Ratepayers Push Vogtle Cancellation at PSC Nuclear Hearing, VCM 16 (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — On Thursday, May 11, 2017, ratepayers packed the sixteenth Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) hearing, demanding that the Georgia Public Service Commission and Southern Company cancel their plans to complete two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.
This VCM report covers the period between July 01, 2016 and December 31, 2016.
Atlanta Progressive News has covered for over ten years the issues involving Plant Vogtle. Now, with the March 29, 2017 announcement that Georgia Power’s main contractor, Westinghouse, has filed bankruptcy, has ignited a ratepayer rebellion calling for Georgia Power to “pull the plug” on Vogtle.
“Georgia Power customers pay seven percent of their bill to finance building Vogtle 3 and 4, so far a staggering 1.8 billion dollars in corporate welfare tax,” Cynthia Patterson, a concerned citizen, said during public comment.
There are only three possible outcomes to this nuclear madness: to abandon the project entirely; complete Vogtle 3 but not 4; or to continue building both.
The original date of completion for Vogtle 3 and 4 was 2016 and 2017. Last year the completion date was revised to 2019 and 2020. Due to Westinghouse’s bankruptcy, that schedule would have to be changed again to some unknown time in the future.
It was cited during cross-examination that as of the 16th VCM, the total project cost is 7.745 billion dollars, but that factoring in the bankruptcy, it is now unknown what the final cost will be.
“The Company is asking the Commission to approve in the 16th VCM, 222 million dollars in costs when currently Georgia Power doesn’t know either the cost to complete the project or the estimated in-service dates that are achievable,” Sara Barczak, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said during cross examination of Georgia Power witnesses.
“When was the company aware of the possibility of a Westinghouse bankruptcy filing?” Barczak asked the witnesses.
“Mid-March,” one Georgia Power witness answered.
She pushed on for a more precise date when they knew about the possibility of bankruptcy, at which point Kevin Greene, legal counsel for Georgia Power, chimed in with, “I will note that three times these witnesses said it was late March when they knew.”
“It is important to know because a multi billion dollar settlement was approved on December 20… and we have been interveners and never heard anything on Westinghouse financial situation, ” Barczak said.
However, according to video posted on Youtube of a March 30 Georgia PSC Westinghouse Bankruptcy Committee Meeting, company representatives admitted that they knew about the possibility of bankruptcy since late last year.
“We were not surprised by this bankruptcy, we have been telling you that we anticipated a bankruptcy filing. We knew they were in financial trouble, the markets knew they were in financial trouble. It was only a matter of when not if beginning, about the end of last year,” Kevin Greene, Georgia Power’s legal council said at the time.
So clearly, Georgia Power’s testimony has been inconsistent.
Barbara Antonoplos, a long-time observer of the VCM process, also commented on the December 20, 2016 prudence review.
“As a result of last year’s sham of a hurry-up prudence review, knowing that a bankruptcy filing was imminent, you approved as prudent every single penny that Georgia Power had spent so far along with a few billion that they have yet to spend,” Antonoplos asserted.
“How can you determine having been prudent, costs that have not yet been incurred?” Antonoplos asked.
Toshiba stock has dropped significantly, including a twelve percent drop in stock price on December 27, 2016, and another sharp twenty percent drop on December 28.
Toshiba said it may have to write down billions related to an acquisition made by U.S. unit Westinghouse Electric that was geared toward completing the newest generation of reactors at two U.S. facilities in Georgia and South Carolina, Bloomberg Technology reported.
Replacing Vogtle with new investments in solar energy and energy efficiency would be less risky, more affordable, and more up to the job of powering Georgia’s economy, according to a recent report by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
Nuclear Watch South has presented the PSC with a ten year analysis using Georgia Power’s own data from annual reports to show that demand is down and the plants are not needed.
This data has been placed in the record VCMs 8, 12, 14, and 16, but the PSC still chooses to show disdain and ignore it.
“It took seventy Georgia Power lobbyists” to get the anti-consumer bill, SB31, through the Georgia House and Senate, which forces Georgia Power customers to pay in advance for Vogtle, one ratepayer said.
“They paid the CEO (Tom Fanning) over 52 thousand a day, or fourteen million dollars last year, while the company took money from elderly people who they knew would never benefit from this… To take money now from anyone but stockholders is clearly wrong,” Robert Searfoss, Aging Raging Rate Payers (ARRP), testified.
“Commissioner Echols’s meeting with [U.S.] Secretary [of Energy Rick] Perry, asking for another government handout would still be something coming from our pockets and I’m tired of paying extra,” Betsy Rivard, Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace, said.
“How many residents would be exposed to routine radioactive releases that contaminate air, water, and soil,” Patterson inquired of Georgia Power executives and the Commissioners and added “There is no safe level of radioactive exposure. Low-level radiation damages tissue, cells, and DNA.”
Joanne Steele a mother and grandmother worries about future generations with so much nuclear waste that requires safe storage for thousands of years.
“We want clean energy, we don’t want the nuclear waste that is piling up and is dangerous at these plants. We have not figured out a solution for the waste and it’s time to stop this madness,” Steele testified.
“If the two new reactors do go on-line Georgia will be the state at highest risk for a nuclear accident due to the bathtub effect,” Becky Rafter, Executive Director, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (GA WAND), said, referring to a phenomenon that the most dangerous period for nuclear reactors are at the beginning and end of the reactors’ lives.
“We will have two aging reactors on-line at the same time with two new reactors and all four are at their highest rate of accident,” Rafter said.
The next public hearing on Vogtle will be June 29, 2017 when the construction monitors on PSC staff will testify. In the past, their testimony has been far more critical of the project than Georgia Power’s witnesses.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Commissioner Echols stated he would note that Georgia Power stated three times that they learned of the bankruptcy in March; however, it was not Echols, but Greene, who responded in that manner.