ATLANTA -- Georgia’s nuclear Plant Vogtle faces a showdown next week. The troubled plant has doubled in cost over the last decade. New cost overruns have sent one utility into open revolt, and Georgia lawmakers are also making demands.
Although Georgia Power is the big driver behind the construction of units three and four at Plant Vogtle, other utilities are helping to foot the bill. And one of them, Jacksonville Florida-based JEA is saying 'enough already.'
"We believe, as a company, that the project has grossly been mismanaged and should be stopped immediately," said JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, in an exclusive interview with 11Alive News.
JEA has purchased billboards around metro Atlanta describing Vogtle as a “$30 billion mistake.” One billion of that has already come from Jacksonville area ratepayers.
"You have to know when to say when. And the sunk costs argument isn’t a very good argument. Saying just because we’ve come this far, we should continue to spend more money after a bad project?" Zahn asked. "Just because you can afford to buy something doesn’t mean you should buy something." Zahn says the utility has already procured cheaper solar power that would negate JEA's power loss from the Vogtle project and be cheaper to use than nuclear power.
But Georgia Power and state government officials have backed the project for ten years as a way to ensure the state’s future electrical power. In 2008 Vogtle was a 14 billion dollar project, due to finish in 2013. By September of last year it was up to $27 billion. Now Zahn says it’s climbing beyond $31 billion.
This week 20 members of the legislature signed a letter asking the utilities building Vogtle to establish “a cost cap… that protects all Georgia electric ratepayers from this and future overruns.”
At the same time, Gov. Nathan Deal sent a letter to Georgia Power asking the utilities “to follow through on the commitments you made, to complete construction of Plant Vogtle units 3 & 4.” Georgia Power says the construction project has employed more than 7,000 workers on the Burke County site.
The erosion of Vogtle's powerful support is noteworthy to the projects longtime critics like Colleen Kiernan of the League of Conservation Voters. "Now you see some political pressure coming in to support the (electrical) co-ops and the city utilities (which have helped fund Vogtle), and that’s something new in this project," Kiernan said.
The question appears to be whether Georgia Power shareholders will start absorbing the new cost overruns at Plant Vogtle, rather than utility ratepayers. If Georgia Power decides to do that, it could ward off the revolt JEA is leading. If not – Vogtle could get scuttled as early as next week.