PSC’s McDonald: Non-existent nuke shouldn’t cost customers $175 million

At least one of Georgia’s utility regulators says he doesn’t think Georgia Power’s customers should have to foot a $175 million bill up front to study a potential site for a new nuclear plant near Columbus.

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald told fellow members of the Public Service Commission Thursday that he plans to introduce a motion in the future that would deny the company’s request for the study funding.

McDonald said his motion wouldn’t prevent Georgia Power from going ahead with the study, but it’s “premature” to ask customers to pay for it before 2019.

However, a Georgia Power spokesman said the company will suspend preliminary work on the site if the PSC denies its request.

“A delay of even a few years in these actions will jeopardize our ability to keep new nuclear as a timely option for customers,” said Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins.

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The Atlanta-based utility has asked the PSC to approve $175 million for the preliminary study as part of its 2016 update of its 20-year plan for how much energy it needs to be able to generate in the future. The next update of the long-term plan will be in 2019.

The $175 million would cover preliminary site studies and preparation of an initial application to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a second nuclear power complex on land in Stewart County, south of Columbus.

McDonald’s motion would likely come before the PSC’s five-member panel in mid-July, when it is slated to decide whether to accept Georgia Power’s 2016 update of its 20-year plan.

It’s not the first time Georgia Power has asked customers to pay for something years before it is built.

The utility is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget on a project to add two new reactors to its Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta. For several years, the PSC has allowed Georgia Power to collect surcharges on their monthly bills to help finance that project rather than waiting until the plants were completed to collect from customers.

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