Regulators vote to move forward on Vogtle nuclear plant

By Mary Landers – Savannah Morning News

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a scheduling order on the troubled Plant Vogtle expansion that consumer and clean energy advocates warned might not be in the best interest of ratepayers.

“I am very disappointed that the Commission voted unanimously to approve the proposed scope and schedule for considering Georgia Power’s request to continue constructing Vogtle 3 &4 with a price tag now double the original,” Liz Coyle, executive director of the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Georgia Watch, wrote in an email. “By the time the PSC finally makes a decision on whether or not continuing the project is in the best interest of Georgia Power customers, another half a billion dollars will be sunk in construction costs.”

Vogtle’s two new nuclear reactors were initially scheduled to have been up and running in April, but the project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns capped by the bankruptcy of its main contractor, Westinghouse, last spring. A parallel project in South Carolina has been abandoned.

The analyses of the Public Service Commission staff show the Georgia project may never be viable, but elected commissioners have signaled they want the project to move forward as has Georgia Power, which owns nearly half the project.

Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins on Tuesday reiterated his previous statement that the company is doing what’s required of it for Vogtle Construction Monitoring, or VCM.

“We filed the 17th VCM Report and recommendation to move forward with the Vogtle expansion on August 31, including responses to specific issues requested by the Georgia PSC such as the reasonableness of the revised cost and schedule forecast,” he wrote in an email. “It is ultimately up to the Georgia PSC to determine the structure of each VCM proceeding — we will continue to work with the Georgia PSC and all parties through the VCM process.

But Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Kurt Ebersbach argued in a letter to the PSC that the use of the term “reasonable” in the order — wording that Georgia power supplied — could prove problematic because it has a specific meaning in the state law that governs how Vogtle’s construction costs will be approved.

“Under no circumstance should (the order) include the word “reasonable” in reference to the new cost forecast and/or schedule,” he wrote.

That wasn’t the only concern of Ebersbach, who wrote on behalf of Interfaith Power & Light.

“We also have a more basic objection to the proceeding as a whole, as it is currently envisioned because it appears designed to limit, if not eliminate, shareholder risk in a way that is contrary to Georgia law and prior stipulations,” he wrote.

Regulators, in a brief discussion Tuesday, did not address the use of the word reasonable or concerns about shifting risk onto ratepayers.

The approved schedule includes hearings on the cases of staff and intervenors on four days, Dec. 11-14. The PSC expects to make a ruling in the case by February.

Copyright © 2017 Savannah Morning News

Source: Savannah Morning News