Public service commissioner talks Vogtle, rate increases for customers

Tim Echols (WRDW-TV)
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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, March 14, 2013

WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WRDW) -- It was a big day Thursday at Plant Vogtle. After 48 hours straight of pouring concrete, the base of Reactor 3 is done. This comes just two weeks after the announcement that construction at the nuclear power plant is about a year behind schedule.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols says pouring the concrete shows about a 30 percent completion of the reactor, a big milestone for Vogtle. But the project is still behind schedule and that extra year could mean more money out of your pocket.

Plant Vogtle is a multi-billion dollar construction project, the biggest in the United States.

"That's great news for jobs and it's great news for cheap energy for Georgians and South Carolinians for the next 60 years," Echols said.

Building Reactors 3 and 4 is anything but cheap at more than $6.1 billion and growing.

"We certified the plant for a certain cost," Echols said. "We said, OK you can spend this amount of money on it. They are now coming and saying, look we're gonna need an additional $381 million."

Echols says part of that cost increase comes from a time delay. The reactors were originally expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017. That's now been pushed back one year to 2017 and 2018.

"When you're dealing with a building project, it's not unusual to have to have delays or have cost increases," he said. "Anybody who's ever built a house understands that."

If you are a Georgia Power customer you're already seeing a fee on every bill. The nuclear construction cost recovery fee is about 6 to 8 percent of your monthly bill that you'll continue to pay until the project is finished.

"The questions is: 'Is this still the best deal for our people?'" said Echols, and he says from what he's seen, the answer is yes. "Even with this cost increase, [it's] still $4 billion cheaper to operate this plant than the next best thing, which would be natural gas."

But they'll continue watching it closely.

"I speak for all five of the commissioners that we are on this," he said. "We are paying attention to this. It is our top priority, and we're going to be looking at these expenses and making sure that they are prudent."

After the project is completed, that fee on your bill won't go away. Instead, it will change. Right now, it's covering the financing and after construction is complete, it will cover those construction costs.

The additional costs still need to be approved by the Public Service Commission. In the next few months, they'll have three public hearings and hear testimony form Georgia Power executives, and then, this summer, they'll decide whether to approve it or not.