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

PSC tables call to kill Vogtle charge on electric 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 by one of its members to ask Georgia Power to stop collecting a surcharge to finance the company’s troubled Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion.

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

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.

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 reactors at Plant Vogtle, 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 says the company “shall” collect the surcharge, although it appears to allow flexibility on deciding how much to charge.

In a settlement last year dealing with Vogtle cost overruns, the PSC and Georgia Power agreed to freeze the surcharge, which had been rising in previous years.

“I haven’t given up,” McDonald said.

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 bankruptcy filing by 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 continues to work at Vogtle under a temporary agreement while Georgia Power and Southern Company seek potential replacements and evaluate what to do with the project. Westinghouse supplied the reactor designs and has been overseeing construction.

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.

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