Political Notes – Southern Co. concedes nuke delays

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It’s no big secret that Georgia Power was probably not going to get the federal licenses it needs to start building its nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle by the end of 2011, as it had originally planned.

William Jacobs, the engineering consultant who‘s been monitoring the Vogtle project for the Public Service Commission, told the PSC several weeks ago that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would most likely delay until 2012 its issuance of an operating license for Vogtle.

The head honcho at Georgia Power’s corporate parent, the Southern Co., acknowledged publicly this week that those NRC licenses may indeed not be coming until next year.

As reported by Ray Henry of the Associated Press:

[CEO Tom] Fanning told financial analysts that safety regulators at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will issue a new schedule in the next few weeks outlining the pace of their review. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell confirmed that the agency plans to issue a new schedule, but he could not say exactly when.

The NRC could approve the reactor intended for use at Plant Vogtle and issue the utility a license to build its plant before the end of 2011, Fanning said. He said it’s also possible that the administrative process could push back approval for the new plant into early next year. Southern Co. has already asked the NRC permission to perform construction work at the site in case the final license is delayed until early 2012.

“The whole issue is to preserve schedule and cost,” Fanning said. “We think we can do that either way.”

These licensing delays stem from safety concerns raised by the nuclear plant meltdowns in Japan earlier this year, and they will make it more difficult for Georgia Power to stay on schedule in completing the nuclear units, which are supposed to start generating electricity in 2016 and 2017.

Construction delays also raise the possibility that the Vogtle project, which already has a price tag in excess of $14 billion, could end up costing a lot more because of overruns.

If there should happen to be major cost overruns, Georgia Power and Southern Co. are covered.  The PSC members have just agreed not to adopt a risk-sharing mechanism recommended by their own staff that would have shaved Georgia Power’s profits if the project became too expensive – meaning that the utility’s ratepayers will bear all the financial risks.

Georgia Chamber’s PAC

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, already one of the state’s most politically active business groups, has created a new PAC to support business-friendly candidates in the upcoming election cycle.

“This political action committee will bolster our efforts to ensure Georgia’s economy stays viable and competitive in the 21st century,” said chamber Chairman Doug Carter.  “The businesses of our state deserve to have elected officials who understand that maintaining Georgia’s business-friendly environment is the key to long –term growth and prosperity.”

What the debt fight means for Georgia

The Athens Banner-Herald’s Blake Aued penned an article in Thursday’s edition reminding readers that Congress’s failure to raise the national debt ceiling, with its attendant default, could endanger state-administered programs like Medicaid and unemployment benefits payments:

If the debt ceiling is not raised, unemployment checks could stop immediately, Robinson said.

For other programs that are funded by the federal government but run by the state, such as the Medicaid and PeachCare health insurance programs for the poor and disabled, the state could come up with money to keep them running for a couple of weeks, Robinson said. The state spends money for those programs up-front and is reimbursed by the federal government later, he said.

“That poses serious concerns about how the state would pay its bills,” Robinson said.

About 29 percent of the state’s $38 billion total budget, or $11 billion, comes from the federal government.

A more personal ‘debt ceiling’

One reason for the federal government’s revenue problems is that some people aren’t paying the taxes they owe.

Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered smoked out the fact that state Rep. Paulette Rakestraw Braddock (R-Hiram) owes some $36,000 in unpaid federal payroll taxes and penalties:

State Rep. Paulette Rakestraw Braddock owes more than $36,000 in federal taxes, interest and penalties, the IRS says. But the debt will not affect her standing as a Georgia legislator.

State law and legislative rules call for an investigation and possible discipline for lawmakers who’ve not paid an undisputed state tax claim. No such procedure exists for non-payment of federal taxes.

The freshman lawmaker from Paulding County said the debt for payroll taxes was incurred by Atlanta Marketing Solutions Inc., her failed direct-mail marketing firm, and not as a personal tax obligation.

“I’ve always paid my taxes,” she said.

But since the business is defunct, she said, she couldn’t negotiate a settlement with the IRS until the debt was rolled over to become her personal liability.

“If the company goes south, and a lot of them have in this bad economic downturn, then the business owner is still liable for those taxes,” she said.

The IRS lien for $36,343 was recorded June 17 by the clerk of Paulding County Superior Court. The paperwork shows the IRS assessed the penalty in November 2008 for payroll taxes due for portions of 2006 and 2007.

A warning for Echols

The hometown newspaper of Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who’s spent more than $12,000 this year on taxpayer-subsidized trips for himself and his family members, is warning Echols to slow down his spending a little.

The Athens Banner-Herald editorialized Thursday:

Certainly, in a time of austerity in state government, Echols’ expense reports seem more than a little bit out of line, particularly when they come from trips in which he’s included family members.

Our advice to Commissioner Echols would be to continue his work to bring the PSC a little closer to the people of the state, but to do so with a more judicious eye toward how much that work is costing the state’s taxpayers.

LWV looks for new director

Georgia’s League of Women Voters is looking for a new executive director after the resignation of Tracey-Ann Nelson from the position.

For the moment, Kelli Persons will lobby for the LWV during the special legislative session on redistricting that kicks off Aug. 15.  “Her knowledge on redistricting and the political process is extensive and she will be a great asset for the League,” President Elizabeth Poythress said.

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Georgia Chamber of Commerce , Georgia Power , national debt ceiling , NRC licenses , nuclear power , Paulette Rakestraw Braddock , Southern Co. , Tim Echols , Tom Fanning