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Just Say ‘No’ to Georgia Power Building More Nuclear Plants

Imagine that you are the loan officer at the local community bank. A person sits in front of your desk who wants to borrow money. He’s a developer who builds expensive McMansions for high-end homebuyers.

You look at his credit history and discover that the first McMansion he built was so shoddily constructed that the bank foreclosed on it. The one he is currently building is so much over budget and so far behind schedule that it’s probably going to be foreclosed as well.

He tells you he is applying for a loan because he wants to build a third McMansion. If you have an ounce of common sense, you not only tell him, “No,” you tell him, “Hell, no.”  

Clearly, a person with that business history should not be given any more money. You’d have to be extremely dumb or overwhelmingly corrupt to approve a loan.

Or perhaps you’d be a member of the Public Service Commission. The PSC has been burned twice over the last 35 years by Georgia Power because it approved nuclear projects that cost the ratepayers billions and will cost them billions more.

When Georgia Power built its first two nuclear units at Plant Vogtle during the 1980s, those reactors were originally projected to cost $660 million. A tidal wave of cost overruns drove up the final tab to nearly $9 billion.

The utility is now building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The project is about $1.7 billion over budget and 39 months behind schedule.  

With that kind of construction management history, what is Georgia Power proposing to do? It wants to build a third nuclear facility, of course. The company submitted a plan to the PSC earlier this year that ncluded the possible construction of another nuclear plant on a 7,000-acre site along the Chattahoochee River in Stewart County.

Georgia Power said construction on the nuclear plant wouldn’t begin for another 10–15 years.  But the utility wants ratepayers to cough up $175 million right now to pay for site studies and an application for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license. The PSC held its first hearings last week on the proposed resource plan.  

In a rational world, the commissioners would have laughed Georgia Power’s attorneys right out of the hearing room for putting forth such a ludicrous idea. They would have told the utility to forget about launching a third nuclear project. They would have held a news conference to reassure Georgia Power’s customers they wouldn’t be burdened with higher monthly bills to pay for such a harebrained scheme. The PSC doesn’t operate rationally, however. Georgia Power will move ahead with preparatory work on the Stewart County nukes because the commissioners are congenitally unable to say no to the state’s most powerful utility.

It’s obvious that Georgia Power is incapable of building nuclear plants that are finished on time and under budget. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people—they are just not capable, for whatever reason, of successfully managing such a complex construction project. That has been amply demonstrated time and again.

This inability creates a larger problem: Georgia Power wants to pass along all the cost overruns to its customers in the form of higher monthly bills. If the PSC members were doing the job they’re elected to do, they would crack down on the utility and require its shareholders to eat part of those cost overruns. So far, they have not done this. Having botched two nuclear projects already, the PSC is about to let Georgia Power go down this expensive path for a third time. That reminds me of the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I’m an idiot.