Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Senate OKs Georgia Power Nuke Financing Plan
by Maggie Lee
Georgia Online News Service

ATLANTA By a 2-1 margin, the state Senate has passed a controversial bill that would allow Georgia Power to start raising residential customers' power bills in 2011 for two nuclear reactors that won't come online until 2016 or later.

Senate Bill 31 allows Georgia Power to tack a fee on so-called "ratepayers" generally households and small businesses, not industrial customers to finance the construction of two new nuclear power plants near Augusta. The fees are expected to start at $1.30 per month in 2011 for an average family, rising to $9.10 in 2017. The bill is controversial in part because the elected Public Service Commission vets rate hikes on Georgia Power ratepayers. But this time, Georgia Power is appealing to the legislature in an effort to detour around the PSC.

The vote was 38-16.

The opposition on the Senate floor focused on two questions:

  • First, whether the bill is a sweetheart deal for big business.
  • Second, if legislators are competent enough at the intricacies of nuclear plant finance to intelligently consider such a bill.

Bill sponsor Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) contends that Georgia Power customers will absorb the bill for the new plants as they always do and that the normal breakdown does exempt some big industrial customers.

According to Georgia Power figures, some 14 percent of its energy revenue is exempt from the 2011 rate hike meaning that some customers won't pay it. The Public Service Commission estimates that a much higher percentage of customers, mostly large industries, will escape paying the hike. The PSC analysis of the bill finds the figure is more like 37.7 percent.

But Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon) says the evidence of a sweet deal for big business is in the Capitol hallways.

"The Gucci shoes, they would be out in the hall," Brown said, referring to the absence of well-heeled business lobbyists. "You don't see a single one of 'em out here. Not one! They got a deal. They got carved out."

Other Democrats like Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) and Lester G. Jackson (D-Savannah) joined Brown in questioning the fairness of the deal for ratepayers versus industrial customers.

Sen. David Adelman argued that the PSC alone, with its elected leaders and specialist staff, have the knowledge to preserve the "regulatory compact" which balances the needs and rights of ratepayers against Georgia Power's profit-seeking shareholders and the company's unique role as a monopoly provider of an essential service.

Balfour said there are cost savings in the plan that legislators ought to deliver to their constituents. Financing some of the construction with ratepayers' dollars could shave $300 million off the project, according to Georgia Power figures. The paying starts earlier according to the figures, but eventually costs less over the life of the plants.

However, as the Senate approves SB 31, the PSC is considering almost exactly the same proposal from Georgia Power. The utility argues that it must be fully "confident" in full funding. While the approach to the legislature is seen by some critics as an "end run" around the PSC, a law rather than a PSC ruling could also save the all-Republican PSC Commissioners from having to do some explaining when ratepayers start seeing the hike.

Georgia Power is allowed to recoup plant construction and finance costs from ratepayers only after the plants come online, according to precedents governed by the PSC. That way, only people who actually use the plant pay for it.

The bill only affects Georgia Power ratepayers. The state's electric membership cooperatives and municipally owned utilities' domestic customers are not regulated by the PSC and may start billing for their portion of costs on the two nuclear plants at any time.

The bill has not yet been considered by the House; there is no timeframe yet for House action.

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.   [full bio]

Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. The big news today is that the Georgia Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that will allow Georgia Power to hike consumers' rates in 2011 -- for nuke plants that won't come on line until years later. Maggie Lee, one of the Georgia Online News Service reporters covering the General Assembly, has the full story today.

Also, one of the perennial hot topics in Georgia is school funding. How much is enough? Is money wasted? Will more school funding result in better educated kids and higher graduation rates. No one is likely to find the answer, but in today's Soapbox, Ben Scafidi, director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University, stimulates the debate with research that shows the per-student increases in education spending haven't pushed up the graduation rates.

Finally, in my column, I am fascinated by two legislators who were shocked -- shocked! -- to find out that professors at state universities are experts on subjects such as oral sex and male prostitution. I've been a college professor, and I've long reported on what happens when politicians collide with professors. The result is bad public policy and threats to academic freedom. In the current brouhaha, the legislators apparently thought the professors were teaching "how to" courses. That shows very bad study habits by the politicians. The professors were actually researching some very important subjects on issues such as HIV/AIDS.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. GONSO is an enterprise founded and staffed by more than two dozen leading journalists and media executives in Georgia. We're providing content free -- for a limited period. Newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers and websites are welcome to use our articles -- please credit the writers and the Georgia Online News Service.

Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at You can also call us at 800-891-3459.

Today's GONSO

Senate OKs Georgia Power Nuke Financing Plan

by Maggie Lee
By a 2-1 margin, the state Senate has passed a controversial bill that would allow Georgia Power to start raising residential customers' power bills in 2011 for two nuclear reactors that won't come online until 2016 or later.
Full Story

What do we call two legislators who have started a witch-hunt in academia? Dumb and Dumber

by John Sugg
Anytime politicians get mixed up in academic affairs, disaster lurks. Such is the case with two Republican state representatives, Charlice Byrd of Woodstock and Calvin Hill of Canton, who have launched a jihad against Georgia universities that would make Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger proud.
Full Story


Per-student school funding soars as graduation rates fall

by Ben Scafidi
A new, 25-year analysis of education spending in Georgia shows something that many have suspected for a long time. Investing more taxpayer funds in education does not produce greater student achievement.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Governor Perdue: Deliver us from the land of nuclear make believe
by Lyle Harris
Legislature Takes Time Sizing up Federal Funds
by Maggie Lee
Recipe for preventing a disaster
by Susan Puckett

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