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Peaches But No Cream? Nuclear Plant Funding in Georgia

peach4 We were pleasantly surprised that Georgia has done what Missouri is edging toward doing:

Wednesday the Senate took great strides in saving taxpayers and Georgia Power customers significant money by passing the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act, Senate Bill 31. The bill allows recovering of financing costs during the construction of two nuclear power generators [at Vogtle] rather than have the financing costs compounded at the end of the project. Sen. Don Balfour, chairman of the Rules Committee, sponsored the bill.

We don’t disagree with any of this – pay-as-you-go stems interest charges that run into the hundreds of millions - but the writing certainly has a Pravda-like tone to it, doesn’t it? This comes from the Senate press office; we wonder if their next release will be about their glorious five-year plan for agriculture.

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Let’s see how it plays in the press. Here’s Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

State senators —- with little or no expertise in utility management, and with no staff to call upon for advice —- decided that somehow they knew better than the PSC [public service commission] how to handle extremely complex technical questions about utility financing and ratemaking.

Uh-oh.

Of course, the senators weren’t entirely on their own in making that decision —- they had a little input from experts at Georgia Power. The company has more than 70 lobbyists registered to protect its interests —- roughly one lobbyist for every three legislators. In fact, the legislation in question, Senate Bill 31, was largely written by the company’s lobbyists and lawyers.

We have no reason to doubt Bookman’s sincerity, but these are boilerplate arguments against policy you don’t like. We’re reasonably sure PSC member are happy to assist legislators and are far from delicate lambs being mowed down by evil Georgia Power.

But here’s Stephen Willis (same source):

The most obvious threat to Georgia Power’s big monopoly nuclear and coal plan is the development of Georgia’s offshore wind resources. To forestall this, Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company, has worked with the U.S. Minerals Management Service to obtain exclusive rights to the development of offshore wind in Georgia for at least five more years.

Are you picking up a certain distaste for Georgia Power? A lot of the articles on this move can’t really detach the value of the legislation from feelings about Georgia Power – we don’t get the same vibe about AmerenUE and the Missouri press and we suspect the “Georgia Power is a monopoly” meme is a convenient peg.

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Here’s some reaction from Georgia pols – specifically, the Lieutenant Governor and those running on the GOP side for governor next time out:

Though he said little publicly about the measure, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was one of the forces pushing S.B. 31 through the chamber.

But three other GOP candidates for governor — the ones who hold public office — have yet to gather behind it.

To summarize, Secretary of State Karen Handel remains cautiously neutral. State Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) says the timing is wrong. And state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine says the whole deal “stinks.”

Here’s what Oxendine says:

You don’t change the rules — it almost smells like you’re making special rules because you want to be able to guarantee what the outcome is. It really smells of Georgia Power saying, ‘I want a specific outcome.’

Hmmm! Back to that. In the end, the state wanted the same outcome as Georgia Power. The Senate went for the bill 38-16. Cost to each residential consumer: about $16.00 per year. A bargain for the result: but Georgia Power should have found a way to sell the peaches with a little cream.

We went to college in Atlanta. Our apartment there was located on the corner of Peachtree Street and West Peachtree Street. At last count, Atlanta had 71 streets with Peachtree in their names.

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