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Local News

State regulators pass along $7.6B tab to ratepayers for Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle 


by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
December 19, 2023

The story was updated at 10 am on Dec. 20 with a statement from Georgia Power

Georgia Power ratepayers will be responsible for a $7.6 billion bill for the construction of two nuclear reactors built during the long-delayed expansion at Plant Vogtle located southeast of Augusta. 

The financial agreement for the nuclear project boondoggle was approved Tuesday by the Georgia Public Service Commission. It calls for the utility company to cover at least $2.6 billion of an expected $10 billion in construction and capital costs spent on the Vogtle project. State regulators signed off on terms outlined in a stipulated agreement reached in August between Georgia Power, PSC advocacy staff, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers and consumer and watchdog advocacy organization Georgia Watch, and the Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and Partnership for Southern Equity. 

Vogtle has remained a major source of contention as costs ballooned to $35 billion, more than double the price initially forecast for a project that’s taken 14 years to complete. The two Vogtle units are the first nuclear reactors to be built in the United States in more than 30 years, and is the latest in a series of rate increases Georgia Power customers will continue to bear in the coming months.

Georgia Power officials boast that Vogtle is a cleaner energy source compared to fossil fuels that will bolster the electric grid for decades to come by providing power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

The average Georgia Power homeowner has been paying an extra $5 per month since Unit 3 began operating this summer and will see an estimated extra $9 each month once Unit 4 comes online. Georgia Power officials predict that the final reactor will be fully operational within the first several months of 2024.

“The Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear expansion project represents a long-term investment for our 2.7 million customers and Georgia, providing clean, safe, reliable, and emission-free energy for decades to come,” Georgia Power said in a statement. “Throughout the Vogtle project, the Georgia PSC has thoroughly evaluated all costs through an open and transparent review process.

“We believe this decision by the Georgia PSC acknowledges the perspectives of all parties involved and takes a balanced approach that recognizes the value of this long-term energy asset for the state of Georgia and affordability needs for customers,” the company said.

Commission Chairman Jason Shaw said Tuesday that it was a positive sign to have several intervening groups sign a reasonable deal that represents the conclusion to a long and complicated process.

The commissioners noted that the final agreement follows 29 construction monitoring reports dating back to 2009, along with tens of thousands of publicly filed documents and public hearings held before the five-member commission.

“After years of hard work, we can celebrate that Georgia has access to brand new nuclear facilities that will provide carbon-free energy over the next 60-80 years,” Shaw said. “Georgia has proven once again that it is a leader in clean energy and will be better able to meet the energy capacity needs for our rapidly growing state.”

Many critics have registered opposition to Georgia Power’s exorbitant profits and the continued slamming of its customers with higher electricity bills. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is among those who have been critical of having homeowners and small business owners pay a much larger share for Vogtle than large industrial companies. Overall, the larger companies have only contributed about 10% of the costs after repeated hikes to monthly bills. 

According to the Southern Alliance, the stipulation ignores other opportunities for clean energy generation and ways to protect ratepayers from similar snakebit projects like Vogtle in the future.

“The precedent for this was set with another negotiated settlement in 2021. Back then, Georgia Power argued that ‘equal’ allocation was the best they could do without performing a cost-of-service study,” the Southern Alliance said in a news release Tuesday. “That might have been excusable for the initial allocation but it’s dereliction-of-duty that Georgia Power didn’t perform the cost-of-service study two years later. And by letting them get away with it, the PSC is as guilty as they are.”

As part of the settlement, Georgia Power agreed to about a 50% expansion of energy efficiency programs and also offered up to 96,000 additional low-income seniors to participate in a program that would reduce their monthly bills by an average of $33.50.

Construction on Vogtle has been severely delayed by technical issues, worker shortages, a strike, and the bankruptcy of its original contractor Westinghouse Electric Co. in 2017. The final cost of Vogtle includes $3.7 billion owed by Westinghouse.

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr. has served as a regulator since the Vogtle expansion project began in 2009.

“It has been 34 years since an American nuclear power plant was constructed,” McDonald said in a statement on Tuesday. “After 34 years this is a first in America and Georgia, again, leads the way – not just for today but for the next 80-plus years of producing clean, reliable carbon-free energy for all Georgians.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.