Earlier this year, the main contractor working on the new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle declared bankruptcy. Southern Company must now decide what to do next with a project that is behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Unfortunately, it’s very likely ratepayers in Georgia will continue to bear the financial risk for this project.
The expansion at Plant Vogtle came with warnings from multiple groups; again and again the executives at Southern Company, the parent company to Georgia Power, assured regulators and the public these new nuclear reactors were right for Georgia.
Consumer advocacy groups warned against the high costs ratepayers have been forced to bear — about $100 per year for the average residential household to cover Southern Company’s financing costs — even as the regulatory body that oversees the project has approved billions in cost overruns, as recently as last December. Those have all been passed onto ratepayers.
Social justice groups have highlighted the human costs to nuclear power, and the related need it creates to store radioactive nuclear waste that takes hundreds of thousands of years to break down. Communities surrounding Plant Vogtle and the nearby Savannah River Site (a storage site for nuclear waste) have long been advocating for better oversight into the nuclear contaminants and heavy metals that pervade their soil, drinking water and game.
Environmental groups have cited concerns with nuclear power. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan brought to light just how dangerous it is when something goes wrong and radioactive materials flood the local region — causing serious, irreparable harm to people and wildlife alike.
Needless to say, there have been many groups that have been fighting this project and warning of the attendant risks.
Following the bankruptcy by contractor Westinghouse Electric, Southern Company must decide whether to shutter the expansion project, convert it to natural gas or another form of energy or attempt to finish the partially completed nuclear reactors.
While Southern Company assesses what it will do next, it is the elected officials of the Georgia Public Service Commission that will ultimately decide the fate of any plans, and this does not bode well for ratepayers. The PSC has a history of signing off on the project’s cost overruns and missed deadlines, while continuing to pass along those costs to Georgia Power utility customers.
Perhaps if the residents of Georgia had as good of a lobbying team as Southern Company, then Georgians would actually stand a chance getting a fair outcome as this project faces peril.