From guest columnist PATTY DURAND, President of Cool Planet Solutions
Georgia Power has the only nuclear power plant under construction in the United States, which I call “Georgia’s Shame”. It is shameful that the schedule the utility is providing to regulators, investors and the public – those of us who are paying for this facility – is now six years behind schedule. And it’s shameful that the utility’s cost estimates for this facility were a shocking 100% missing: the original cost estimate for the two new units was $ 14 billion, and the cost for 2021 is near or near $ 30 billion.
This is federal money that is spent on a power plant in one state.
And what do we get for all this money? These units will produce a relatively small 2,100 megawatts of electricity annually. Georgia regulators have allowed Georgia Power to pursue an energy solution that is nine times more expensive than necessary. The persecution of the Vogtle power plant over the past 12 years happened at a time when renewable energies are at record low prices and natural gas is four times cheaper than nuclear power.
Ultimately, Georgians probably pay the highest electricity bills in the country, and according to various rankings, we’re already between fifth and eighth in the United States.
Georgia Power and the Georgia Public Service Commission like to say that electricity prices are 15% below the national average, but that’s not true. Given that Georgia is the sixth cheapest state in the United States and the Cost of Living in Georgia 20% below the national average, the fact that the rates are no longer below the national average and that the effects of Plant Vogtle will increase even more should worry everyone.
Plus, customers pay bills, not installments. Georgians’ bills continue to grow compared to the rest of the country. And that was before the Vogtle plant, the most expensive power plant ever built on earth.
Why did PSC build the world’s most expensive power plant here, a state among the top 10 in terms of wealth and income? And can you do something about it now?
Before we answer that, let’s cover the table:
The PSC, a state agency of five voter-elected commissioners, has brought Georgia Power a dream boat of profits for 12 years, including the following:
- A blank check for construction costs. There is no limit to how expensive this project can get;
- Authorization to offset construction work in progress (CWIP) in tariffs. This means that Georgia Power customers pay Vogtle costs in advance before supplying electricity. If you move or die, you or your family have paid for something you never received;
- A funding plan that will allow Georgia Power to take full advantage of project delays. To date, Georgia Power has made over $ 6 billion from the delays in its own project alone.
Now that we understand the setting, here are three steps that should be taken to prevent this from happening again. And it will happen again unless we act to stop it, because why not? Georgia Power makes the greatest profit building expensive things. These are the three steps:
- Forbid Georgia Power from putting all nuclear construction costs on our bills and increase the inter-class share quota.
When the first new nuclear power plant unit goes online, probably sometime in 2022, the construction costs will flow into the tariffs, albeit not evenly across the customer classes. The majority of the costs are related to residential tariffs. The Georgia PSC has the option of paying 100% of that cost in installments, none of the cost, or part of it in installments, and the commission can decide how much that cost is distributed among the customer classes;
- Voters should punish the commissioners for letting this happen by throwing them off their seats.
Every election in Georgia includes at least one and sometimes two PSC commissioners. There are always competitors who promise to cut our electricity bills. You can be sure that no one is worse at keeping prices affordable than any commissioner who is already in this seat. They should not be rewarded with re-election. Vote them.
- Georgia lawmakers should fully fund a separate Consumer Utility Counsel (CUC).
Most states, including Georgia in the past, have a separate consumer protection agency. For decades, the CUC, a division of the governor’s consumer protection office, represented Georgians on cases before the PSC. However, the CUC was withdrawn during the Great Recession in 2008. Although the state is overflowing with tax revenues and has passed tax cuts several times since then, including $ 140 million this year alone, that division has never been restored.
In 2009, Georgia Power and the nuclear industry promised a new day. Due to simplified changes in the licensing of nuclear power plants, new block designs and the advent of the modular structure, Georgia Power said that Vogtle Blocks No. 3 and 4 would be delivered “on budget and on time”. But here we are again, in the same place as back when Werksvogtle units No. 1 and 2 had clearly exceeded budget.
This result was absolutely predictable. It is particularly monstrous in the southeast, where more than 50 billion dollars in failed nuclear power plants dot the landscape and damage the wallets of the citizens in one of the lowest income areas of the country.
Georgia Power is a monopoly granted to the Georgian people by their state legislation. In return for no competition and a guaranteed profit, the utility undertakes to serve the public interest with regulatory overlays. In the future, it may be time to examine how a competitive market can better serve the public interest.
Note to Readers: In addition to serving as President of Cool Planet Solutions, Patty Durand has 15 years of experience educating consumers about energy