Lawmakers push back on Plant Vogtle overruns

Lawmakers push back on Plant Vogtle overruns
Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro. (Source: Georgia Power Newsroom)

By Jill Nolin, CNHI State Reporter

ATLANTA – A group of state lawmakers penned a letter pressing the utility partners behind Plant Vogtle to cap the costs of the project, which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Twenty lawmakers signed on to the letter, which was sent Wednesday to Georgia Power Company, Oglethorpe Power Company and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which includes dozens of city utilities and electric coops.

The lawmakers said they were concerned about the “the ever-escalating cost of Plant Vogtle and the unfair impact of these cost increases on our constituents,” who are customers of the EMCs and city utilities.

Georgia Power recently announced an additional $2.3 billion cost overrun last month. The utility said its shareholders would absorb its share of the increase.

“This puts a disproportionate cost burden on EMC and city utility customers – our local utilities don’t have the luxury of shareholders to absorb these additional costs and will have to increase rates even higher,” The lawmakers wrote. “This approach is unfair and anti-competitive.”

The expansion project will add two nuclear reactors to the existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Burke County, where two units were built in the 1980s. Work began in 2009, and the first unit was supposed to go live by 2016.

Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, who signed the letter, said he is concerned that the recent developments give Georgia Power an unfair advantage when competing for economic development projects.

Vogtle 3 and 4 construction site with Vogtle units 1 an 2 in the background (Source: Southern Company Inc.)
Vogtle 3 and 4 construction site with Vogtle units 1 an 2 in the background (Source: Southern Company Inc.)

Jasperse said he still sees Vogtle as a valuable project that will provide low-cost, reliable power in the future. He said he just wants to see the project finished.

“It puts structure and responsibility on the subsidiary of Southern to get it down and get it done at a reasonable cost,” Jasperse said, referring to the letter. Calhoun Utilities, which is part of MEAG, is in Jasperse’s district.

Jasperse was referring to Southern Nuclear, which the letter noted is an “unregulated subsidiary” of Southern Company, the parent company of Georgia Power. Southern Nuclear took over the project after Westinghouse went bankrupt last year.

In their letter, lawmakers did not hide their frustration with the company’s broken pledge to end the cost overruns.

The letter included several powerful state lawmakers, including House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton.

“Georgia legislators’ first priority, with respect to energy, is to have affordable, abundant energy,” Jones said Wednesday afternoon. “And that requires a balance of providing resources, which Plant Vogtle will, but also making sure it is affordable and that the burden for cost overruns are not only borne by the taxpayer.”

Other signers include Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla; Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park; Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville; Rep. Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland; Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville; and Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn.

The letter was also sent as MEAG and Oglethorpe prepare to vote on whether to continue on with the project.

“A year ago, Georgia Power and all of the Vogtle co-owners entered a new contract to move forward with the project and everyone acknowledged and accepted all possible risks,” Georgia Power spokesman Craig Bell said in a statement. “Georgia Power has voted to move forward, and we hope the co-owners will also vote in favor to fulfill their obligation.”

The letter was not sent to Dalton Utilities, which owns a 1.6 percent stake in the project.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jnolin@cnhi.com.

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