Chapman will try again on nuclear cost bill

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State Rep. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) says he will try again to get legislation passed (HB 267) that would restrict Georgia Power’s ability to make a profit on cost increases in the Plant Vogtle nuclear project.

“The bill is not dead,” Chapman said Tuesday. “We’ll try to get it to the House floor for a vote” (in the next General Assembly session).

HB 267 is an attempt to hold down cost increases on the two nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro. Georgia Power’s share of the $14.5 billion project is $6.11 billion, but the utility giant earlier this year filed a $737 million cost increase with the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Chapman’s bill would allow the utility to earn its 11.15 percent rate of return on the $6.11 billion amount approved by the PSC for construction, but would prohibit it from charging ratepayers for profits on costs that exceed that level.

“Once you give somebody a price for building something, you need to honor that,” Chapman said. “They’re still a monopoly, and if we don’t regulate them it’s going to be rather harsh on the ratepayer.”

HB 267 received a “do not pass” recommendation from a subcommittee of the House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee last session. Chapman said he will try to have the bill considered by the full committee and passed along for a vote on the House floor, although that is a remote possibility.

In the months since Chapman first introduced HB 267, Georgia Power’s parent corporation, the Southern Co., has encountered cost overrun issues on a coal-fired power plant being built by Mississippi Power. The CEO of Mississippi Power resigned and Southern Co. agreed to absorb nearly $1 billion in cost increases on the Kemper power plant.

Chapman cited those developments with Mississippi Power as an indication that his bill might get a more favorable review in the upcoming legislative session.

“We shouldn’t be treated any differently from the folks in Mississippi,” he said.

Georgia Power opposed HB 267 when it was being debated in the House subcommittee.

“Georgia Power feels this bill is unnecessary (because of the PSC’s oversight),” utility spokesman John D’Andrea said. “That is the job we elected Public Service Commissioners to do and that is the job they are doing.”

Chapman made his remarks about HB 267 during a rally at the state capitol hosted by the Green Tea Coalition, a confederation of political and environmental groups that is promoting wider use of solar power and other renewable energy sources and less reliance on nuclear power.

The Green Tea group has been drawing national media attention because it encompasses activists from tea party organizations as well as progressive groups like the Sierra Club.

“We’re taking a concept that’s bipartisan and bringing it together because it makes sense,” said Kelly Marlow, a tea party activist who is a member of the Cherokee County school board.

“We’re just conservatives that care about conservation,” said tea party leader Debbie Dooley. “There are certain issues that transcend partisan lines.”

Dooley urged that Georgia consumers be given more “energy freedom” in their ability to choose alternatives like solar energy as a source of electricity.

“We are here because we are bound captive by a government-created monopoly,” she said. “Let’s have a free market system, let’s have all energy competing in that marketplace.”

“We know it’s an uphill fight, but our children and our grandchildren, future generations, are worth fighting for,” Dooley added.

© 2013 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Debbie Dooley , Georgia Power , Green Tea Coalition , Jeff Chapman , Mississippi Power , nuclear cost overruns , Plant Vogtle , Southern Co. , Tea Party