Plant Vogtle milestone: A rate hike request related to pending start of reactor
By David Pendered
A new chapter in the saga of Plant Vogtle has commenced. The issue is whether Georgia Power customers will or won’t pay an extra $235 million a year in capital costs to build the nuclear plant, or if the rate hike request will be delayed.
Georgia Power presents its case as open and shut. The conclusion of the company’s rate hike request, submitted to the state’s utility regulator, the Georgia Public Service Commission, states:
- “The Company’s requests are reasonable and consistent with the Commission’s [previous orders]. As such, the Commission should approve Georgia Power’s plan for the Unit 3 and Common Costs rate adjustment as presented herein.”
If the PSC isn’t inclined to grant the request, Georgia Power asks that the matter be deferred for future consideration. If approved, a rate hike is to take effect the month after Unit 3 begins commercial operation. Unit 4 is to open a few months after Unit 3.
This situation directly affects customers, which differentiates it from typical reports on Vogtle’s cost overruns and delays. Those stories seem endless and have provided hand-wringing humor.
The most recent example comes from testimony dated June 7. An independent monitor reported the two new nuclear reactors won’t come online until mid 2022, at the earliest, because of “poor productivity and production” in the construction process.
Viewed from a certain perspective, the rate hike request marks a milestone in the nation’s bipartisan effort to develop nuclear power as an alternative to fossil-free energy: The start of power generation is poised to begin at the nation’s only nuclear power plant being built. To reach this point, both the Obama and Trump administrations provided financial backing.
The Obama administration in 2010 provided $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees. The Trump administration added $3.7 billion in federal loan guarantees, bringing the federal support to $12 billion. Then Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Plant Vogtle in 2019 to announce the additional funding.
Hurdles crossed during the project include the 2017 filing for bankruptcy protection by Westinghouse, which devised the generators. Toshiba Corp., Westinghouse’s majority owner at the time, reported $6.1 billion in losses related to the two plants.
The rate hike request pending before the Georgia Public Service Commission outlines Georgia Power’s rationale for raising base rates for electricity. Rates are to be expanded across all sectors of users – residential, commercial and industrial, according to the request.
The following snapshot of the division of costs is extracted from the document and speaks to the complexity of funding the two nuclear generators, Unit 3 and Unit 4. Only Unit 3 is addressed in this rate hike request:
- The request begins by stating Georgia Power seeks to recover $2.38 billion in costs for Unit 3 and common costs already approved by the PSC;
- To collect this sum, Georgia Power seeks to raise base rates by $369.058 million a year, starting the month after Unit 3 begins commercial operation;
- However, the cost to consumers will be lower than the $369 million – and is to be $235 million a year. This is because the sum is to be partially offset by two other pots of money – a decrease of about $134 million in the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery tariff that now appears on bills, plus about $44 million in fuel cost savings that were incorporated into rates effective in June 2020.
The PSC’s calendar for deliberating the rate hike request is spelled out in scheduling order issued May 20. Key dates include:
- June 15 – Georgia Power shall file its application to adjust rates, which it did;
- July 21 – Georgia Power shall file documents supporting its rate hike request;
- Sept. 9 – PSC staffers assigned to represent the public interest, and authorized public entities, shall file their views of the rate hike request;
- Sept. 30 – Georgia Power’s rebuttal testimony is due, if any is to be submitted;
- Oct. 14-15 – The PSC is to hear oral testimony from Georgia Power, PIA staffers, and interveners;
- Oct. 21 – Deadline for briefs and proposed orders from all parties;
- Oct. 28 – The PSC is to hear the recommendation from the Commissioner Advisory Staff and any response to the recommendation;
- Nov. 2 – The PSC is to issue its decision.