Opinion Columns & Blogs

You’re paying for Plant Vogtle, even though you’re years away from benefiting from it

This June 13, 2014, file photo, shows construction on a new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro.
This June 13, 2014, file photo, shows construction on a new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro. AP

Georgia Power is trying to build new nuclear units at its Plant Vogtle outside of Augusta, and it hasn’t been going well. What does this have to do with your monthly power bill? A lot, as it turns out.

You’re forgiven if you haven’t been following every twist and turn in this decade-old saga. Here’s what you need to know: Vogtle is a joint project of Georgia Power and most of Georgia’s municipal utilities and electric cooperatives. So, if you’re an electricity customer in Georgia, this project likely affects you. The project is years behind schedule and over-budget by a whopping $13 billion. Recently, the owners voted to continue despite billions in recent overruns, a likelihood of similar increases ahead and no overall cap on costs.

Georgia Power is profiting tremendously from this sad state of affairs and you, the customer, are paying those profits. If you’re a Georgia Power customer, you began seeing a surcharge on your power bill in 2011 to build these nuclear units, even though you were not getting electric service from them. Georgia Power customers have already paid more than $2.3 billion for the units even though they won’t produce electricity until 2022, if even then. Half of that – more than a billion dollars – has been straight profit to Georgia Power.

In fact, by being over-budget and behind schedule, Georgia Power stands in the end to make more than $5 billion in extra profit. Have you ever heard of a business that makes money by being late and over budget? Or one that profits in the billions for not delivering a product or service?

Back in 2009, Georgia Power convinced legislators that this would be a wise investment that lowered bills. It hasn’t. Today, Georgia Power still claims the plants will ultimately lower energy costs. They won’t. Even if the construction is ever completed, the costs would be higher than other energy alternatives.

The reality is that Georgians, including millions who aren’t even Georgia Power customers, will pay higher electric bills for decades because of this budget-busting boondoggle. And Georgia Power will reap billions in extra profit. Georgians already pay some of the highest electric bills in the nation, so the idea that we’re being forced to pay more so the utility can continue profiting is outrageous.

If you’re counting on your Public Service Commission to protect your wallets, don’t. All five of these elected officials vigorously support the project, and to date, have rejected numerous opportunities to force shareholders to absorb the billions in cost overruns.

Which makes the Georgia Legislature the consumers’ last, best hope. Several lawmakers are now on record as supporting a cost cap. They should carry that message into next year’s session. We need legislation that shifts the risk of this ongoing disaster back where it should be – on Georgia Power shareholders who’ve profited so handsomely at customers’ expense.

Clark Howard is a consumer advocate and nationally syndicated radio host based in Atlanta.

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