Georgia nuclear plant vote gets day in court, brought by folks asking for more days in court

By Maggie Lee

Several parties are watching for a document to come from the Fulton County Superior Court judge who’s deciding what future there may be in a court case over how state regulators acted when they voted to continue the life of a late, over-budget nuclear power plant expansion.

On the one side are plaintiffs who say there were faults with what went on last year, at the Georgia Public Service Commission, the panel of elected state officials who oversee Georgia Power.

Credit: Kelly Jordan

Electric meters in Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

And on the other side, an argument that all the rules were followed; and that it’s not the right time for the judge to review what went on anyway.

And in the middle, a judge who’s set to decide whether her court is the right place for the dispute, and whether plaintiffs will get a little more time to hunt for evidence.

By way of background: in December, the five members of the PSC unanimously voted to allow Georgia Power and partners to continue building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, below Augusta.  The PSC made the vote as part of a review that happens every six months.

Supporters of the expansion have long said a huge, carbon-free, always-on source of electricity is a good thing.

And its equally relentless critics say it’s not fair for Georgia homeowners to bankroll huge overruns that they blame on bad construction management. They’d rather see the burden on Georgia Power’s shareholders.

So far, it’s been both households and shareholders paying for it.

But back to arguments in the Fulton County Courthouse on Wednesday.  Kurt Ebersbach, representing two plaintiffs, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and the Partnership for Southern Equity, said that the review that ended in the December vote wasn’t the right process for a a big “go-don’t-go” decision. He told the judge that another, longer, more in-depth process should have been used.

“They shoehorned in other issues that don’t belong there,” at the semi-annual review, he said.

Former Governor Roy Barnes, representing plaintiff Georgia Watch, said something similar plus elaborated on another point: plaintiffs say Georgia Power personnel and PSC members were in communication inappropriately close to decision-time.

A decision worth to continue building, which could be costly to homeowners, Barnes said, was “being done behind closed doors.”

But an attorney representing Georgia Power, which intervened in the case, argued that a Fulton County courtroom isn’t the place to take an argument until the administrative decision-making is done.

“Finality is the key here,” said Tom Reilly of Troutman Sanders, representing the utility. And the December decision isn’t a final one, he said. It’s an ongoing process. And besides that, he said the process followed the rules. Daniel Walsh, representing the PSC, which is the defendant in the case, said there’s been no finding of violations of the rules with respect to PSC communications with Georgia Power.

The ruling from Judge Ellen LaGrua could come at any time.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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