Do you understand what transpired down at the Capitol when the Georgia legislature passed Senate Bill 31? If you do, let me know. I've been trying to come up with a clear picture of how it happened, but the whole thing is a can of worms.
The Public Service Commission is supposed to set utility rates for the state. Why, then, did the legislature tell Georgia Power it could start charging ratepayers for two new nuclear reactors — reactors that are still on the drawing board, have yet to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and can't possibly begin generating power for at least another six to eight years, even if everything goes as planned?
I am not enamored by nuclear power, as readers well know, but this isn't about nuclear; it's about power, the kind associated with big money and vested interests. It seems that once again the little guys, people who live in small towns or own small businesses, have been had. What I don't understand is why there isn't more of an outcry here in North Georgia
I understand what happened with the legislature. Georgia Power has deep pockets, and they pulled out all the stops. There were 70 Georgia Power lobbyists haunting the halls of the Capitol, one for every three representatives, and they came bearing gifts.
I also understand that Georgia Power didn't want to risk its own money in this difficult economic climate, so shifting the financing for the new reactors to its ratepayers made sense to them. But I still don't understand how they got away with it.
The PSC advised against the plan. The legislature simply went around it. Other states have attempted this form of advance financing. It's called "construction work in progress" or CWIP. Florida passed similar legislation and is now trying to rescind the move. Didn't our legislature pay any attention?
The Times recently published a guest commentary by Georgia Power's comptroller and chief accounting officer explaining its rationale for the new reactors and CWIP financing. Here are some of her points:
"Georgia Power projects a need for 35 percent more electric generating capacity over the next 10 years." Possibly, but back in November The Wall Street Journal reported an unexpected drop in U.S. electricity consumption. This is a time when new more sources of energy are coming online every day. The cost of wind, solar and geothermal energy are going down, and a new administration is backing new ways to power the nation.
"Constructing the reactors means jobs for Georgians." Perhaps, but so do alternatives, and right now many reactor components are no longer manufactured in the U.S. The heavy forged steel needed for the new units would most likely come from Japan.
"Advanced financing by ratepayers would save Georgians money." Really? This money is leaving the pockets of the ratepayer and going into the coffers of Georgia Power who don't have to pay it back, even if the reactors are never completed. And if you are older than 65, you can kiss that money goodbye forever. The last reactors Georgia Power built took 15 years to go on line.
I know there are a lot of pro-nuclear people who think nuclear is "carbon-free" and a solution to our energy problems, but these seem to be the same people who advocate for more fiscal responsibility, smaller government and fewer restrictive regulations. There's a disconnect here.
A nuclear reactor does not produce carbon dioxide during operation, but building the reactors does, lots of it. Producing nuclear fuel generates CO2. Transporting and disposing of nuclear waste generates CO2, and so on. Nuclear power is not "green."
Nuclear power by its very nature requires government control at every step of the nuclear cycle. Nuclear power extends the long arm of government into every aspect of its production, and much of it must be keep secret for security sake. It is big business, requiring big government, and it runs on big money.
It is this that concerns me as much as nuclear power itself. Nuclear power has been around for more than 50 years and still needs government support to keep it going. It is not the wave of the future; it's a holdover from the past.
Please tell me how, in a democratic society, could we allow the Georgia legislature to get ratepayers to promote this boondoggle.
If we get lucky, maybe the governor will veto SB 31, but not unless he hears from the public.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.