Customers Of A Beleaguered Nuclear Plant Project Want Out Of The Deal


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter

Two over-budget and long delayed nuclear reactors under construction have critics and future customers scrambling to get out of the project.

Owners of the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant — a two-unit nuclear plant in Burke County, Georgia — did not anticipate the rough road ahead when it decided to build an additional two reactors. When construction began in 2009, units 3 and 4 were expected to be completed by 2016 and 2017, respectively, and cost $7.3 billion. However, the units are now anticipated to be completed by 2021 and 2022, and cost a jaw-dropping $27 billion.

The construction setbacks and cost explosion have some parties involved itching to walk away.

“Exorbitant cost overruns and continued delays, all of which are being shouldered by ratepayers across the Southeast, suggest that the Plant Vogtle expansion project is no longer just and reasonable, let alone consistent with prudent utility practices,” stated Jacksonville Electric Authority Interim Managing Director Aaron Zahn.

The Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) — an electric utility company based in Florida — signed an agreement in 2008 to purchase energy from Vogtle’s new two reactors once they were operational. With the project vastly more expensive than originally planned, JEA is now mounting a campaign to get out of the deal. (RELATED: America’s Oldest Running Nuclear Power Plant Is About To Shut Down)

The utility is arguing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has jurisdiction over the contract and has asked them to step in. JEA is also petitioning a county court to find the agreement unenforceable because the local city council never approved it.

Furthermore, JEA has initiated a campaign against Vogtle, paying for ads in Georgia newspapers that described the nuclear plant as “a mistake that will cost you and your children for years to come.”

The fate of Vogtle could be determined Monday, when the plant’s owners are to decide on whether to move forward. Three companies have major stakes in the nuclear facility: Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) owns 22.7 percent and Oglethorpe Power owns about 30 percent.

Georgia Power, for its part, has stood by plans to continue to building the reactors, stating it “has voted to move forward, and we hope the co-owners will also vote in favor to fulfill their obligation.” The major Georgia energy company has also agreed to absorb $1.1 billion of the new price increases, helping shield utility customers from the extra costs.

It is not immediately clear where MEAG or Oglethorpe stand.

A bipartisan group of Georgia legislators have called on owners to protect customers by establishing a cap on costs.

“Please ensure prior to voting in support of moving forward as required by the amended co-owners agreement that a cost cap is established that protects all Georgia electric ratepayers from this and future overruns, reads a portion of the letter, signed by top lawmakers in Georgia’s legislature.

Outgoing Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has continued to express his support for the project, touting the plant’s economic benefits and saying that walking away now would be “breaking our promise.”

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