McDonald to Ga. Power — If nukes are so great, ‘Put up the money’

[private]Georgia Power is asking the Public Service Commission to give it the authority, right now, to start charging ratepayers $175 million for a nuclear power plant that may never be built.

The utility giant, however, is being challenged by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald to put up its own money for the proposed nuclear plant if it thinks the facility is really such a great deal for the company.

After hearing Georgia Power executives repeatedly make the claim during a Thursday hearing that it was “imperative” to start spending the $175 million immediately, McDonald unloaded on a hapless utility witness.

“Then why don’t you put up the money yourself?” McDonald asked.

“If it’s that good and you’re that positive about it, why don’t you put up the money yourself?” McDonald continued. “The fact is, bottom line, if you’re that positive about the project, put your money up and show this commission you’re positive about it.”

“We believe taking action now is imperative,” said Alison Chiock, a Georgia Power planner.

The PSC is holding hearings on Georgia Power’s integrated resource plan (IRP), the blueprint for how the utility will produce electricity over the next three years.

Georgia Power is proposing a nuclear plant on 7,000 acres it purchased in Stewart County south of Columbus. The utility giant wants to charge its customers now for the $175 million it would cost to do preliminary site work and apply for an operating license — even though the utility has not made the final decision on whether the plant will be built.

Critics of the proposal have questioned the feasibility of the plant when Georgia Power is already 39 months behind schedule and $1.7 billion over budget on two reactors being constructed at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro.

Commissioner Tim Echols noted that Georgia Power “already has apparatus” to build additional nuclear plants at Vogtle.

“If you are going to build reactors, especially if they are AP-1000s, wouldn’t it make sense to do it there instead of moving it all the way over to the other side of the state?” Echols asked.

“There is concern that one event, like a tornado, could wipe out a substantial amount of the company’s overall load, or demand capacity,” Chiock said.

Georgia Power has said it will drop the Stewart County proposal unless the PSC allows the company to start charging ratepayers immediately for the $175 million in preliminary costs.

Assistant Attorney General Dan Walsh, who represented the PSC staff in the hearing, said ratepayers will actually be on the hook for more than $300 million if the commission grants Georgia Power’s request to charge its customers the $175 million.

Walsh estimated that Georgia Power would spend $30 million this year, $60 million in 2017 and another $60 million in 2018 on the Stewart County project.  But the company would also be allowed to earn 11 percent on the money it spends for this purpose, which is an additional expense for ratepayers.

“In addition to the $175 million, the ratepayers would spending at least another $131 million (to cover the amount spent plus allowed earnings),” Walsh said.  Chiock didn’t disagree with that estimate.

When the PSC votes on the integrated resource plan next month, McDonald will ask the commission not to allow Georgia Power to charge that $175 million to ratepayers.  Georgia Power can spend its own money on the project and the issue can be revisited in 2019, when the utility will have a rate case before the commission, McDonald said.

“We’ll have a clearer picture in 2019,” he said.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Bubba McDonald , Dan Walsh , Georgia Power , nuclear plant , Tim Echols