What does new Vogtle agreement mean for partners and utility customers?

Local News

After several days of negotiations, the controversial Plant Vogtle nuclear project is moving forward after an announcement from all four of the Vogtle 3 & 4 co-owners.

Those partners are Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG and Dalton Utilities.  The owners said in a press statement they are “pleased to be moving forward with a project that’s critical to Georgia’s energy future.”

The owners also said there had been challenges but they remain committed to a constructive relationship with each other. The part about there “being challenges” in recent days may be an understatement.

By Monday, three partners had voted to proceed but Oglethorpe Power Company which owns a 30 percent share said it needed conditions because of escalating costs and it suggested a cost cap

That prompted a war of words between Oglethorpe and Georgia Power (the main partner with 45.7 percent). Georgia Power officials saying that in a revised agreement last year that all project partners had agreed to “assume the risk.”

Oglethorpe, however, said cost estimates for its share alone have risen about $3 billion.

By Wednesday afternoon, when a new agreement was announced, it appeared that Oglethorpe’s concerns had been heard.

A filing with the SEC said that Georgia Power would agree to increase its financial responsibilities (if costs continue to increase) and may pay up to an additional $100 million in construction costs. It also said if construction costs escalated to a certain dollar figure that the other smaller co-owners would even have a one time option of selling their share to Georgia Power.

It was unclear from the filing if there was an overall cost cap for the construction of both reactors.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols told News 3 earlier in the day before the agreement was announced that he still favored the Vogtle project for a number of reasons.

For one, he said it’s the first new reactor project being built in the U.S in 30 years and he wants the U.S. to have this technology as much as Russia or China. He also said billions have already been spent and he didn’t want Vogtle to be abandoned like a nuclear project in South Carolina was last year. 

“Believe me, our commissioners looked across the river into South Carolina and frankly, I know I concluded the only thing worse than going over budget on this plant was canceling this plant,” Echols said.

He also said that the construction of the reactors is providing up to 7,000 jobs in the Burke County area, which is a tremendous economic benefit.

Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said that Vogtle is not “a public works job program to be paid for by utility customers.”

She said ironically if the Vogtle reactors had been built on time, the reactors would have been in operation last year. “So these jobs are supposed to be over by now,” Barczak said.

Dr. Stephen Smith, the executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said:

“We’re very concerned about today’s announcement because it’s clear the Plant Vogtle nuclear project is in serious trouble if this much arm twisting is necessary to keep all four partners at the table. The project details are not fully understood, but Georgia’s ratepayers and energy consumers have every right to know exactly what’s happening with this project before the November elections. With so little transparency, consumers better hold onto their wallets because more costs are coming your way.

Barczak also pointed out that while the project is moving forward, a new partnership agreement doesn’t automatically halt objections especially from Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA.)

Last month, JEA which has promised to buy electricity generated by the Vogtle reactors raised official objections to a purchase agreement it made back in 2008, saying up to $2.5 billion dollars could be saved for its ratepayers (and one of the Vogtle partners) by just buying electricity elsewhere.  

Barczak was accurate about JEA.  Not long after the announcement about a new partners agreement was made public, JEA issued a statement of its own:

“JEA’s highest priorities are leadership to our community and stewardship of our customers’ interests. To that end, our board of directors and executive leadership have and will continue to act accordingly in the wake of the vote to continue moving forward with the Plant Vogtle expansion project. This decision saddles ratepayers with the burden of funding the project’s more than $30 billion price tag. There is no guarantee that this amount will not continue to increase, so JEA will continue to act in finding a resolution that protects the interest of ratepayers in Georgia, Alabama and northeast Florida first.”

Opponents say the cost of the new reactors could swell to $28 billion dollars and there’s no assurance a new time frame to have both reactors online by 2022 will be met.

Georgia Power has told us in recent months that the project schedule remains on that timeline and that project milestones have recently been met.

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