Showing posts with label georgia public service commission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label georgia public service commission. 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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Plant Vogtle workers feeling pressure from South Carolina shutdown

VC Summer Nuclear Station, South Carolina

With South Carolina’s decision to end construction of its nuclear power plants, the pressure intensifies on the workers building Plant Vogtle’s two new nuclear plants.

The decision by Santee Cooper and SCE&G to call it quits on the VC Summer units leaves thousands of skilled workers unemployed.

Nearly 5,000 people lost their contracting jobs at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant on Monday afternoon as SCE&G and Santee Cooper announced that they are abandoning the construction of two nuclear reactors at the plant. Many employees got word of the massive layoffs just before lunch, according to WLTX in Columbia, S.C.

With no other nuclear facilities being constructed in the U.S. except for Plant Vogtle, this leaves thousands of skilled construction workers with no choice but to search out work elsewhere including in Georgia.

In a best-case scenario for workers at Plant Vogtle, you have a skilled construction workforce from South Carolina available to shift over to Plant Vogtle creating competition for jobs at the Georgia site. And that is the best-case scenario.

The worse-case scenario for the nearly 6,000 construction workers at Plant Vogtle is that the Southern Company decides to abandon its nuclear construction project as well.

Like VC Summer, Plant Vogtle is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. So far, only approximately one-third of the construction project has been completed.

Nuclear Watch South and Concerned Ratepayers of Georgia have told the Georgia Public Service Commission that in their opinion, energy usage in the state is not growing and the nuclear plants are not needed.

For South Carolina, the decision comes after SCE&G and Santee Cooper have spent about $9 billion on a project that analysts said could have ultimately cost more than $23 billion, more than twice the original price tag. Under a state law passed 10 years ago, SCE&G was allowed to charge customers for the work before the reactors were finished. About 18 percent of an SCE&G customer’s bill goes for the nuclear project, according to The State newspaper.

Whether Southern Company decides to continue construction or not, workers building the two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle find themselves tonight with a very unsettled future. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Westinghouse & Southern Company: Good News and Bad News for Workers

Late on Friday, May 12, 2017, the Southern Company agreed to take over construction of the nuclear construction site at Plant Vogtle.

This means that the 6,000 workers on site in eastern Georgia will be able to continue building the reactors at least until June 3.

Southern Nuclear (a subsidiary of the Southern Company) and Georgia Power will become the main contractor for the Plant Vogtle expansion whose ownership is shared between Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities.

Westinghouse, which had filed for bankruptcy in March, appears ready to walk away from the project if it can receive approval from the bankruptcy court, leaving the future of the two reactors in the hands of the utilities and the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Georgia Power still has not committed to completing both reactors.

Options include completing one or both reactors, converting one or both reactors to natural gas, or giving up on the project entirely.

The role of the Georgia Public Service Commission is becoming extremely important as discussions continue on how to pay for the two new reactors, which are billions of dollars over budget.

E&E News reports that

"Georgia Power has a settlement with the Public Service Commission on how to handle Vogtle's costs going forward. The utility and the PSC staff negotiated the agreement, in part, after the project's costs rose 30 percent from when it started.

The settlement includes the utility absorbing an amount through a lower rate of return on equity if the reactors are not online by 2020. Consumers would shoulder the rest.

Southern stated in filings earlier this month that the project is not likely to meet that deadline. Georgia Power executives confirmed the same in a routine hearing about the project's cost and schedule last Thursday.

Georgia Power has already hinted that it will want to revisit that settlement, which was put in place months before Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection. The PSC staff has held firm that the agreement remains in place, according to emailed statements obtained by E&E News (Energywire, May 5)."

The PSC took comments from the public at last Thursday’s meeting, and many were not pleased that Georgia utility ratepayers have been paying for the plants since 2009 when Georgia Power began charging customers for the project’s costs years before the plants would come actually generate electricity.

WSAV-TV (Savannah, Ga.) has nicely captured the current situation and you can watch their report here.

Atlanta Progressive News reports that the next public hearing on Vogtle will be June 29, 2017, when the construction monitors on PSC staff will testify.