Showing posts with label Stan Wise. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stan Wise. Show all posts

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Georgia’s energy future becomes less clear after 2018

Georgia Power has had a rough couple of months dealing with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irma and the Westinghouse bankruptcy, which placed the construction of the nuclear project at Plant Vogtle in jeopardy.

One source of support they could count on was the Georgia Public Service Commission that has consistently approved Georgia Power’s plans to continue construction of the Plant Vogtle Units 3 & 4.

This support has remained steadfast even as a similar nuclear project in South Carolina was abandoned, and neighboring utilities Duke Energy and NextEra Energy (Florida Power & Light) stepped back from plans to build future nuclear reactors.

With the upcoming election of two Georgia Public Service commissioners in 2018, that level of support is less clear.

Changes to the Georgia Public Service Commission

Stan Wise, District 5 Commissioner and Chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, has announced that he does not intend to seek re-election in 2018, putting that open seat up for grabs in November 2018.

Georgia’s five Public Service Commissioners serve six-year staggered terms.

In 2018, commissioner seats in Districts 3 & 5 will be up for election, and voters in those two districts will have the opportunity to express their views on Georgia Power and how Georgia’s energy future shall proceed.

District 3 includes core Atlanta urban counties including Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, and Rockdale. Currently, District 3 is represented by Chuck Eaton, a Republican who first won election in 2006.

District 5 includes counties to the west and south of Atlanta including Cobb, Coweta, Fayette, Henry, and 16 other counties.

District 5 Commissioner Stan Wise has been a consistent advocate for Plant Vogtle and for Georgia Power.  By not standing for re-election, Mr. Wise will be able to vote on issues between now and the end of 2018 without considering how his votes will affect his standing with the voters.

It gives him tremendous freedom over the next 15 months but it also removes him from crucial decisions that the PSC will be taking in 2019 and beyond.

In addition, District 4 Commissioner, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, while consistently voting with the other commissioners, has called for an ending to Georgia Power collecting surcharges that are part of ratepayers bills for two nuclear plant units that have not yet begun operation.

If there are significant changes in the incumbents of Districts 3 & 5 come 2019, there might be new majorities formed on a number of issues, only one of which is Plant Vogtle.

Looking to 2019 and beyond

In 2016, Georgia Power and the Georgia PSC agreed that the company's next base electric rate case should be postponed until July 2019.

According to Georgia, Power, the company's last base electric rate case in 2013 incorporated the costs of investments in infrastructure required in order to maintain high levels of reliability and superior customer service.

In 2016, the extent of cost overruns and delays in the construction of Plant Vogtle Units 3 & 4 were less known to the public.

Georgia Power was reporting continued progress in the construction of the two units and gave no hint of the problems coming in 2017.

Since then, Georgia Power’s problems have become more apparent and more public.

Rating agencies are considering lowering their rates for the company’s bonds, and investors are taking note of Georgia Power’s decision to move forward with a technology that is becoming less cost effective as natural gas prices drop and alternative energy sources become more viable.

As a result, the base electric rate case in 2019 may be more contentious than in the past.

For Georgia Power, which has always had excellent relations with the political powers in the state, the next two years will be a test of its political skill.