Dear Ge­or­gia Power: The an­swer of ratepay­ers is no

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - OPINION -

More than a decade ago, our good friends at Ge­or­gia Power pro­posed to build two new nu­clear re­ac­tors — the first on U.S. soil in a gen­er­a­tion — at its Vog­tle site out­side Au­gusta.

Ge­or­gia Power re­cruited the part­ners it needed from elec­tric co-ops and city util­i­ties around the state. It lob­bied its obe­di­ent ser­vants at the state Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion to rub­ber-stamp the project, which they did by a 4-1 vote. (All four “yes” men are still on the PSC today, still col­lect­ing their six-fig­ure salaries, their dura­bil­ity tes­ta­ment to the wis­dom of not cross­ing Ge­or­gia Power.)

The com­pany also hired the most pow­er­ful lob­by­ists in the state, then strong-armed a law through the Leg­is­la­ture that forced con­sumers to start pay­ing for the nuke projects im­me­di­ately, long be­fore they pro­duced any power. It chose the de­sign; it hired the con­trac­tors. It also as­sured ev­ery­one that the prob­lems that had long dogged nu­clear power — the safety con­cerns, the mas­sive cost-over­runs and con­struc­tion de­lays — had been re­solved, and that the units would be up and pro­duc­ing power by 2017 just as sched­uled.

They didn’t. They were wrong, spec­tac­u­larly wrong, and their crit­ics have been proved right. Un­der the orig­i­nal sched­ule, both new nu­clear units should have been pro­duc­ing power by now. In­stead, they are less than half built. The cost over­runs have been enor­mous, ba­si­cally dou­bling in cost even if noth­ing fur­ther goes wrong. And what is the price to be paid for such fail­ure?

For Ge­or­gia Power, the price is none. No price, and to hear Ge­or­gia Power tell it, no fail­ure. In a meet­ing last week with jour­nal­ists from The At­lanta Journal-Constitution, Ge­or­gia Power CEO Paul Bow­ers was asked whether the com­pany de­served any blame for this fi­nan­cial catas­tro­phe.

“The an­swer to that ques­tion is no,” Bow­ers said.

No? The an­swer to that ques­tion is no?

As long as they main­tain that ab­surd po­si­tion, Bow­ers and other Ge­or­gia Power of­fi­cials un­der­stand that their com­pany and its share­hold­ers will pay no fi­nan­cial penalty for its role in botch­ing this project. You and I will pay — have been pay­ing al­ready — through our power bills. The com­pany that em­ploys you will pay, the busi­nesses where you shop will pay — we’ll all be pay­ing bil­lions of dol­lars. Not Ge­or­gia Power.

Be­cause as Bow­ers says, they’ve done noth­ing wrong. They’re not re­spon­si­ble. Things just ... hap­pened.

The same four PSC com­mis­sion­ers who ap­proved the Vog­tle ex­pan­sion back in 2009 are now sit­ting in judg­ment not just of Ge­or­gia Power, but of their own com­plic­ity in this. They can choose to press ahead, com­mit­ting sev­eral bil­lion dol­lars more of your money to prove that they were right back in 2009; they can also choose to aban­don the project and by do­ing so ad­mit their own er­ror.

Guess which way they’re lean­ing?

But is Ge­or­gia Power so con­fi­dent that it is will­ing to put its own share­holder money at risk if these new as­sur­ances prove no more valid than those it of­fered al­most a decade ago?

To bor­row a phrase from the com­pany’s CEO, the an­swer to that ques­tion is no.

So should the PSC com­mit ratepay­ers to that deal, know­ing the track record, with­out re­quir­ing any skin in the game from Ge­or­gia Power?

“The an­swer to that ques­tion is no.”

Jay Book­man He writes for The At­lanta Journal-Constitution.

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