When is a tax not a tax?
When corporations and public officials take money out of your pocketbook and call it something else, like risk sharing.
The tea party folks have chanted "no new taxes" ad nauseam but not one word about policies that extract money from the public in other ways. For example, the deal Georgia Power Co. just got from the Public Service Commission.
Georgia Power wanted to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. Everything nuclear is risky, and Georgia Power couldn't find private investors to loan money for the project so it turned to the government. It asked for, and got, a taxpayer-funded federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.
In 2010, the PSC granted Georgia Power two new rates increases, but it wasn't enough to meet the terms of the required guarantee. So this year, it went back to the PSC and got another increase to maintain its 11.5 percent profit, plus a plan that would trigger future rate increases should it experience cost overruns.
Have we forgotten that the cost of the two original reactors at Yogtle was supposed to come in at less than $700 million, but before the plant was finished, the cost had risen to almost $9 billion? And even if these new reactors are licensed, built and begin producing electricity, it won't be any time soon.
You and I are paying for these new reactors today, before the plants produce a single kilowatt of power and before the reactor's designs have been licensed. Actually, the public is paying for the construction of a nuclear power plant that may never be completed.
It took Georgia Power more than a decade to bring the first two reactors on line. On the other hand, today both the cost and the construction time for wind and solar power are coming down. Worldwide, the cost of solar power is already below that of nuclear. By the time these new reactors are ready to fire up, there's a good chance they will be obsolete.
Why aren't people paying more attention to this?
The media hasn't exactly ignored Georgia Power's rate hikes. The Times has run a number of pieces about it. Columnists around the state have commented on Georgia Power's success at getting ratepayers to cover a risk that many think rightfully belongs to the stockholders. But these stories have gotten little or no response from the public.
The loan guarantee itself is a bipartisan plan. President Barack Obama simply signed off on it. If you want to source of the boondoggle, look to the PSC that has quietly given Georgia Power a blank check.
The PSC consists of five elected officials with immense power over our pocketbooks, but when a candidate runs for office, his or her name usually is on the bottom of the ballot. Because so little is known or understood about the PSC, the public often does one of several things: They ignore the slot entirely, feeling it is better not to vote if they don't know the candidates; they vote for the incumbent, figuring that if he was corrupt or incompetent somebody would have blown the whistle or they vote for whomever their party endorses.
The people who understand the importance of the PSC are the utilities who come before them and the lobbyists who work for utilities. Naturally, the PSC is inclined to listen them. They are less attentive to voice of the public. If you doubt this, attend one of their meetings. I have and was embarrassed by what I saw.
In short, the rate system the PSC granted Georgia Power is designed to protect the nuclear industry's loan guarantees, not the public's pocketbook. It is simply a tax by another name.
Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?
Joan King is a Sautee resident. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.