Georgia Power and partners appeal for completion of Plant Vogtle

Georgia Power and partner companies overseeing the construction of nuclear plant, Vogtle, presented a united appeal Monday to PSC commissioners, as hearings began on the fate of the embattled nuclear power plant.

The CEO’s led by Georgia Power’s Paul Bowers argued the project would present “the best economic choice” and “long-term benefits to customers.”

“We believe nuclear is the dominant solution. We are confident you will make the right long-term solution for the people in Georgia,” Bowers told the commissioners.

A statement by Georgia power said the CEO’s and their boards unanimously agreed to the expansion of Vogtle 3 and 4.

The unity could be challenged by a revision in August of their contract agreement, allowing the co-owners of the project, Oglethorpe, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) and Dalton Utilities to abandon the project if the PSC disallows costs and schedule. Under a previous agreement, co-owners could not unilaterally abandon the agreement.

The new agreement worries commissioners and consumers alike, as the risk of project abandonment by the co-owners could be imminent.

Following Westinghouse’s exit due to bankruptcy the contract is now managed by Southern Nuclear, an affiliate of Georgia Power’s parent company Southern company.

Dividing issue

Plant Vogtle's construction has attracted both support and opposition within the state. Proponents and opponents of the project presented arguments before the packed commission hearing why the project, marred by cost over-runs, incessant delays and the March bankruptcy of Toshiba's Westinghouse, should or should not be given a go-ahead.

Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party called for the company to “add consumer protections and shift part of the financial burden to Southern Company shareholders.” She argued placing caps on construction costs on Vogtle would safeguard customers from Vogtle’s financial burden.

The commissioners now face the task of evaluating the cost and schedule estimates presented by Georgia power, to determine the fate of the project.

“There was always some chance this commission would rule that some of the costs were unreasonable.” Commissioner Chuck Eaton said.

Georgia Power and its co-owners however want to know whether these estimates are reasonable before going on.

“We need to know before we spend additional dollars,” said Bowers.

In March, plant Vogtle’s lead contractor Westinghouse Electric- owned by Tokyo based Toshiba Corp., filed for bankruptcy citing financial losses. The project was already three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget.

Westinghouse’s bankruptcy resulted in the shut-down of a $14 billion project in neighboring South Carolina in August, with partners citing increasing risks, incessant delays and cost overruns. Westinghouse was also the lead contractor in the project.

Expansion of the project, to include two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle which began in 2009 has been hampered by falling natural gas prices and competition from alternatives such as solar and wind power.

The project has been marred by numerous delays and cost overruns, with Southern company, which owns Georgia Power, saying project completion date, initially set for 2017, would run past 2022.

Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the project and currently spends $50 million per month of its share on the project, with its customers financing the project through surcharges on their bills. Other co-owners of the project include Oglethorpe Power (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

In August, a $14 billion nuclear project in South Carolina overseen by Westinghouse was shut down, with major stakeholders citing the company's bankruptcy, skyrocketing costs, project delays and the falling demand for energy.

Plant Vogtle is one of the two nuclear power plants in Georgia.

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