The Times: March 31. “Ga. Power files request to drop fuel rates”
The Times: Nov. 3. “Ga. Power bills to rise starting in January.”
According to Georgia Power, lower natural gas prices made it possible to decrease residential customer’s bill by about $8 a month. In March, it asked the Public Service Commission for permission to do so.
But the Southern Co. and Georgia Power, its subsidiary, had already contracted to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro. In November, they asked the PSC for permission to pass the construction costs on to its ratepayers.
Net result: Power bills go up!
Overseeing this shell game sit the five Public Service commissioners. They’re publicly elected officials who are supposed to “... ensure that consumers receive safe, reliable and reasonably priced ... electric and natural gas services from financially viable and technically competent companies.” Unfortunately, the PSC does not serve the public; it serves Georgia Power and the Southern Co.
This complaint has been leveled by critics throughout the state. The Times has published these concerns, but voters don’t seem to care. They keep re-electing the same members who then go on to serve six-year terms with little outside oversight or interference. When an incumbent does run for office, his campaign is financed by the same corporations the PSC is supposed to regulate.
Whatever Georgia Power wants, it gets.
The cost for the two new nuclear plants in Georgia continues to rise. Construction is behind schedule and already faces nearly a billion dollars in cost overruns. Furthermore, Georgia Power and its contractors are now engaged in a lawsuit over these overruns.
Don’t be fooled. This is merely a diversion, No matter who wins, the cost will be born by the ratepayers.
Georgia Power will do this by invoking something called Construction Work In Progress. CWIP is an accounting instrument that allows a company to charge consumers for a project while it is still on the drawing board. The problem is, the customer pays even if the project is never completed or proves to be unusable for one reason or another.
The new reactors will not be ready for several years at least, and if they are not completed — and that is a distinct possibility — the ratepayers are simply out of luck. Why is there no outcry?
The average Georgian is unaware of the degree to which the PSC affects their pocketbook, and they pay little attention to its activities. When election time comes around, attention is focused on the top of the ticket, the presidency and Congress. PSC candidates are chosen in the primaries and are voted into office on the coattails of a partisan ticket. This is one of the hazards of a one-party state.
Thursday was Thanksgiving Day. In a letter to the editor, a Times reader asked why people like him couldn’t get help with their power bills. He said he was on a fixed income and hardly knew where his next meal was coming from. We’re not lazy, he said, just on hard times.
Today, Georgia Power will deliver a progress report on Vogtle to the PSC. It will ask members to approve its past expenditures, and if history is any guide, it will get what it wants. Since 2009, Georgia Power has charged Georgians over a billion and a half dollars for these new reactors. If history is any guide this figure will continue to rise.
I’ve been to these meetings before and will be there again today. There will be others. We will make our statements. The five PSC members will sit at their desks on a raised dais in the front of the room and look bored.
Check the media tomorrow. See if there is anything in the news, on the TV or radio. Does anybody care?
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.