Critics blast reactor construction; PSC expert says it's still a good dealBy Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – After a parade of nuclear-power opponents blasted expansion of Plant Vogtle, an expert hired by the Public Service Commission testified Wednesday that adding two reactors there is still a good deal for customers.
The comments all came at a hearing the commission is holding over multiple days on whether to approve construction expenses so far. They also came in light of revelations in May by Georgia Power Co. that incorrect installation of steel reinforcement rebar in concrete could add $400 million to the company's bill which it would likely ask commission authorization to pass along to its customers.
Another activist, Barbara Antonopolis, warned, "Going over budget is a real problem. ... Cutting corners to cut costs is also unacceptable."
Consultant Phillip Hayet of Hayet Power Systems testified that he didn't include the $400 million addition because it isn't a certainty since Georgia Power is still negotiating with the builder on who is liable for the steel mistake.
"Our (cost-benefit analysis) is still significantly positive," he said. "The project still has room to exceed the budget and still be economical."
If the commission halted construction today, the $1.8 billion already spent would have to be repaid by customers of Georgia Power and the other utilities that own the plant, he said. That figure had been a trade secret, but Georgia Power's attorney Kevin Greene waived its protection during the hearing so Hayet could disclose it.
A lawyer for the consumer-advocacy group, Helen O'Leary, urged the company to disclose all of its trade-secret numbers so the public could evaluate the project.
"I think it's very convenient to file something as trade secret whenever you want to keep the public in the dark," said O'Leary, a former commission staffer.
Commission rules and state law allow regulated companies to submit confidential versions of their finances while omitting trade secrets that would harm them competitively from the public versions of filings. Commissioners, their staff and consultants have access to the secrets but must promise to keep mum about specifics.
The commission will more testimony before it votes on whether to allow this batch of expenses. The company usually has filed its next batch of semiannual costs by the time the commission votes.