Georgia Public Service Commissioners hear concerns from public on troubled project as Department of Energy issues remaining $1.8 billion to MEAG
Atlanta, Ga. — On the heels of Tuesday’s all-day public hearing on the 12th semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) report (Docket 29849) at the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), which underscored more schedule delays and at least $1.4 billion in cost increases just for Georgia Power’s share of the two Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro along the Savannah River, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued the remaining $1.8 billion in federal loan guarantees to MEAG, a utility partner in the project. Despite testimony from the PSC Public Interest Advocacy (PIA) staff expert witnesses that identified at least an additional 3-month delay, constituting a 3 ½ year overall project delay, and stressed that significant obstacles remain that could further derail the schedule, the DOE finalized the remaining portion of the $8.3 billion loan guarantee.
Since the controversial loan guarantee offers were made over five years ago, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) has questioned the risks posed to U.S. taxpayers if the more-than $15 billion nuclear project should default — a reality that plays a large role in the nuclear industry’s history. The loan guarantee terms, including the credit subsidy fees that represent the “price tag” a utility must pay to the federal government for the loan guarantee, were never made readily available to the public. The shocking information that the credit subsidy fee for utility giant Southern Company (subsidiary Georgia Power) and its utility partner, Oglethorpe Power, was nothing, $0, was only disclosed two months after the Department of Energy (DOE) finalized terms of $6.5 billion worth of loan guarantees despite the fact that taxpayers are on the hook should the project default. Now DOE has issued the third partner in the project, MEAG, the remaining $1.8 billion loan guarantee, without making the credit subsidy fee and loan documents public.
“The loan guarantee process has been shrouded in secrecy from Day One and the Vogtle project is a total mess,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with SACE. “We’re immensely frustrated that with all of this information on the problems plaguing this nuclear expansion project that the Department of Energy is still throwing taxpayer money after it.”
Not only are U.S. taxpayers shouldering risks from this project, but over $1.1 billion has already been collected from Georgia Power customers due to state legislation passed in 2009, the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act or Georgia’s “nuclear tax,” which allows Georgia Power to charge customers in advance for financing costs associated with the Vogtle project. This is itemized on customers’ bills under the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery rider. Expert testimony determined that the average household using 1000 kilowatt hours per month would pay an additional $319 during the delay period of April 2016 through June 2020 or $6.26 per month for additional financing costs and replacement fuel costs.
“During the hearing a shocking $30 billion price tag was revealed for Georgia Power customers over the course of the projected 60-year operating period for the two new Vogtle reactors. We learned that the $5 billion in benefits touted when the reactors were first approved during the certification process have completely evaporated. And the cost of $2 million per day of delay is actually closer to $3 million,” said Barczak. “What more information do the Georgia Public Service Commissioners and state lawmakers need to identify and implement measures to protect consumers from further hardship? The anti-consumer state legislation that allows Georgia Power to charge customers in advance for the project’s massive financing costs, which represent the largest share of the current cost overruns, was a bad experiment that must be corrected and prevented in the future.”
“The Construction Monitor stated that original schedule projections had fuel loaded by now. But the reality is that less than 25% of the Vogtle project’s construction has been completed. The project is so delayed that financial benefits, especially the Production Tax Credits, may not even be realized,” said attorney Bobby Baker representing SACE, which has intervened in every VCM. “Only customers in the 2076 to 2080 time period will receive the fuel savings, which represents an enormous intergenerational subsidy benefitting customers 50 or 60 years down the road. Expert testimony confirmed that if a decision were made today, building new nuclear generation is uneconomic.”
SACE remains extremely concerned that decisions by the DOE and other federal agencies were made to put taxpayer money at risk in spite of all of this relevant information showing serious, ever-mounting problems facing the Vogtle project.
For additional background on the $8.3 billion in Vogtle loan guarantees, please view a report analyzing some of the loan guarantee documents SACE received from previous FOIA litigation here and the supplemental memo. Unlike DOE and OMB, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has made thousands of pages of documents received publicly available through an online library.
Georgia Power is 45.7% owner in the project (remaining utility partners are Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG (22.7%), and the City of Dalton (1.6%)). This means the original approximately $14.1 billion Vogtle project is now estimated to cost at least $16.5 billion, which does not include over $1.1 billion in possible litigation costs. Costs have increased by over $800 million just since the last review.
A Commission decision on whether to approve the $169 million in expenditures during the reporting period will be made by August 18, 2015. The public can submit comments by referencing “Docket 29849” either online via http://www.psc.state.ga.us/content.aspx?c=/commissioners/, by phone at (800) 282-5813 or by regular mail to: Georgia Public Service Commission, 244 Washington Street, SW, Atlanta, GA 30334-9052.
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy promotes responsible energy choices that work to address the impacts of Global Climate Change and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.