WAYNESBORO 2/20/14: U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz came down to Georgia to sign off on giving 6.5 billion in taxpayer dollars to Southern Company, its subsidiary Georgia Power, and Oglethorpe Power to build two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.
MEAG (Municipal Electric Association of Georgia), 22.7% owner of Vogtle is seeking 1.8 billion dollars in a separate loan guarantee and has a July closure deadline.
The terms of the loan are secret, but Southern Company has divulged to the media that it has put up collateral for the massive loan — namely, the unfinished Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors.
The relatively obscure loan guarantee program goes like this: Wall Street wouldn’t underwrite risky nuclear energy development, so erstwhile President George W. Bush persuaded U.S. Congress to pass a bill allowing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to give “loan guarantees” to jump start construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors. These loan guarantees are direct payouts from the U.S. Treasury.
Troublingly, there is an historic 50 percent default rate in the loan guarantee program.
As the so-called “Nuclear Renaissance,” which was touted in the late Bush years, shriveled, Southern Company has become one of only two utilities in the country even attempting new reactors, and Southern Company became the sole candidate requesting loan guarantees.
Southern Company’s loan was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2010. Four years passed, in which Vogtle, less than half-finished, has gone 1.6 billion dollars over budget and 21 months behind schedule.
U.S. citizens have sent literally tens of thousands of letters and petitions to Obama and DOE demanding that the loan guarantees be withdrawn.
Southern Company has said repeatedly that it does not even need the loan guarantees.
The loan had been hung up for so long, reportedly, because Southern Company balked at the terms which amounted to an unbelievably low interest rate, an upfront “credit subsidy fee” of only 0.5-1.5 percent.
However, because the loan guarantee terms are secret, it is not known if Southern Company actually ended up paying anything at all to use taxpayer money.
We do know that DOE gave weight to Southern Company’s “captive ratepayers” and the Georgia Public Service Commission’s generously allowing electric customers to be taxed up front for Vogtle construction costs in a financing mechanism called Construction Work in Progress (CWIP).
Sara Barczak, high-risk energy choices program director for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, calls it “corporate welfare for one of the largest power companies in the country.”
Recent analysis of Georgia Power annual report data shows that Georgia Power is not even using 46 percent of its electrical production capacity, has suffered flat sales for ten years years, and has posted declining sales the past three years.
This gives rise to real concern whether Southern Company, Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power and MEAG can sell enough electricity to pay back their hefty loan from U.S. taxpayers.
“This loan guarantee is a sweetheart deal for the utilities building Plant Vogtle. Essentially, they’re gambling with every U.S. taxpayer’s dollars to unnecessarily expand one plant here in Georgia.” Becky Rafter, executive director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, said.
10/15/13 ATLANTA: Nuclear Watch South conducted its first-ever intervention before the Georgia Public Service Commission in opposition to the two-reactor expansion of Plant Vogtle. The cost of the reactors has rapidly risen from $14.3 billion to more than $16 billion as the schedule has slipped by 18 months, possibly more. An economist working with Nuclear Watch South found that the Vogtle expansion is not needed, the cost of Vogtle is too high, and it would be beneficial to Georgians to absorb the sunk costs and cancel the project.
Nuclear Watch South presented expert testimony by Steven C. Prenovitz in the 8th Vogtle Construction Monitoring Review (VCMR). This is the first time an intervening citizens’ group presented an expert witness in four years of semi-annual Vogtle expansion construction reviews which are typically dominated by witnesses from Georgia Power and the PSC’s Public Advocacy Staff (PIA).
Prenovitz, a trained economist, compiled and analyzed Georgia Power data from the company's annual reports for the years 2002-2012. In direct testimony, he asserted, “Georgia Power forecasts were for 4.1% growth in capacity, but in the key five-year period that coincides with the Vogtle expansion, capacity growth was 2.4%. Because Georgia Power’s capacity utilization factor declined from 73% to 54% in the same period, it is clear that expanding Vogtle’s capacity was not, and is not now needed.”
In the 8th VCMR public hearings, Georgia Power challenged Nuclear Watch South's position that Plant Vogtle expansion should be scuttled claiming cancellation was out of the scope of the proceeding, However Georgia O.C.G.A. § 46-3A-6 clearly charges the Public Service Commission with ongoing consideration of whether to cancel or continue construction of additional capacity and empowers the Commission to revoke or modify any project's certificate.
Prenovitz's Georgia Power Key Financial and Operating Data Chart constructed from 11 years of Georgia Power annual reports shows that Georgia Power’s sales are flat over a 10-year period while its capacity utilization has dropped from 71% to 54%. The data published by Georgia Power in its annual reports is required by the SEC. Prenovitz is the first expert to compare the data and produce an historical trend of Georgia Power's performance and market indicators.
Prenovitz also examined the costs of Plant Vogtle expansion into a chart entitled Georgia Power Vogtle Budget/Break Even Data and found the cost is escalating towards an amount that exceeds the total holdings of Georgia Power ($19 billion) while only promising to add 6% capacity overall. The conclusion is overwhelming that Vogtle’s expanded capacity is not needed by Georgia Power and not affordable by Georgia ratepayers.
Nuclear Watch South Coordinator Glenn Carroll commented, “Prenovitz's findings provide hard evidence, with Georgia Power's own data, that Plant Vogtle is too expensive by any measure, and unneeded. Georgia ratepayers are best served by the cancellation of additional reactors at Plant Vogtle.”
The issues that Georgia Power brought before the PSC were: 1) recovery of $209 million in construction costs in the last half of 2012; and 2) increase of $381 million in certified capital costs for the project. Nuclear Watch South challenged both requests, along with several other interveners, including Georgia Watch and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and multiple public witnesses. There was much discussion and cross-examination concerning a recent decision by the Mississippi PSC forcing Mississippi Power, another Southern Company subsiciary, to absorb $457 million in costs overruns at a coal plant under construction in Kemper, MS. To sidestep a similar decision in Georgia, Georgia Power and PSC Public Advocacy Staff entered into a stipulation which has the effect of deferring vigorous scrutiny of Vogtle expansion costs until Vogtle 3 may be completed far in the future. In a blatant affront to public process, the stipulation was approved by the PSC without proper public notice and outside of the published schedule for the proceeding. The PSC staff advised the Commissioners to adhere to the schedule but the Commission ignored its staff's advice and voted unanimously to adopt the stipulation on September 3, 2013, a fact which Nuclear Watch South learned in a newspaper report.
Nuclear Watch South was the only intervenor to filed proposed conclusions September 27, 2013, a vital part of the process in which the various parties may package information to help the Commission make its decision scheduled for October 15, 2013. In its brief, Nuclear Watch South called for Vogtle cancellation, and went on to make arguments against cost recovery, increased capital cost certification, and the stipulation.
“Citizen intervenors have done Georgia ratepayers a great service in reframing scrutiny of the exorbitant Vogtle project and proving it is not needed. With $4 billion to $6 billion still left to be spent, it is obvious it would be cheaper to abandon construction of two additional reactors," says Carroll.
"There has never been a clearer need for the PSC to exercise its authority to protect Georgia ratepayers,” she concluded.
SAVANNAH 1/31/13: Days after Georgia Power circulated a news story bragging about the arrival of the 300-ton Korean-made reactor pressure vessel for Vogtle, an anonymous source leaked the news that Georgia Power had almost rolled the massive reactor pressure vessel into an alligator swamp en route from the Port of Savannah to the Vogtle construction site near Augusta, Georgia. The reactor vessel platform misaligned with the lauded Schnaebel rail car 1/4 mile from the Port of Savannah and the load has languished in the port railyard ever since.
The embarrassing news circulated and NUCLEAR WATCH SOUTH activists joined the Stop Plant Vogtle coalition to make sure the Public Service Commission knew about it with an impromptu performance of Georgia Power Choo Choo. Two weeks prior, dozens of citizens had jammed the PSC's public hearing room to protest cost overruns and CWIP taxes for the $14.2 billion (and mounting) nuclear construction project, unaware that Georgia Power was actively covering up their rail mishap.
Read more about it on Friends of the Earth's TOM CLEMENTS blog.
2/17/12: ATLANTA, GA The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4-1 on February 9, 2012, to issue the final license for two new reactors at the site of the currently operating Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko cast the only dissenting vote, effectively agreeing with nine national, state and regional groups who will file a challenge in federal court.
A major legal challenge has been filed charging the NRC with violating federal law to issue the license without considering the important lessons of the catastrophic Fukushima accident in Japan and regarding the ways the Vogtle operation should be modified to protect public safety and the environment. The groups are asking federal judges to order the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Vogtle reactors that explains how cooling systems for the reactors and spent fuel storage pools will be upgraded to protect against earthquakes, flooding and prolonged loss of electric power to the site. The EIS must also detail how emergency equipment and plans for the nuclear plant will be revised to account for accidents affecting multiple reactors on the Vogtle site, as happened at Fukushima.
As part of the action, the organizations are also challenging the validity of the Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000 design, on which the new Vogtle reactors are based.
"It is terribly irresponsible of the NRC to rush this risky reactor project through even as Japan continues to grapple with the unstable condition of the wrecked Fukushima reactors," says Nuclear Watch South Coordinator Glenn Carroll. "There are many concerns with nuclear energy even beyond those raised by the Fukushima catastrophe. We hold out hope that Southern Company and Georgia Power may yet come to their senses to recognize the tangible successes of wind and solar power and decide to abandon dead-end, out-moded nuclear power.
"After all, Southern Company has not invested a dime of its own money so far, so they have nothing to lose and everything to gain if they choose to install solar panels on all that land they've already cleared," Carroll concludes.
The organizations filed their lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The nine organizations taking the legal action are: Friends of the Earth, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Nuclear Watch South.
Although Southern Co. has already commenced extensive preliminary construction activities at the Vogtle site, the license would allow Southern to complete construction of the containment, reactor cooling systems, spent fuel storage pools, and other major reactor components.
The organizations charge that these major structures could change substantially if they are redesigned to take the lessons of the Fukushima accident into account, and therefore continued construction of the new Vogtle reactors could be wasting money and resources. And if the license is disapproved in the lawsuit or Fukushima-related retrofits make the project too expensive to finish, utility ratepayers in Georgia are likely to be stuck with the expense of a large and useless concrete mausoleum, similar to many other abandoned reactor projects across the U.S.
Separately, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has sued the Department of Energy for failing to disclose key information about the terms of DOE’s $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the new Vogtle reactors, especially the risk posed to U.S. taxpayers should the estimated $14 billion project default. The organizations remain very concerned that utility customers and taxpayers have been forced to put more “skin in the game” than Southern Co. and its utility partners and shareholders. With prices of natural gas very low, even the CEO of Exelon has said publicly that he wouldn’t build a nuclear plant today.
MEDIA CONTACT: Glenn Carroll, Nuclear Watch South, 404-378-4263, firstname.lastname@example.org
DEMOCRACY NOW! (2/24/10) The news in Vermont follows Obama’s announcement last week of $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of the first new nuclear power plants in the United States in close to three decades. The loan guarantees will help the Atlanta-based Southern Company build two more nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia, near the city of Augusta. We speak to Nuclear Watch South coordinator Glenn Carroll, who has been leading efforts against the construction of the new plants.
ALSO ON DEMOCRACY NOW! Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen speaks about the historic vote to shut Vermont Yankee and the cover-up of an underground plume of radioactive tritium heading for the Connecticut River. Arnie's stunning and informative interview with Amy Goodman begins at the 10:30 mark.
ATLANTA (2/16/10) ~ The “Nuclear Renaissance” promoted by Bush’s last administration reached a controversial milestone today with President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu’s much-anticipated announcement that $8.3 billion in tax-funded loan guarantees will be granted to Southern Company to construct two new reactors in Georgia. The reactors are proposed in addition to the two reactors already at Plant Vogtle in Burke County on the Savannah River near Augusta. Southern Company has not said that it will take the deal. Loan guarantee details were worked out in closed-door meetings between the U.S. Department of Energy and privately-owned electricity giant Southern Company.
Glenn Carroll, coordinator of Georgia-based environmental group Nuclear Watch South expressed dismay about the nuclear loan guarantees announcement. “It is a giant radioactive rip-off for Georgians and the U.S. taxpayers to promise our money for nuclear reactors. Radioactive risk and radioactive waste are the only promises that nukes can be counted on to keep.”
Despite Obama's announcement, Southern Company will not qualify to receive the tax-funded loans until it obtains a license to build the reactors from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The license is opposed by several environmental groups. Southern Company has resisted using union labor, a possible loan guarantee condition which may drive up already high estimates for the reactors. The loan guarantees are also contingent upon NRC approval for the Vogtle reactor design. A generic license for the Westinghouse “AP 1000” reactor design which Southern Company proposes for the Vogtle site is being questioned by the NRC over safety concerns. The Westinghouse design has downgraded the typical robust concrete “containment building” to a much less substantial “shield building” made from stacked concrete blocks.
The new nuclear reactors are part of a federal energy legislation package which attempts to address climate change. There are hopeful trends which may yet offset the need for new reactors which take many years to license and construct. Energy Department figures from the third quarter 2009 saw renewables surpass nuclear’s contribution to the total energy picture for the first time. The American Wind Energy Association reports that close to 10,000 Mw of new wind power joined the grid in 2009 — that's ALOT of clean power especially when you consider it would take the better part of a decade to install new nuclear energy. In addition, U.S. energy consumption habits have finally begun to shift and Southern Company predictions for energy need are not likely to materialize as it, too, has reported a downturn in electric sales for the past two years (the first time ever that sales have dropped for two years in a row).
“Loan guarantees for nuclear reactors are short-sighted,” says Ms. Carroll. “We predict that while we are waiting for nuclear energy to get itself ready, forward-thinking efficiency measures and small-scale installations of wind and solar which are joining the grid every day will transform the energy landscape and offset the need for more radioactive poison power. It will be a shame if Southern Company misses out on the green energy revolution because it is blinded by promises of easy money to pursue antiquated nuclear energy.”
Breakthrough study by IEER proves we can get off coal, oil and nuclear by 2040
ALICE is none other than Nuclear Watch South's Leslie Minerd who is joined by White Rabbit Tom Clements (Friends of the Earth), Red Queen and SC Sierra Club Chair Susan Corbett, and Tea Party Host Extraordinaire, the Mad Hatter, Tim Liszewski of Carolina Peace Resource Center. Alice and Crew crashed the 2008 Tea Party rally in Columbia, SC, and put tax-funded nuclear loan guarantees in front of the Tea Partiers and the local media.