Utility commissioners on Tuesday delayed consideration of a proposal to halt collection of a nuclear surcharge on customers’ bills, to get the state attorney general’s opinion on its legality. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

On hold: PSC commissioner’s plan to nuke Vogtle surcharge on customers’ bills

Don’t look for a discount on your power bill any time soon.

The Georgia Public Service Commission decided Tuesday to put on hold a proposal to ask Georgia Power to stop collecting a surcharge on customers’ bills that finances the company’s troubled Plant Vogtle nuclear project.

Westinghouse, the main contractor on Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Ga. and Scana Corps’ Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina, recently sought bankruptcy court protection.

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald wants to halt the surcharge, which adds about $100 a year to the typical residential customer’s bill, after the recent bankruptcy of a key contractor clouded the future of the project.

But the other members of the five-person commission decided to delay a vote on McDonald’s motion while they ask the state’s attorney general whether such a move is legal.

The Atlanta utility has been collecting about $500 million a year through the surcharge, McDonald said, to finance construction of two new nuclear reactors at its Plant Vogtle complex near Augusta. The project is roughly half-finished, and more than $3 billion over budget and more than three years behind schedule.

Georgia Power told commissioners last week that it wouldn’t comply with McDonald’s motion if it passed because the issue would have to be decided by the state legislature.

The 2009 law creating the nuclear surcharge does say the company “shall” collect it, but apparently the law also allows flexibility on deciding how much to charge.

In a settlement last year on how to divvy up billions in cost overruns on the Vogtle project, the PSC and Georgia Power agreed to freeze the surcharge, which had been rising in previous years.

“I haven’t given up,” said McDonald.”This is one of many issues that will come before the commission.”

McDonald said one reason that he wants to halt the surcharge is that Georgia Power and Southern Company are evaluating what to do with the unfinished project in light of the recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric.

“What if we continue to collect it,” he asked, “and then they pull the plug?” (He and other PSC officials say the utility can’t abandon the project without the regulator’s approval.)

Westinghouse is continuing to work at Vogtle under a temporary agreement while Georgia Power and Southern Company are seeking potential replacements and evaluating what to do with the project. Westinghouse supplied the reactor designs and has been overseeing construction.

Georgia Power has mentioned a number of options, including completing the nuclear power plants, building natural gas-fired power plants instead, or abandoning the project.

Tuesday, Georgia Power said the temporary agreement with Westinghouse has been extended to 5 p.m. Friday while talks continue to reach a deal on the use of Westinghouse’s reactor designs if the bankruptcy court voids the companies’ old agreement.

Southern is also in talks with Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba Corp., regarding billions of dollars in guarantees by Toshiba on the Vogtle project.


AJC Business reporter Russell Grantham keeps you updated on the latest news about major companies, CEOs and public utilities in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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