Georgia Power gets more time for Vogtle nuclear cost overrun talks

The Georgia Public Service Commission decided to give Georgia Power and its staff more time to reach a deal on how much customers will have to pay for about $1.7 billion in cost overruns at the Vogtle nuclear plant expansion near Augusta.

In a 5-0 vote, the commission Tuesday approved the Atlanta utility’s request to extend a deadline to Oct. 28 to give the company and PSC staff more time to negotiate. According to the PSC, Commissioner Stan Wise voted by teleconference, although his vote apparently was not announced at the meeting.

Several months ago, the Georgia Public Service Commission set a Wednesday deadline for Georgia Power and the state regulator's staff to negotiate a tentative agreement behind closed doors on the cost overrun issue.

The PSC’s five-member board is expected to vote on whatever settlement is reached following public hearings on the deal.

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Georgia Power requested the extension on Monday.

“As the commissioners know, we have not finalized a settlement,” Georgia Power’s lawyers said in a letter to the PSC.

Former PSC commissioner Bobby Baker said the delay could be a sign that the PSC’s staff wants Georgia Power to absorb a bigger portion of the cost overruns than the company wants to accept.

“It could be that staff wants a higher number,” he said.

A Georgia Power spokesman said the PSC has been reviewing the project’s costs all along through “open and transparent” construction updates.

“We will not discuss ongoing negotiations, but will tell you that we believe all costs to date have been prudently spent and have been reviewed and approved unanimously by the PSC” at those construction monitoring hearings, said Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins.

Whatever deal is reached will squarely hit customers in their pocketbooks.

For years, customers have been paying surcharges on their bills — roughly $100 a year on average — to finance the construction of two additional reactors at the Vogtle nuclear complex.

The project is more than three years behind schedule and $3 billion over budget. After the PSC decides how much of Georgia Power’s share of those cost overruns — about $1.7 billion — are “prudent” and reasonable, customers’ bills will eventually go up to cover those additional costs.