By Molly Samuel – WABE
Did Georgia regulators break the rules when they decided last year to allow construction to continue at the only nuclear power construction project in the country? That’s the question in a case in Fulton County concerning the nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle.
Just before Christmas last year, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted to keep the Plant Vogtle project going. The vote came after the lead contractor had gone bankrupt, causing costs to rise and timelines to slip even more than they already had.
At a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court on Wednesday, lawyers for Georgia Watch, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and the Partnership for Southern Equity argued that the members of the Public Service Commission didn’t follow the process that they should have in making that decision, and that’s costing consumers money, because Georgia Power customers pay for the project on their monthly electric bills.
“This is a boondoggle that’s been put off on ratepayers and should be borne by shareholders,” said former governor Roy Barnes, who is representing Georgia Watch in the case.
The groups also say that commissioners had closed-door communications with Georgia Power when they shouldn’t have.
The legal challenge is against the Public Service Commission, but Georgia Power intervened, and moved to dismiss, saying the company complied with all the rules, and the state regulators did everything within their authority. Attorneys argued that since the regulatory process around Plant Vogtle is ongoing, this isn’t the right time to appeal any decisions.
“The recommendation to move forward with the Vogtle project was thoroughly discussed and evaluated through Georgia’s open and transparent regulatory process. Georgia Power complied with all rules and laws throughout the proceeding and we strongly disagree with any claims to the contrary,” said Jeff Wilson, a spokesperson for Georgia Power.
The judge is now considering whether or not to dismiss the case, and also whether to allow for more discovery on the closed door communication question.
Since the December 2017 vote, costs on Vogtle have gone up again, but with the most recent increase, Georgia Power said shareholders would take on the additional costs, rather than the company’s customers. That led to a whole other round of votes and negotiations this past September, when the other utilities involved in the project had to decide whether or not they wanted to stick with it.
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