Steam rises from the cooling towers of nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, near Augusta. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain, File)

Capitol Recap: Another troubling moment for Vogtle

The construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle has often been described as troubled — defined here as costing twice the original estimate and five years behind schedule.

Now the project has a new problem.

One source of its investment has had enough.

JEA, formerly known as the Jacksonville Electric Authority, doesn’t own a share of the plant, but it agreed to pick up a portion of the construction costs when it made a deal with one of the owners, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. The Florida utility just informed MEAG that it now wants out of that agreement, which also included buying Vogtle-generated electricity for the next 20 years.

The timing is rather inconvenient for MEAG, a joint owner of 54 percent of the project with the Oglethorpe Power Corp. and Dalton Utilities.

Earlier this month, the owners learned that the cost for the two reactors had just gone up an additional $2.3 billion, bringing the total price to $27 billion. It was only a few months ago that the state Public Service Commission, facing calls to shut down the project, had approved a plan to continue work at Vogtle at the lower cost.

Because of this new increase, the owners face a Sept. 30 deadline to reaffirm their decision to proceed.

Georgia Power, the largest single owner at 46 percent, is prepared to take on its $1.1 billion in new costs. That leaves $1.2 billion to be divvied up between Oglethorpe, Dalton Utilities and MEAG.

Oglethorpe is on board. Dalton Utilities and MEAG, however, are still on the fence.

JEA’s acting CEO, Aaron Zahn, sent a letter to his counterpart at MEAG, James Fuller, saying what he would do if it were him.

“It now is beyond reasonable debate that prudent utility practices and the interests of ratepayers require that MEAG and the other owners of the Additional Units vote no on continuing construction of the Additional Units,” Zahn wrote.

As additional motivation, JEA appears ready to take it before a judge.

Messages intercepted: As hard as you try to express your point of view, there's always the possibility of interference.

Ask Tom Hochschild.

He’s the member of a group called Georgians for the Impeachment of Donald Trump that put up a billboard in Valdosta bearing an image of the president and the word “impeach.”

Less than 24 hours later, he wrote, the company that rented the space to his group said the billboard would be coming down.

Other billboard customers threatened to pull their advertising, Hochschild said, if his group’s billboard did not come down.

The company offered to refund the $400 down payment from Hochschild’s group, but he told them to keep it.

He’s now considering a new expenditure — for a lawyer.

Hochschild’s experience is a piece in a bigger puzzle.

Trump, whose many accomplishments include being the most active president in the history of social media, recently used that expertise to say his supporters are being squeezed out of — yep — social media.

“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices,” the president wrote in a tweet. “Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others…..”

The Washington Post offered this as context:

“Faced with criticisms from President Trump that Twitter is ‘shadow banning’ and silencing conservative voices, chief executive Jack Dorsey admitted that those who work for the social media giant have their own biases — and that they’re ‘more left-leaning.’ ”

A matter of timing: One of the president’s followers, state Sen. Michael Williamsdid make it on television, though.

CNN had him on to discuss what it might mean if recordings surfaced of Trump using the “n-word.”

Williams, last seen finishing fifth in the May GOP primary to become Georgia’s next governor, said there’s a distinction between what Trump may have said before becoming a candidate and what he has said since moving into the White House.

Asked how he would respond in the event Trump used the offensive term, Williams said:

“It would matter to me as an individual. It would not matter to me as the person that is running our country. The reason I separate those two — he has his personal beliefs. But I truly believe he is able to separate those from how he is running the country. …

“If he goes on TV and uses the n-word, yes, I would have a major problem with that. But if he did it before he was president …”

Asked whether that meant it would be OK to say the n-word, Williams responded:

“No, I never said that’s OK. It’s always wrong for me, individually …

“I will always say using the n-word is wrong, and it’s bad, and should never be accepted in our society. But just because (Trump) might have done it years ago, not as our president, doesn’t mean we need to continue to berate him because he used it.”

Medical pot for vets: Medical marijuana can now count a supporter among Georgia's Republican congressmen.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson of West Point says the Fairness in Federal Drug Test Under State Laws Act could benefit veterans.

It would bar the feds from firing or denying employment to people solely for using medical marijuana. It would only apply in states where medical marijuana is legal, and only for people working in civilian jobs that don’t require top-secret security clearances.

The federal government is the largest employer of vets, and a recent American Legion poll found that 1 in 5 use marijuana to alleviate medical conditions such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“No one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment,” said Ferguson, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill, a bipartisan effort, also has the support of retiring state Rep. Allen Peake, the force behind the creation of the state’s medical marijuana program and later efforts to expand it.

Building the bench: The way has been cleared for another Trump pick for federal district judge in Georgia.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is ready for a vote on Stan Baker’s confirmation for a judgeship in South Georgia.

It’s been nearly a year since Baker, a federal magistrate judge based in Savannah, was first nominated.

Baker, himself, is not considered a controversial choice — the American Bar Association has judged him to be “well qualified” for the job — but his nomination was stalled by a broader partisan fight over nominees.

He would be Georgia’s third district-level judge appointed by Trump, joining Michael Brown and Tripp Self. Three other judges have been appointed to the Atlanta-based 11th U .S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still waiting for Senate approval is Billy Ray, a former Republican lawmaker and ex-Gwinnett County Superior Court judge. He’s been tapped for Atlanta’s U.S. District Court.

Which system will get their vote? The Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission — SAFE, get it? — will look at potential choices for Georgia's next voting system at its upcoming meeting.

Election companies will display their goods at the meeting, the panel’s second, on Aug. 30 at the Columbia County Exhibition Center in Grovetown.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, now the GOP nominee for governor, created the commission to review voting systems and make a recommendation to the Legislature before its 2019 session.

Ideas seeing a lot of promotion as a way to ensure accuracy involve hand-marked paper ballots or ballot-marking devices.

An agenda for the meeting says there will also be panel discussions on voting rights, election security, voting accessibility and intergovernmental coordination.

GOP official gets promotion: Georgia GOP leaders have picked Jason Thompson to fill the opening Randy Evans left on the Republican National Committee when he became the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

Thompson, the chairman of the 7th District GOP, beat out former state Rep. Melvin Everson and Chris West of Thomasville.

The new committeeman is half of a power couple. His wife is conservative analyst Julianne Thompson.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— The Georgia Chamber of Commerce handed out five endorsements in November’s elections: Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, Attorney General Chris Carr and two members of the Public Service Commission, Chuck Eaton and Tricia Pridemore. All are Republicans, and all are incumbents.

The Chamber, however, did not pick any candidates in the races for governor, lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner and school superintendent.

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