Bill calls for halt on Plant Vogtle charge

A trio of Georgia lawmakers want to block Georgia Power from levying surcharges on customers’ bills to finance its long-delayed Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion after 2017.

“Today’s Georgia Power customers stand to pay $1.4 billion more to finance Vogtle construction over the next few years due to major construction delays,” said Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, sponsor of a bill filed Monday.

In 2009, lawmakers allowed the utility to begin tacking a surcharge on customers’ bills to finance its share of the cost to build two additional nuclear power units at Plant Vogtle near Augusta. The monthly surcharges add about $81 to the typical residential customer’s annual utility bill.

The project is more than three years behind schedule and $3 billion over initial budget.

House Bill 931, co-sponsored by Reps. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur) and Howard Mosby (D-Atlanta), would end the surcharges after March 2017, when the first new reactor was originally slated to go into service. The bill calls for no additional payments until the units begin operation.

Currently, one unit is expected to start up in mid-2019, the other a year later.

A Georgia Power spokesman said the bill would drive up customers’ costs in the long run.

“The recovery of financing costs during construction is saving our customers money by preserving the company’s credit ratings and lowering borrowing costs, and helps us avoid ‘rate shock’ at the end of the project,” Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said in an emailed statement. “We do not support a change in law, or any proposal or effort, which will unnecessarily raise rates for our customers.”

Last week, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted 4-1 to begin an early review of the project’s costs — a task regulators originally planned to tackle after construction was completed.

Georgia Power did not immediately respond to a request for comment.