‘Go’ recommendation for Plant Vogtle nuke plant heats up debate

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‘Go’ recommendation for Plant Vogtle nuke plant heats up debate

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Plant Vogtle nuclear power plants under construction near Augusta. Photo: Georgia Power

Georgia Power told state regulators this week that it wants to keep building two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

The Atlanta utility’s recommendation follows months of studying its options in the wake of the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric, which supplied the reactor designs and acted as the lead contractor.

The decision to switch horses following the bankruptcy (Bechtel would build the reactors under Georgia Power’s and Southern Nuclear’s supervision) will add billions of dollars of extra costs and additional years of delays, but Georgia Power says completing the project is the best choice.

Critics disagree, arguing that the power plant project has become too costly, isn’t needed because of slowing demand for electricity, and has been made obsolete by cheaper alternative energy sources such as solar power.

The five-member Georgia Public Service Commission will have the final say. Read more coverage on myAJC.com.

Here’s a round-up of reaction to Georgia Power’s move. They have been edited for length and clarity:

The ‘go’ decision is clear

“Since about 2007 natural gas prices have plummeted as a result of ‘fracking.’ The cost of wind and solar power has also declined remarkably, and eliminating the wasteful ways we use electricity continues to be a vast and cheap energy resource. So, if the original decision to build two new reactors were made today, Georgians would not be debating two new units at plant Vogtle. But with so much construction already accomplished and with Georgia Power’s $4.5 billion estimated cost-to-complete, the ‘go’ decision now is clear…the project should be finished. It is the least-cost option, and it will add significant reliable base-load generation.”

— Dr. Marilyn A. Brown, professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy, and a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors.

State regulators need to be non-partisan

“It marks a dark day in a series of days where families and businesses have now paid billions of dollars for an unneeded and ridiculously expensive power plant. I remember well Republican (former PSC) Commissioner Bobby Baker’s vote against this project and wonder where courage on the commission has gone.

In a commission that really should be non-partisan, the PSC has a fiduciary responsibility to the ratepayers of Georgia. Despite in past years fighting solar as ‘not economically viable,’ they now pursue a truly unviable economic boondoggle that will create far more expensive power than the solar they once criticized.”

— John Noel, owner of Energy+Environment LLC, an energy efficiency contractor, and Democratic candidate for the Georgia Public Service Commission

Best to keep going

The Oglethorpe Power Corporation Board of Directors determined this week that it is in the best interest of the corporation to support Georgia Power Company, acting as the agent for the co-owners of Vogtle Units No. 3 and No. 4, and to proceed towards completion of the Vogtle Project.

“We believe we must take a long term view and recognize the benefits of fuel diversity and the price stability of emission-free nuclear power over the next 60 to 80 years, especially when considering the risks of carbon-based fuel volatility and the potential for carbon regulation.”

—Oglethorpe Power and Mike Smith, president of the firm, which owns 30 percent of the Plant Vogtle project. Other partners are: Georgia Power (45.7 percent); Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%), and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

Costly project a ‘credit negative’

“On August 30, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) board voted to support continuing construction on Vogtle nuclear units 3 and 4. We view this development as credit negative for MEAG Power because the increased cost and delayed timetable will continue to weaken the cost-effectiveness of its (power supply) contracts with several Southeast utilities….

The project is now expected by the (Plant Vogtle partners) to have a total cost of roughly $25 billion, which is much higher than the previous estimate, ….(and to be completed by) November 2022.

While the new completion dates are more achievable, there could be further delays given the existing poor project productivity rates and a consistent record of missing key milestone dates, as well as the complexities of the first-in-kind engineering aspects of the construction and design….”

—Moody’s Investors Service, a bond rating agency

‘Right decision,’ says governor

“I’m extremely pleased to learn the co-owners of Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have recommended completion of construction,” said Deal. “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.”

—Gov. Nathan Deal

Vogtle likely to hurt Georgia Power’s credit

“Based on public comments made and media reports, there continues to be overwhelming political and regulatory support in Georgia to see Vogtle 3 and 4 completed….

The ‘Go-forward’ decision increases credit risk for Georgia Power, in Fitch’s opinion. These include risk of further schedule delays and escalation in project costs (and other risks)….

Even if some of these risks are mitigated by a (favorable PSC order), Fitch considers it unlikely that Georgia Power’s (bond) ratings will be affirmed at the current level. More severe rating actions than a one-notch downgrade could be precipitated (if some of those risks aren’t adequately offset)….”

—Fitch Ratings, a bond rating service

‘Massive boondoggle’

“Georgia Power’s owner has voted to push ahead with building Plant Vogtle, a chaotic nuclear project beset with multi-year construction delays, bankruptcy, and a price tag that has ballooned to more than $25 billion.

Southern Company’s decision comes as other utilities have pulled the plug on their own ill-conceived nuclear projects: Duke Energy on Tuesday announced it’s dropping plans to build the Levy Nuclear Plant on Florida’s Gulf Coast, just days after canceling plans for its W.S. Lee nuclear plant in South Carolina; and on July 31, Santee Cooper and SCE&G pulled out of their South Carolina-based $14 billion V.C Summer reactor project in the wake the Westinghouse bankruptcy, construction delays, rising costs and falling energy demand.

This leaves Southern Company and Georgia Power as the lone cheerleaders for a massive boondoggle that leaves families and businesses on the hook for expensive, risky nuclear power they don’t need.”

—Sierra Club

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