Georgia Power’s Plan for Yet Another Nuclear Reactor Opposed by Citizens at PSC Meeting on 2016 IRP
(APN) ATLANTA — Environmental advocates in Georgia expressed their outrage to the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) over the course of two days on April 18 and 19, 2016, in opposition to Georgia Power’s 2016 Integrated Resource Plan.
The Plan remains slow on renewable energy like solar and wind, and, shockingly, lays the procedural groundwork for yet another new nuclear reactor in Georgia.
Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is the process of advance energy planning that is put forth every three years before the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) for approval.
A four-member panel of Georgia Power executives answered questions from various groups including solar and wind advocates, representing several environmental groups.
The Company’s panel included Larry Legg, Georgia Power Market Planning Manager; Jeff Burleson, Southern Company Services System Planning Vice President; Alison Chiock, Georgia Power Resource Policy and Planning Director; and Dr. Larry Monroe, Southern Company Services, Chief Environmental Officer and Research and Environmental Affairs Senior Vice President.
Observing the meeting was much like falling down a rabbit hole, where down is up, and up is down, and the Red Queen is insane.
The most disturbing news in this “Wonderland” was Georgia Power’s consideration of new nuclear plants along the Chattahoochee River in Stewart County, Georgia.
Using ratepayer money, the Company has bought seven thousand acres below Columbus, Georgia for the site, and is currently pursuing a construction and operating license (COL).
They may ask the PSC for certification for more nuclear plants at the next IRP cycle in 2019.
Chiock indicated that, based on preliminary studies, the Stewart County site is a viable nuclear site.
Stewart is another impoverished rural community, with a majority Black population, much like Burke County, which lies in the shadow of Plant Vogtle 1, 2, with planned Units 3 & 4 under construction.
The Shell Bluff residents downwind and downstream from Vogtle, have experienced an increase in cancer rates. One study found a correlation between increased disease rates and proximity to nuclear power plants in Georgia.
Health concerns never seem to be part of the public conversation because those who should protect Georgians deny that there are health issues with nuclear power.
Because a person cannot see, smell, touch, or feel radiation; and the soil, air and water are not tested in Georgia, it is easy for the industry to continue to deny health problems are connected to routine releases of Tritium and other radioactive materials from nuclear power plants.
One problem with putting a nuclear plant on the Chattahoochee is that the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee (ACF) river system as the most endangered river in the Southeast, according to American Rivers.
“The ACF is already overstressed and cannot support more water-intensive development, such as a possible new, water-guzzling power plant that would require tens of millions of gallons of water per day,” Jason Ulseth, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, told the PSC during public comment.
Proponents of nuclear power argue that operating nuclear plant has near zero carbon emissions and eases the Company’s concerns about carbon regulations in the Clean Power Plan.
However, other steps involved in the nuclear cycle create an enormous carbon footprint, including construction of the plant, mining, processing and transporting the uranium, storage of nuclear waste and other waste byproducts, and eventually decommissioning the plant, according to Nuclear Energy Institute.
The Georgia Power wants to start planning for additional nuclear options now because the construction time is very long, as we have seen with Vogtle 1 and 2, and now again with Vogtle 3 and 4.
To retain the nuclear option in the future, the Company says it is taking actions to ensure the possibility of yet more nuclear generation later when the State of Georgia “needs” it.
“By pursuing the COL now we take away about forty percent of the lead time to build new nuclears,” Alison Chiock told the PSC.
“Isn’t it a risky option to start down the path of more nuclear in light of the problems at Vogtle 3 & 4, and the transformation in the industry to lower cost renewable and the potential for battery storage?” Liz Coyle, Executive Director, Georgia Watch, asked.
Obviously, Georgia Power wants to go down that same path again because, for the Company, it has meant over twenty percent annual increase in profits, while ratepayers pay in advance for construction through the Construction Work in Progress charges that have been assessed to Georgia Power bills for the last seven years.
Meanwhile, ratepayers get stuck with the bill for cost overruns and delays.
As long as a majority of Georgia’s elected officials and a majority of the PSC are pro-nuclear, Georgia will be one of the few places on Earth that continues to build expensive, dangerous, and outdated nuclear plants.
Fortunately Georgia is beginning to see the light with some renewables, thanks in part to Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who advocated for solar in the previous IRP.
In this IRP, Georgia Power has only asked the PSC for approval of only 525 megawatts (MW) of solar energy.
The Company’s explanation for adding so little solar is that the cost of solar is going down and they want to go slow and wait to get the best price later.
Robert Baker, an attorney with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), projected that more solar and wind generated energy will save millions of dollars for the ratepayer, even at current costs.
After much back and forth the Company reluctantly agreed more solar and wind can save customers money in the future.
But the Georgia Power also objects that solar is intermittent because it can’t generate energy at night.
However as some pointed out, wind is often available at night, and on cloudy, rainy days. Together, they could provided a continuous source of dependable energy, especially with new technology to store the energy.
It was noted that solar and wind will save ratepayers money, while nuclear is subsidized by ratepayer and federal taxpayers.
The unmentioned costs of nuclear power include disposal of radioactive waste and the decommissioning of a nuclear plant, not to mention (God forbid) an accident.
The good news is Georgia Power plans to close all 29 of its ash ponds at eleven coal-fired plants to comply with a federal environmental regulations.
Twelve ponds will close in the next two years and the rest in ten to 14 years.
The bad news is coal ash contains toxic heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, and radioactive material. This toxic mix can cause cancer, and damage to the brain and nervous system.
After questioning from Zachary Fabish, an attorney with the Sierra Club, Georgia Power admitted they have not tested the groundwater around the coal ash ponds and do not know if any heavy metals have leached into the ground water.
The Company does not use synthetic liner to prevent groundwater contamination.
About half of the coal ash is sold to mix in concrete, which is not being tested for heavy metals, meaning that end-users of the concrete blocks may or may not be exposed to heavy metals hidden inside the blocks..
Georgia Power seeks authorization from the PSC for decertification of older, dirtier, coal-fired generation units at Plant Mitchell Units 3, A4, and 4B,; Plant Kraft Unit 1; and Intercession City.
Georgia Power claims that their 2.4 million customers pay less for their services than people in other parts of the country and PolitiFact Georgia finds this mostly true.
The Company’s base electric rates will remain flat through 2019, primarily driven by a decrease in the fuel rate.