Look no further than to Georgia’s neighboring state, South Carolina, to see what happens when costs and construction schedules explode. The V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina was approved along with Vogtle, but after repeated construction delays and cost overruns (sound familiar?), Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s largest public utility, abandoned the project. SCANA then had to cancel the project given they no longer had a partner. It is still unclear what Santee Cooper and SCANA’s future holds because of the financial damage caused by the failures at V.C. Summer.
And if all of this isn’t enough to make the project’s risks apparent, Georgia Power is involved in ongoing legal battles challenging the project’s continuance.
Despite all of the facts underscoring the risks of new nuclear projects, Georgia Power, Rick Perry, Tim Echols, and other proponents will say there is no chance that Vogtle will fail. Such assurances are backed by hope instead of facts. And, hope cannot repay billions of dollars if Vogtle goes the way of many other new nuclear proposals in the U.S. over the last 30 years.
If Georgia Power and its utility partners in Vogtle cannot repay their loans, the federal government will take a loss equal to the amount in default. The subsidy fees are meant to protect taxpayers should default occur. But Georgia Power’s zero dollars in down payments means taxpayers are entirely on the hook if the project fails. Fortunately, the federal government still has time to act before this last set of loans are finalized. It should increase the credit subsidy fee and force Georgia Power, perhaps for the first time in Vogtle’s troubled history, to put its money where its mouth is.
Mindy Goldstein is a clinical professor of law and director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University Law School. Jesse Sutz is a third-year law student at Emory Law School.