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King: Opinions shouldn’t deter facts

POSTED: August 27, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Opinions — we all have them. I wish I could find some acceptable way to repeat the standard joke about opinions, but this is a respectable family paper. If you don’t know what I am talking about, ask a friend.

This is the Opinion page, and the Times does not censor its readers’ opinions as long as they are not lewd or libelous. The Times prints them all, and the page is one of the most popular parts of the paper. But please remember, saying doesn’t make it so. In other words, don’t confuse opinion with fact.

Sure, I have opinions just like everyone else. That’s why I write regular columns for the Times. But I believe opinions should be based on something more than hearsay or conventional wisdom. Facts are important.

I read editorials. I read letters to the editor. I read other columnists, and ­­I always learn something. But then I have to ask myself: Is the writer giving me factual information I can use, or showing me something else? Are they showing me their hidden fears and frustrations, their cultural bias, their party loyalties? These emotional factors are important, too, but they aren’t factual.

How does one judge? If the writer makes an assertion of some kind, I want to know why he or she made it. What’s real and what isn’t? Where did the material come from? Is it credible? Can I check for myself?

When the writer can’t back up his opinion with facts, I know I’m dealing with emotional bias and little else. Every statement does not have to be rational in a material sense, but it must make sense in a rational manner. In other words, a strong emotional bias is fine, but it’s still bias, not fact.

When I write about nuclear issues, I admit my emotional bias. Nuclear power is too costly and too dangerous to answer the world’s energy problems — that is my opinion. When I write about the Southern Co.’s plan to construct two new reactors at Plant Vogtle, I am using verifiable information to support my opinion. I am reporting facts.

Recently a letter to The Times supported Georgia Power’s Construction Work In Progress program, whereby the company charges ratepayers for constructing Vogtle reactors two and three before the reactors are completed and producing electricity. He compared it to taking out a mortgage on a house.

Whether you buy the analogy or not, the letter neglected to mention the two most important factors in planning and paying for anything: Do you need it, and can you afford it? In the case of additional nuclear reactors, the answer to both questions is no.

After four years of semi-annual expansion construction reviews, an expert witness finally attended the meeting. Steven Prenovitz asked these questions and presented his analysis along with numbers and charts that readers can check. His analysis showed the following: Georgia Power’s sales have been flat for the last 10 years, and its capacity utilization has dropped from 71 percent to 54 percent over the same time.

His charts demonstrate that Plant Vogtle’s expansion cost are escalating toward an amount that equals the total holdings of Georgia Power while only promising to add 6 percent capacity overall. In other words, Georgia Power doesn’t need more capacity.

Moreover, Georgia Power can’t afford the additional reactors. Nobody will finance them — not Wall Street, not independent entrepreneurs, not stockholders — so they found a way to make the ratepayers do it.

The letter writer who wrote in support of Georgia Power says he based his case on facts, not emotion, but he neglected to ask the most basic of questions: What happens to the ratepayers when the costs continue to rise and demand continues to fall. What happens if the project is never completed because nuclear power is becoming an anachronism?

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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