Georgia Power Ties Nuclear Option to SB 31; Others Consider Alternatives|
Georgia Online News Service
Georgia Power Ties Nuclear Option to SB 31; Others Consider Alternatives
Georgia Power will build two new nuclear plants near Augusta. That much is very nearly settled. But now the company says unless it gets the financing scheme it wants from either the legislature or the Public Service Commission, it will pretty much stop at two. The utility's bold language essentially escalates the debate on Senate Bill 31 from a question of finance to a vote on Georgia's nuclear option.
If the bill doesn't pass, "you run the risk of pulling nuclear as a viable option off the table as a future option for Georgia," said Oscar Harper, Georgia Power vice president of nuclear development, at the House Regulatory and Utility Affairs Subcommittee of the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee's hearing on Wednesday.
The next morning, a Georgia Power spokeswoman, well-drilled on SB 31 talking points, didn't know that failure could mean no more nukes.
Her check with comptroller Ann Daiss confirmed it.
"Nuclear probably would be off the table if we can't recover costs during construction," said spokeswoman Lynn Wallace.
Recovering costs during construction – which has never been allowed for the utility – means Georgia Power would tack a surcharge onto household and small business electric bills starting in 2011 for plants that will come online only five or six years later.
The fees are expected to start at $1.30 per month in 2011 for an average family, rising to $9.10 in 2017. Georgia Power has always been able to recoup power plant construction and financing costs, but only after plants come online. That way, only people who use a plant foot the bill for it. SB 31 would allow Georgia Power to add the surcharge without approval of the body that sets its rates for homes and small businesses, the PSC.
Rep. Hardie Davis (D-Gracewood), a member of the Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee, says he is positive on nuclear power for providing abundant, safe, relatively clean electricity.
He emphasizes that the PSC will stay in the conversation about energy sources and power bills, but that the General Assembly itself needs to set overall policy.
"I think that we as a General Assembly have a unique opportunity to be part of that conversation to make sure that we're facilitating business in the state of Georgia."
And for SB 31 itself, "I think it's a bill that has merit," says Davis, who represents much of Burke County, where the two proposed nukes would be located.
Rep. Billy Horne (R-Newnan) has no doubts about the bill or future of Georgia's nuclear option.
"I think it's a pretty good bill. I think there's no question that it's a bill that over the long term is going to save ratepayers money," he says. "Ratepayers" are Georgia Power's smaller customers, mostly households and small businesses.
Horne rebuts critics who say the bill is an "end-run" around the PSC by Georgia Power.
"I think what's happening is that if Georgia Power decides to build reactors in the future, they want to make sure there's the same treatment," says the Regulatory and Utility Affairs Subcommittee vice chairman.
"The PSC, the makeup of it changes or can change every six years. Future versions of the PSC may be different than it is now."
Right now, the five elected PSC commissioners are all Republicans.
"As far as I'm concerned, there is no more argument about the nuclear in Georgia. My constituents are in favor of it and it should definitely be part of the energy mix," says Horne.
At the first House committee hearing, however, a few people showed up not so much to question nuclear power, but to say that they'd like to see a greener energy agenda in the legislature.
Peter Corbett emphasizes that he has a personal interest in Georgia's energy mix. The commercial developer is now also in the business of selling solar panels.
He says Georgia's geography is suitable for solar power and even wind – the Midwest is better, but if high-latitude Germany can get so much of energy from renewables, why not Georgia?
German government figures show about 14.2 percent of its electricity came from renewables in 2007.
"When I read about how the power company, rightfully or wrongfully, is asking for prepaid interest on a nuclear power plant, we're spending time in the state to figure that out, it confuses me why we can't spend the same energy on doing renewables in our country, specifically in our region," says Corbett.
"Can we still please be the leaders that we are in Georgia?," he asks.
John Sibley, a program director with the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, urged the Committee to advocate simple conservation measures at home.
Pricey nuclear plants are a reality Sibley said, but added that his organization "wants to help ratepayers [Georgia Power Customers] manage their costs."
The bill only affects Georgia Power customers. 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.
A second round of Committee hearings are scheduled on Friday.
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]