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Should SC have canceled Plant Summer? Yes, and Ga. should have canceled, too By Patty Durand 17 My 23

In a recent Post and Courier opinion piece, author Kevin Fisher quoted an Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline, “Georgia Power began splitting atoms on Monday at one of its two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle.” In his piece, he expressed regret that SCANA and Santee Cooper botched and then abandoned Plant Summer, costing ratepayers about $9 billion while getting nothing in return.

It might seem logical to think that spending $9 billion for something you did not receive meant the decision to stop was wrong, but in the case of Plant Summer, it was absolutely the right decision. Rather than taking up space here, please type “sunk cost fallacy” into any search engine after you read this article.

People who wish South Carolina had not canceled Plant Summer must not realize how much trouble Georgians are in over the cost of Plant Vogtle. Now approaching $40 billion, it is the most expensive power plant ever built on earth.

As Georgia Power continues to rack up billions of dollars of cost overruns for Plant Vogtle, botched is hardly a strong enough word to describe this project. According to documents filed at the Georgia Public Service Commission prepared by independent construction monitors, issues plaguing the project include unachievable schedules, a culture of poor work inspections, failure to document progress, violation of IEEE standards and component failure rates of 80 percent. Failure to adopt lessons learned has also been a bedrock theme.

Although Georgia officials like to say zero carbon energy is a benefit of Plant Vogtle, let’s be clear: reduced carbon emissions were not why this plant was built. Georgia has no renewable energy goals and last July the Ga PSC authorized 2300 MW of new natural gas generation. Georgia doesn’t even track carbon emissions.

This plant happened because Georgia Power’s business model rewards capital investment, a perverse incentive that results in overbuilding and delivers rich profits. Georgia Power has already earned billions of dollars in early profits just for construction financing costs from riders on electricity bills. Once both reactors begin operating Georgia Power bills are expected to increase a shocking 20 percent for 60 years to pay for it.

For a state already in the top 10 for high power bills and energy poverty, these increases will be more than many people can bear.

Since South Carolina has half the population of Georgia, state officials knew that billions of dollars of cost overruns for Plant Summer would have been divided over a small number of customers and electricity rate increases would have been unbearable. That is why officials wisely canceled Plant Summer.

And look at what South Carolina has accomplished since Plant Summer was canceled: The 2014 landmark energy bill known as the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) program has flourished in ways it would not have with the heavy costs and distractions of building a nuclear power plant which crowds out other investments.

In 2023 South Carolina is a top 10 state for affordable electric bills and is ranked 13th nationally for rooftop solar. Georgia is the opposite: we are a top 10 state for most expensive electric bills and in 43rd place for rooftop solar — practically last. Rooftop solar is too expensive for almost everyone since Georgia officials do nothing to support it, so customers are forced to pay big electricity bills profiting Georgia Power. Once construction costs are added to the rates Georgia Power bills will become the highest in the nation because of Plant Vogtle. This is the fate South Carolina avoided by cancelling Plant Summer.

South Carolina officials who made the tough call to cancel Plant Summer in 2017 should be thanked for that decision. Utility officials who lied about Plant Summer’s progress were held accountable, while utility officials in Georgia similarly providing false schedule updates and cost estimates have had no accountability.

And by the way? The “splitting of atoms” at Plant Vogtle’s Unit 3 that began April 1 is no longer occurring. This unit shut down May 5, for the second time in the past month, for safety failures. Cost overruns continue.

Patty Durand is founder of Cool Planet Solutions and is a candidate for the Georgia Public Service Commission.


May 18, 2023 - Posted by | business and costs, USA

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