The main contractor building the two new nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle has declared bankruptcy, causing more problems for a project already several years behind schedule and billions over budget.
Westinghouse Electric, the contractor, has been continuing work on the project thanks to temporary extensions negotiated with Georgia Power. The latest one expired on June 9.
While Georgia Power assess their options, the Georgia Public Service Commission has begun to evaluate whether or not ratepayers should continue to foot the bill for the project. Although it’s unclear right now if they can legally do anything about it.
In 2009, the state legislature passed a bill allowing Georgia Power to essentially pre-charge customers for the costs of the project. Residential customers are shelling out about $100 a year, insulating Southern Company’s shareholders (Southern Co. is the parent company of Georgia Power) from the risks of building the first nuclear reactors in decades. It’s a pretty sweet deal for them.
The Public Service Commission has largely been reluctant to penalize Georgia Power as they’ve gone over budget and gotten behind schedule, leaving rate-payers on the hook for the “Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery” surcharge.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WABE have both reported, Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald has floated the idea of asking Georgia Power to voluntarily stop collecting it.
Georgia Power is not interested. A spokesperson claims “Georgia Power’s recovery of financing costs during construction is required by state law,” however the PSC has asked the Attorney General to evaluate the question.
If the Attorney General agrees that the Georgia Public Service Commission can’t do anything about the surcharge, then this issue may crop up during next year’s legislative session (the Georgia legislature is a part time body that only meets for 40 days once a year, always beginning in January). However, with the army of lobbyists Southern Company has, you can bet that would be a tough battle for consumer advocacy groups and others that have been closely watching the issue.