PSC Members Rest Eyes, Ban Critical Testimony During Vogtle Hearing (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — Georgia Public Service Commissioners struggled to maintain a quorum, and apparently also to stay awake, at Georgia Power’s thirteenth semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report (VCM) hearing on December 10, 2015.
Two photographs show Commissioner Stan Wise (District 5) resting his eyes, during one of the many instances in which Atlanta Progressive News observed Wise rest his eyes for a couple minutes or so at a time.
One of the photographs also shows Commissioner Doug Everett (District 3) resting his eyes, although Everett began to open one of them back up as the photograph was being taken.
For an extended period, only two Commissioners were physically present during the hearing.
Meanwhile, when not appearing to nap, the Commissioners wakeful participation consisted of suppressing public testimony by environmental advocates and citizens concerned about the dangers and costs of nuclear power.
Georgia Power filed a motion to strike the testimony of Nuclear Watch South (NWS), one of the interveners. Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald (District 4) upheld the request that it be stricken from the record.
NWS’s official written testimony, charts, and exhibits filed on November 20 were removed from the official record, but are available on the organization’s website below:
“NWS’s testimony is irrelevant to the question before this Commission to approve or disapprove the expenditure during the 13th VCM period,” Steven Hewitson, a Georgia Power attorney, said.
Glenn Carroll, Coordinator of NWS, disagreed, saying that the larger picture is relevant to the question of whether or not the PSC will continue to approve billions of dollars to this unneeded project.
“The picture we are showing is damaging to Georgia Power and that is why they want to do away with it,” Carroll said.
Barbara Antonoplos noted during the public testimony that hearing documents have many redactions in them.
As reported earlier by Atlanta Progressive News, NWS has testified that Georgia Power was overbuilt and that Vogtle 3 and 4 are not needed, according to Southern Company’s annual reports.
Carroll plans to intervene at the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) this summer and present NWS’s documentation again that Vogtle 3 and 4 are not needed.
Georgia Power and the PSC think the IRP is a more appropriate venue in which to discuss if the Vogtle project should go forward or be shut down.
Meanwhile, the PSC continues to give millions of dollars to a project that is three years behind schedule, two billion dollars over-budget, and where only 26 percent of construction is complete.
Public testimony that is normally at the beginning of the hearing had been scheduled for the end of the day when most Georgia Power customers who wanted to testify would be gone.
Bobbie Paul, former Executive Director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Direction (WAND), negotiated that public testimony be moved back to the beginning of the agenda.
The PSC has become increasingly irritated and hostile to citizens who give evidence in support of shutting down Vogtle 3 and 4, criticizing it as a bottomless money pit that ratepayers are stuck paying for.
Ratepayers were told they could only speak two minutes, instead of the usual three minutes.
To make it even more restrictive and controlled, they were not allowed to speak on anything that someone else had already spoken on, except to say they agree with the last speaker.
With that drama over, public testimony began and almost everyone ignored the restrictions and spoke three minutes.
“The budget process is flawed and unreliable with constant revisions… the cost to complete remains constant as the budget keeps increasing because sunk costs (money already spent) are ignored,” Steven Prenovitz, an economist said. “Georgia Power wants customers to pay for all the mistakes.”
Prenovitz went over three minutes and Commissioner McDonald shouted him down and Commissioner Everett wanted to physically remove him from the room.
APN learned that after the hearing, Prenovitz was threatened with a fine or jail if he did not obey the rules.
Many individuals and organizations objected to NWS testimony being removed from the record.
Others objected to paying the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery (NCCR) or nuclear tax that is almost ten percent of their monthly electric bills. This anti-consumer bill was passed in 2009 by the General Assembly, and ratepayers have been forced to pay over 1.4 billion dollars to build two more nuclear reactors.
Half of the nuclear tax goes to Georgia Power’s profits, and 25 percent covers the tax on their profits. The last 25 percent is used to pay the costs of financing Vogtle.
NWS presented a chart that shows, using Georgia Powers annual report, that the company profits surged over twenty percent since Vogtle construction and the NCCR a/k/a Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) tax started in 2011.
Still others testified that the PSC was not serving the public interest by wasting money on dangerous, expensive, and unneeded nuclear energy, when that money could be better spent on solar, wind, and other cheaper renewals.
“If we don’t need Vogtle 3 and 4 then it is totally relevant to stop spending billions of dollars to continue to build them,” Betsy Rivard said.
A powerful testimony came from Bernice Howard who lives in Shell Bluff, downwind and downstream from Vogtle and Savannah River Site.
“Our area has been tested, and we have cesium, plutonium, radiation, and other contaminants in our area. As an American, I feel I should be protected from those things that are damaging to me,” Howard, Field Coordinator, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), said.
Howard testified that elderly people and young children, who have weaker immune systems, are most affected by the pollutants. People who live in that environment have to drink the water, and eat the plants and animals that are also affected by those contaminants.
“I am concerned because Plant Vogtle is being allowed to expand from two to four reactors that is damaging the people. It is abusing the elderly, the children, the people, it’s inhumane, unfair, and ungodly,” Howard said.
“I wake up every morning and my environment has become a threat to me, my family, and the people I love,” Howard said, warning there would be karma to pay for this.
Antonoplos cited continuous ineptness and construction problems of poor rebar installation, lack of schedule adherence, late design and design changes, late identification of Quality Control issues, high re-work rate, poor quality structural sub-modules, and rush to assemble the shield building.
“The shield building is the last line of defense around all those other sub-standard critical components. That alarms me,” Antonoplos said.
As expected, expert witnesses predicted additional delays and cost overruns.
“What was once a $14 billion price tag is now $21 billion and the situation is actually worsening. How much worse does it have to get before regulators and lawmaker start paying attention?” Sara Barczak, Program Director, High Risk Energy Choices, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a press statement.
The PSC will probably give their routine approval for an additional 148 million dollars in construction costs on February 18, 2016.
UPDATE 1: A previous version of this article stated “Prenovitz created the documentation and charts for NWS that were censored from the record.” He did not create the documentation, although it was based on his idea, according to Carroll.