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Georgia Nonprofits Petition to Reverse Nuke Plant Expansion Decision

Two nonprofits filed an petition Monday in an effort to strike down a Georgia Public Service Commission decision to allow the continued expansion of Georgia's Vogtle nuclear power.

ATLANTA (CN) — Two nonprofits filed an petition Monday in an effort to strike down a Georgia Public Service Commission decision to allow the continued expansion of Georgia's Vogtle nuclear power.

In a complaint filed in the Fulton County Superior Court, the nonprofit Georgia Interfath Power & Light and the Partnership for Southern Equity claim the commission violated its own rules and state law in allowing Georgia Power to continue its $25 billion nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle.

The commission voted on December 21, 2017, to continue the project despite a  five-year delay and an almost-doubled budget.

The expansion is now scheduled for completion in November 2022. Plant Vogtle is the only nuclear plant currently under construction in the United States.

According to the petition filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by Kurt Ebersbach of the Southern Environmental Law Center,  the public service commission waived its own rules to shorten its review period by 47 days. The nonprofits allege that the commission held just seven days of hearings before issuing its decision and failed to "allow for careful consideration of the evidence in the record."

The petition also states that the commission waived its ex parte rule, allowing Georgia Power to communicate with commissioners behind closed doors without notifying other parties to allow responses to those communications.

In a statement, Ebersbach said "the commissioners rushed a decision concerning the single most expensive capital project in state history, giving Georgia Power everything it asked for and sticking customers with all the risk."

"Unless corrected, this error will have grave implications for Georgians for decades to come. It rewards failure," he addded.

Tim Echols, vice chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, refused to comment on the allegations. "With it now in the courts and the attorney general representing us, I will not be commenting," he told Courthouse News.

The organizations allege that the decision "ensures Georgia Power Company billions in additional profit while saddling ratepayers with billions in additional expense" and places the interests of Georgia Power shareholders ahead of the interests of its customers.

According to the petition, the commission granted Georgia Power approval in 2009 to construct two new nuclear units at its existing 3,200 acre Plant Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Georgia. The project budget was originally certified for $6.1 billion.

Following a bankruptcy by Westinghouse, Georgia Power's lead contractor for the expansion, in March 2017,  the company filed a proposal for approval of a revised project cost of $12.17 billion.

According to the petition, the commission's final decision was entered on January 12, 2018 and approved a revised project cost of over $10 billion, a 75 percent increase over the original cost.

The nonprofits claim that Georgia Power customers will continue to unfairly shoulder some of the cost.

The petition states that Georgia Power has "collected costs associated with constructing the new Vogtle units from customers as a line-item on their electric bills" since 2011. The nonprofits allege that none of that money goes toward paying down the capital cost of project construction.

"At this point, Georgia Power has received over $2 billion from the tax charged to each customer's bill - whether that customer is an individual millionaire, a church, a school, a small business or a single mom working two jobs to keep the lights on. We all have added profits to the power company's bottom line in paying that tax every month for the last five years," Reverend Kate Mosley, executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, told Courthouse News.

"This is why we won't be deterred and now we're holding the [commission] accountable for their actions that are right now in service to Georgia Power rather than hard-working Georgia citizens," Mosley said.

According to the petition, the commission's decision will allow Georgia Power to continue collecting profits from fees associated with the plant's construction.

"Georgia Power stands to reap more than $5 billion in added profit from the project delays," the petition states.

However, Georgia Power argues that the environmental and economic value of the plant outweighs its up-front cost.

"The decision to complete [the Vogtle expansion] is important for Georgia's energy future and the United States," Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power said in a statement. "The Georgia Public Service Commission has shown leadership in making this complex and difficult decision and recognized that the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come."

Dr. David Gattie, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Georgia specializing in energy policy, affirmed Plant Vogtle's importance, telling Courthouse News that the plant could even be tied to the United States' status as a global energy leader.

"The [commission's] decision on Vogtle was a long-term policy decision that accounts for the non-monetized benefits of nuclear power. These reactors will enhance Georgia’s energy diversity and provide the state with a zero-carbon hedge against future carbon-constraining energy policies that are likely to impact fossil fuel consumption," Gattie explained.

"Moreover, U.S. national security is linked to a vibrant nuclear power sector. Currently, the United States is losing ground to countries such as China where nuclear power construction is expanding," Gattie continued. "For the sake of national security, it’s critical for America to reinvigorate its nuclear power sector. The Vogtle reactors represent the opportunity to do just that."

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