A 2016 file photo of the Plant Vogtle construction site. Johnny Edwards, jedwards@ajc.com
Photo: Johnny Edwards/jedwards@ajc.com
Photo: Johnny Edwards/jedwards@ajc.com

The Jolt: Investor wants to abandon unfinished Vogtle reactors 

The survival of those two new nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle just got more complicated. The electrical membership coop run by the city of Jacksonville, Fla., wants out of the deal.

Here’s why that matters: Earlier this month, we got the news that the cost of the two reactors had gone up by $2.3 billion – only a few months after the state Public Service Commission approved the lower amount. The full price of the Vogtle upgrade is now $27 billion, double what was originally estimated and five years behind schedule.

The increase requires investors in the project to re-affirm their decision to move forward by Sept. 30. Georgia Power, a 46 percent partner, said it is ready to absorb its $1.1 billion share.

Oglethorpe Power Corp., Dalton Utilities, and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia own 54 percent of the Vogtle pie, and $1.2 billion of the increased cost. Oglethorpe has said it will empty its contingency fund. We haven’t heard from Dalton or MEAG.

But JEA, formerly Jacksonville Electric Authority, isn’t a member of MEAG, but in 2008 the two entities entered into a power-purchase agreement -- in which JEA agreed to pick up a portion of Vogtle construction costs, and agreed to purchase power generated by the reactors for 20 years.

 Last week, acting CEO Aaron Zahn fired off a letter to MEAG CEO James Fuller that included this:

At a number of points in the past year, JEA has requested, without success, that MEAG take action to safeguard the financial interests of JEA, MEAG's constituents and Power South. Regardless of our past differences of opinion about whether the project should be abandoned, it now is beyond reasonable debate that prudent utility practices and the interests of ratepayers require that MEAG and the other owners of the Additional Units vote no on continuing construction of the Additional Units.

JEA appears to be promising court action should MEAG approve moving ahead with Vogtle. Read the letter here:

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The Georgia fallout from an extraordinary day in court: After the president’s former lawyer and his ex-campaign manager had dueling court dates, state Republicans kept quiet. Democrats did not. 

Erick Allen, a candidate for a Smyrna-based House seat, offered a sample of the reaction: 

Simply put, today is not a good day for our country. Congress must hold serious hearings on 2016 election influence, not by Russians but by sadly by Americans. #MAGA = My Attorney Got Arrested.

Republicans instead seized on the story of an illegal immigrant who was charged with murdering a college student and dumping her body in an Iowa cornfield. Said Brian Kemp, the nominee for governor, on Twitter:

As the father of 3 teenage girls, this story breaks my heart & highlights the devastating consequences of broken borders. As governor, I will lead on public safety reform initiatives that keep our children safe, families strong, & our future bright.

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Health care reappeared this week as a potent issue in the Georgia gubernatorial campaign. 

Both Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp weighed in on our AJC colleague Ariel Hart’s report this weekend detailing the striking lack of rural doctors: Sixty-four of 159 Georgia counties have no pediatrician; 79 have no obstetrician/gynecologist; and nine simply have no doctor.

At Tuesday’s Georgia Chamber luncheon in Macon and in social media posts, both candidates called for rural access to health care and each promoted telehealth. But underlining their main difference, Abrams also called for Medicaid expansion.

In a pair of tweets, Abrams called the situation “unacceptable” and said the state’s “Republican leadership has failed time and time again to address our state’s rural health crisis.” 

Republicans have long maintained an expansion would be too expensive. Kemp repeated that line in Macon and in a Facebook post referencing the AJC piece on doctor shortages.

He said he would “work to ensure that patients have access to affordable, quality health care” through growing telemedicine, and using “incentives and partnerships” to bring doctors to rural areas.

A philosophic difference is emerging. Abrams insists that infrastructure -- i.e., not just health care but broadband -- must be extended to rural Georgia in order for economic development to follow.

Kemp emphasized that economic development needs to be in place first, which will then create the demand for health care and broadband.

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This was the strongest reaction we’ve heard from Secretary of State Brian Kemp yet on the Randolph County proposal to close a majority of its precincts. 

Asked Tuesday about calls for him to resign or recuse himself from the elections process while he’s on the ballot, here’s what he said: 

“There are many, many counties all over this state that have looked at consolidating precincts. That is a local control issue that a local election board and a local county government decides. This whole nonsense that I orchestrated this is a flat-out lie from Stacey Abrams.” 

Both Abrams and Kemp have called on the county to abandon its plan to shutter seven of the nine polling precincts. Kemp has also tried to distance himself from criticism that his office was involved in the decision.

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Immediately after its Tuesday luncheon, the Georgia Chamber endorsed a series of statewide candidates, all Republican incumbents: Gary Black for commissioner of agriculture; Chris Carr for attorney general; Mark Butler for commissioner of labor; and Chuck Eaton and Tricia Pridemore in the two races for seats on the state Public Service Commission.

There were some interesting omissions: No endorsements for governor, lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner or school superintendent.

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Cobb County appears to be contemplating Uber or Lyft as an alternative to its on-call transit service. From the Marietta Daily Journal:

The county is considering replacing its Flex Bus service, which picks up and drops off riders in selected areas without regular stops, with a private ridesharing app, said Eric Meyer, planning division manager for the Cobb Department of Transportation. Meyer revealed details of the plan at a town hall conference hosted by Commissioner Lisa Cupid in Austell on Tuesday evening.

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A watershed moment of sorts: Richard Hyatt sends word that the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer no longer has a sports department. And this with high school football season upon us.

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Congrats are in order to Jennifer Talaber Ryan on the birth of her baby boy. Ryan is a top staffer for Gov. Nathan Deal and also his main spokeswoman.

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An 18-month-old video of a Monroe County commissioner venting about anti-Trump protests is making waves on social media.

The clip has Commissioner John Ambrose lashing out over a request from activists to hold a peaceful protest on government property: “I just think they ought to take a submachine gun and just mow them down.”

We reached out to Ambrose, who said his critics are bringing this up now “to stir up political dandruff.” 

“I’m all for peaceful protests but when they turn violent and damage public or private property, I stand by my statement,” he said.

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