Nuclear Finance Bill Sails through House Panel|
Georgia Online News Service
In an 11-1 vote with one abstention, a Georgia House subcommittee has endorsed the controversial Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act, meaning the bill could come before the whole House as early as Tuesday.
After nearly four hours of public comment spread over two days, the House Regulatory and Utility Affairs Subcommittee immediately recommended the legislation which allows Georgia Power to start collecting in 2011 for two nuclear reactors that won't be built for five or six years. There were no proposed amendments.
Rep. Martin Scott (R-Rossville) voted in favor of the bill.
"I cannot imagine how anyone sitting in this room would want to punish future generations of this state by asking them to pay $300 million dollars up front in additional cost for this clean source of energy," he said.
Georgia Power figures contend that collecting early to finance construction will eventually save ratepayers $300 million over the 60-year life of the plants.
"I think it's motivated not necessarily by real policy concerns but by an anti-nuclear stance," Scott said.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), Secretary of the Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee, also voted for the measure, arguing that all businesses must raise their prices when they expand.
"Any business out there, say Home Depot, when they go to build a new store, it is their 'ratepayers' that are paying for that through the subtle price increase they have," he said.
"Ratepayers" are Georgia Power's smaller customers, mostly households and small businesses.
Rep. Randal Mangham (D-Decatur) cast the sole dissenting vote, comparing nuclear power to another decades-old technology.
"It's like we're selling an 8-track player in 2009. We're not looking at the technological options available to us," Mangham explains.
Rep. Earnest "Coach" Williams (D-Avondale Estates) abstained from the vote, explaining he'll hold his opinion "until the PSC makes its decision on Mar. 17."
On that day, the Public Service Commission is expected to announce whether it will approve construction of the two reactors at all, and if they will allow Georgia Power's proposal (nearly identical to the bill) to pre-collect to finance construction costs. Georgia Power needs approval of only one, either the legislature or the PSC.
Senate Bill 31 is ostensibly about a financing plan to expand Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle by two more nuclear reactors. Under the bill, the surcharge would pay the interest on the financing Georgia Power is securing to construct the reactors near Augusta. The average household bill would rise $1.30 per month in 2011, growing to $9.10 a month by 2017, according to the utility's numbers.
But the House public comments ranged to the overall future of nuclear in Georgia. In part because Georgia Power has said nuclear is "off the table" for Georgia after the Vogtle expansion unless they can be guaranteed upfront capital from ratepayers. But also in part because some bill opponents don't want to see the legislature give a de facto endorsement to nuclear power.
Veteran anti-nuclear, peace and health activist Bobbie Paul told the subcommittee that Georgia Power is improperly going over the head of its regulator for ratepayers, the Public Service Commission.
"I think it's mind boggling that now this kind of trump card is being played to set a new policy," Paul said.
Atlanta resident Julie Symonds remembers the cost overruns with the first two reactors at Plant Vogtle. She's not sure she'd put her money in two more.
"Its an investment in something we don't have a choice about. …I don't personally want to be investing money in something as risky as nuclear power," she testified.
The bill next appears before the subcommittee's parent, the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee. That hearing is scheduled for Monday.
The Senate passed the bill last week.
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.
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]