement that Unit 4 must also be completed before putting them into what customers are charged. The company has estimated it will complete Unit 3 in November 2021 and Unit 4 a year later.

Because those completion dates were years past their original due date, the commission had lowered Georgia Power’s profit on what it could charge for those units from 10 percent beginning in 2020 to 8.3 percent and then 5.3 percent in 2021 and potentially lower if there are further delays beyond then. This could undo those restrictions and increase the company’s profits ahead of schedule, said Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch.

“That could have $100 million or more impact on higher costs for Georgia Power’s customers and is of substantial benefit to the company,” she said. “With their vote, (the commission) failed to give ratepayers even that protection.”

Georgia Watch had also objected to a part of the commission’s decision that would require Georgia Power to add a 5 megawatt community solar array to the grounds of Vogtle, a favorite idea of Commissioner Tim Echols. That objection prompted Echols to question if the advocacy group was against community solar.

“Georgia Watch, on behalf of consumers, on behalf of low-income consumers, wants to pull that off the board?” he asked.

But Echols knows the group is not against community solar, only the way it was added and the context in which that decision was made, which was outside the scope of those proceedings, Coyle said.

“We simply wanted to have it be a competitive bid process to ensure that customers got the greatest benefit with this new solar,” she said.

Vogtle’s new construction requires that cost monitoring reports be filed every six months and the latest one is due at the end of the month, which will kick off another round of hearings and potentially evidence of what some of these changes will cost consumers, Coyle said.

“The decision this morning was a disappointment but there is still important work to be done to protect residential customers and we’ll be back again,” she said.

Copyright © 2018 Augusta Chronicle

Source: Augusta Chronicle