The energy companies backing the Plant Vogtle expansion have begun a hail mary move to keep the project going. In addition to asking the federal government to extend a tax credit and offer loan guarantees, the owners of Plant Vogtle are asking the Georgia Public Service Commission to approve their new plan for completing the project. Three other plans for new nuclear reactors have already been scrapped this year, leaving Plant Vogtle as the sole new nuclear power project in the nation.
Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., now predicts that completion will take an additional 29 months and $4.5 billion in new capitol costs, plus another $4 billion in financing costs. According to an analysis done by The Augusta Chronicle, the total cost for the project is now projected to exceed $30 billion.
In a somewhat unusual move, Gov. Nathan Deal decided to weigh in, supporting the nuclear expansion project continuing.
“I’m extremely pleased to learn the co-owners of Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have recommended completion of construction,” said Deal in a press release. “Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities have made the right decision for our state. These new units will provide clean and affordable energy to Georgians for more than 60 years while creating 6,000 jobs during project construction and 800 well-paying, permanent ones after.”
But not everyone sees it that way. Criticism and concern comes from the likes of Sierra Club — an opponent to the project from the start — as well as bond rating agencies like Moody’s Investors Services and Fitch Ratings.
“By hiring more than 70 lobbyists and passing Senate Bill 31 in 2009, Georgia Power has now managed to steal over $2 billion in ratepayer money for financing and profit on Vogtle,” said Mark Woodall, the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter vice chair for conservation, in a press release.
“Their construction process is a tale of greed and incompetence. This must stop. It’s time to move forward on a clean energy future of solar, wind and energy efficiency with no more money wasted on the dirty, dangerous, risky boondoggle underway at Vogtle,” he added.
Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings are both concerned by the move, and have warned investors that Georgia Power’s credit will likely get downgraded. This may mean higher financing costs for the company to complete the project, in addition to signaling concern about the likelihood that the project will be successful.
This project moving forward rests on a somewhat precarious analysis of the situation, as well as the support of Georgia’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
The loan’s guarantees and tax breaks — both of which face an uncertain future — are essential to the project, according to Georgia Power’s own analysis.
“If any of these assumptions are not realized, the economics may not warrant going forward with the project,” Georgia Power wrote in the filing, according to The Augusta Chronicle.
As this project faces greater peril, it’ll be up to the PSC to decide what happens next. Unfortunately, the commission that’s supposed to protect consumers seems to always side with Georgia Power, so the last line of defense for consumers is not looking promising.