Women. Power. Peace.

Emilia Kaiser: Is the PSC Listening?

I recently spoke in front of the Public Service Commission (PSC), for the first time in my life, in favor of implementing a "risk sharing mechanism" for the two new nuclear reactors that Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is trying to build at nuclear power plant Vogtle.

I felt very small standing there in front of the panel with their incredulous looks and their glazed over eyes. I know I am part of the public and it is the job of the PSC to listen to me, but were they listening? It feels doubtful. It seems like if anyone had been holding Georgia Power or the state accountable to the public, we wouldn’t even be having this meeting. The two new reactors at Vogtle would never have gotten this far.  The whole plan would have been scrapped when Wall Street refused to finance it without federal loan guarantees to ensure that taxpayers will pay them back if Georgia Power can’t. Which, by the way, is pretty likely- nuclear power plants have a 50% default rate on their loans according to a 2003 Congressional Budget Office analysis. But loan guarantees are not the subject of this rant.

When I first heard the term “risk sharing mechanism” (RSM), what came to mind was that it must be a terrible idea- a plot to make the rate payers share some of the financial risks of nuclear energy with Georgia Power. I was wrong. As it turns out, we the rate payers are already, somehow, saddled with the bills if Georgia power goes over their $6.1 billion budget on the two new reactors. The RSM being debated before the PSC  would change the policy so that Georgia Power is held accountable for their budget overruns. But don’t worry Georgia Power, even if this RSM is adopted your friends at the PSC were kind enough to build in a $300 million buffer before you even have to worry about your budget overruns cutting into your profit.

Unfortunately, another $300 million is still not enough for Georgia Power. They don’t want to have to be responsible for any budget overruns.  I think the folks at Georgia Power are perfectly aware that they cannot build those two reactors within the projected budget. Granted, they only went over budget to build the first two reactors by a measly 1,200%. But don’t take it from me, according to Georgia Power’s Ann Daiss, if they had known that they might actually need to stick to the budget to keep profits high, they never would have started to build the reactors. I almost choked on my tongue when I heard Ms. Daiss say, with a straight face, “as a member of the management team of the company, if this mechanism had been part of the original certification, we very likely would have not proceeded [with the project]."  As it turns out, Georgia Power would be building a natural gas plant instead.

Another thing that really bothered me is that the term “risk” was used in a painfully narrow way at this meeting. What they mean by "risk" is only the financial risk of going over budget on building the reactors- forget the human and environmental risks of nuclear power- it's already agreed that Georgia Power wouldn’t have to pay much for those types of risks. You might be thinking “that sounds crazy." Of course the nuclear power company would be held responsible if there were an accident or a leak, right?  Right?” Not really. The Price Anderson act of 1957 (extended in 2005) says that all nuclear power companies must pay into a fund to insure that liability costs are covered in the event of a nuclear emergency. However, the nuclear companies’ total liability is capped at around $12 billion. To put that in perspective, a 1992 study for the German government found that the costs of a high level nuclear disaster in Germany would be in the trillions of US dollars. The financial cost of the tragic Fukushima disaster has already climbed well above 12 billion dollars. That means that any excess costs of a disaster would have to be covered by you and me, the taxpayers.

Do you feel that that the PSC is representing your views? If not, you should let them know. Their job is to be accountable to you, but they can’t do that if they don’t hear your voice, however small, above the din of Georgia Power and Southern Company. The more that people speak up, the more the PSC is likely to hear us.

On that note, here is how to get in touch with the Georgia PSC (Bubba McDonald, Doug Everett, Bobby Baker, Stan Wise, and Chuck Eaton):

Georgia Public Service Commission

244 Washington Street, SW Atlanta GA, 30334-9052

Toll-free in Georgia (outside Metro Atlanta): (800) 282-5813

Metro Atlanta: (404) 656-4501

Fax:(404) 656-2341

 

Emilia Kaiser is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, where she earned a degree in Women's Studies. She is a Georgia WAND staff member.


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