Plant Vogtle Future, Public Service Commission and Critics Weigh In

GEORGIA (WSAV) – “I have heard that it’s chaos and I’m quite concerned that there is a huge investment,” says Tara Cox, who is one of the thousands of Georgia Power customers in the Savannah area alone. We’re talking about the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. But the project appears to have an uncertain future. On Thursday, Georgia Power officials appeared before members of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and indicated that the company is now evaluating new scenarios for completion and even considering a scenario where one or both reactors might be cancelled.

“I don’t understand how it got to this point ,” said Cox. Like thousands of other customers, Cox has paid about $500 toward the cost of financing the reactor projects (that’s in the form of a monthly fee on her utility bill, a fee which has been charged since 2011.)

The issue raised Thursday at the PSC meeting was the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, an integral partner in the construction projects. Westinghouse is supposed to design and build the AP1000 reactors to be used. Georgia Power indicated that it could not meet the deadline for completion of the reactors (December, 2019 and September, 2020) and was evaluating how to proceed and what the cost would be to complete the project with the new challenges and was also evaluating “cancellation options.”

Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy wasn’t surprised. For some time, her organization has been worried, saying the 2020 deadline was already a three year delay. “What people need to remember is that both reactors were supposed to be done by now and generating electricity,” she said.

Barczak says it may be throwing good money after bad to try and proceed. She says thus far $1.8 Billion has already been collected from customers like Cox for the financing and that the total cost of the project is likely to keep skyrocketing. “This project has really fallen off the rails,” she said.

Georgia Power indicates that it has spent $3.9 Billion so far (but it has two other partners.) The project cost was estimated to be about $14 Billion awhile back, but now Barczak says she wouldn’t be surprised if the costs climb to $20 Billion. “It’s sort of staggering that we’re in this situation in which it’s a big unknown for the largest construction project in Georgia and on of the largest construction projects in the United States that you literally don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Barczak. ” And the public is really not part of that decision making process even though it’s the public’s dollars that are getting picked to pay for it.”

“It’s bad for the company and it’s bad for the PSC,” says Barczak. “Four of the five commissioners were there when Vogtle was originally approved back in 2009 and all five commissioners have approved time and time again more expenditures going towards you know this boondoggle, this nuclear Titanic if you want to call it that and the public is sick of it, they’re fed up.”

Chair of the Public Service Commission, Stan Wise said “in our case we used the best information that we had at the time that nuclear was the best cost option.”

Wise told us that completing the project is still the best choice for Georgians. “If it’s within reason, if it’s price appropriate the best option for rate payers in this state is to complete the project,” he said. “If it is not price affordable or if the Commission chooses not to continue the project because of increased price or time delays, then it truly is a failure and I just don’t know how we can support $5 Billion or $6 Billion having been spent and you get nothing fom it. So I think the reaction going forward is to look for the best options available to continue the project and at some point turn the power on.”

Georgia Power indicated it would report back to the PSC sometime in June. Wise told us the options might include completing Reactor 3 for example but not Reactor 4. Georgia Power said Thursday that construction was about 42 percent complete.

Meanwhile, some word surfaced Friday that Toshiba (which now owns Westinghouse) was reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy as well. It’s unclear  what the path forward would look like if that were to happen, but again Wise says the PSC’s goal is still to complete the project or at least some of it.

Meanwhile, Barczak says the “multi-billion dollar question is what is going to happen next.”

Cox told us she hopes the project can be completed. ” I’ve already paid some so i would like to see a finish on the investment,” she said.

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