July 30--The Public Service Commission gave a thumbs-up Thursday for Georgia Power Co. to spend $99 million between now and the second quarter of 2019 doing site studies and other preparation for the state's third nuclear power plant.
That cost, as the Atlanta Business Chronicle noted in a Friday report, will of course be passed on to power consumers -- with interest, as financing and other costs push the total higher.
The commission's staff had recommended that the PSC not act on the new plant at all until 2019. But Commissioner Stan Wise argued that time is a factor due to federal pressure to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants and the costs of natural gas-powered plants.
Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald dissented on a couple of grounds. Carbon emissions aren't the only environmental issue involved, he noted; nuclear power plants also consume enormous amounts of water.
Which brings us to a more than slightly relevant detail: The proposed site for this plant is just below Columbus -- in Stewart County, on the Chattahoochee River. McDonald also pointed out that the same federal government pushing for lower carbon emissions still has no long-term plan for nuclear waste disposal.
He further noted, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report by business writer (and former Ledger-Enquirer reporter) Russell Grantham, that the still-unfinished nuclear Plant Vogtle near Augusta, also up-front funded by customers, is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
"If they are so sure about the prospects of another nuclear program," McDonald said, "... let their investors make the first investment. I don't see putting ratepayers' money at risk right now."
Georgia Power did not ultimately get everything it asked, and conceded more to environmental interest groups than it originally proposed. The utility had originally sought approval to spend up to $175 million in up-front costs recoverable from customers, a sum at which commissioners balked.
It had also, according to the AJC report, proposed adding 525 megawatts of solar and other renewable energy generating capacity over the next three years; under an agreement with the PSC, that total will more than triple, providing approximately enough energy from renewable sources to power about 264,000 homes.
It's interesting to remember that while these in-state negotiations between a powerful utility company and a state regulatory agency have been taking place -- negotiations that, as McDonald noted, could ultimately result in consumption of massive quantities of water -- other water talks are going on behind closed doors.
These are between the states of Georgia and Florida, and will end either in an agreement or in a courtroom.
It's inconceivable that Thursday's developments between Georgia Power and the Public Service Commission aren't now part of that discussion.
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