Monday, August 12, 2013

Quit CWIP, It's a Rip!

The Georgia legislature, in its great (yawn) wisdom, saw fit to grant Georgia Power the, ah… power to charge us ratepayers, in advance, for two nuclear reactors. The 16 billion dollar plus reactors are under construction at Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River just south of Augusta. CWIP (Construction Work in Progress) was passed as the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act.

In testifying at the committee level, many citizens argued against the proposal brought by a legislator, known technically as a lapdog. One participant's testimony was rather brief, to wit: The apparently irresistible lobbying and campaign contributions that seduced national legislators into signing onto privatization and deregulation schemes over the past decades brought us to the economic melt-down we are now just beginning to enjoy. The push for SB31 is more of the same. I hope you’ll consider that history and two other things in your deliberations: Nuclear power is the wrong horse; This bill is an industry fantasy and a consumer rip-off. Truer words were never spoken.

One of the committee members, demonstrating the quality of that legislative wisdom, dismissed such arguments, pointing out that they were, “just anti-nuclear”. I used to think that arguments should be judged or refuted based on their merit or lack of such, not on whether those advancing the argument have opinions contrary to yours on other issues. I humbly, and gratefully, stand corrected.

Many of the arguments put forth by the opposition predicted that, as with past nuclear projects, the cost estimates would very likely not coincide with the actual costs. Another way of saying this is that the rip-off of ratepayers will be greater than originally stated. Down the road a bit now, the legislation passed in 2009, this has proven all too true, to the tune already of more than 1.6 billion U.S. dollars. That's about 4 wind generators which could operate almost immediately, not 16 years in the future, just in over-runs. The project is also fifteen months behind schedule.

When activists opposing the original Plant Vogtle offered predictions that proved similarly correct, no note was apparently taken to, in future, attend to those who in the past have been shown to be credible and be skeptical toward those who in the past have been shown to be not, to in fact lie. The original plant costs were more than ten times over cost estimates. We’re not talking petty cash here. Those estimates were in the billions. One theory was that the anti-folks weren’t listened to because they didn’t wear three-piece suits nor display $200 haircuts. A few tried that and it didn’t seem to matter so maybe it has more to do with campaign contributions and/or ideology. Could be. Maybe that’s what they mean by legislative wisdom.

The Public Service Commission (my, that sounds so uplifting, so servicing… reminds me of Reagan calling nuclear warheads peacekeepers) is made up of five commissioners who are elected statewide. Statewide campaigns are expensive to run. Gee, I wonder where folks get the money to run for such an office and I wonder if successful candidates would feel beholden to, ah… service whomever it was who funded their campaign? And would said funders continue to fund campaigns of those who didn’t provide proper service? Like, for example, if Georgia Power requested a rate increase, ever so politely – would PSC then, in effect, stand for Power Service Commission? So far it sadly has. Some citizens advocate public financing of elections so that serving the funders would mean what it says, Public Service Commission. Of course those citizens probably are anti-nuclear so we can safely dismiss that point of view.

News Flash! The PSC recently required Georgia Power to add 525 megawatts of solar energy to their energy system. This was a 3-2 vote, confusing everyone who sees PSC, with ample history to support such a view, as being in the pocket of the industry. Georgia Power, in it's twenty year plan had appallingly envisioned zero solar so this is significant. I mean, solar over nuclear is an obvious no-brainer but not for those who call the shots in Georgia, until now. It has been suggested that Georgia Power did not take a stand against this proposal because it is saving its ammo for rate increases down the road to cover the cost over-runs on those nukes and the slip in ratings the company has suffered due to their pursuit of such a dangerous and uneconomical technology. I would venture that company executives are also confident that they can always meet the megawatt requirement with paper shuffling or campaign contributions.

It's not clear why Georgia Power went to the legislature for the CWIP tax (yes, TAX!) when it has rarely had any problem having its way with the PSC. Maybe it just likes to exercise its... power. The legislative vote passed but not by much and some claim that had the vote been delayed a week it would have lost. Guaran-damned-teeing an 11% profit to a corporation, in advance!, tends to leave folks open to charges of corporate welfare. Socialize the risks, capitalize the profits... not a motto easily swallowed even by seasoned ideologues. PSC however was complicit by approving the action. Activists are now attempting to repeal CWIP on the grounds that Georgia Power either deliberately misled the legislature or is incredibly incompetent as shown by its cost over-runs and legal squabbling with contractors. Or both. And the competence of the legislature itself can be called into question for making such a one-sided deal. Even if Georgia Power never completes the plant it still gets the money. There is no provision to share any profits with ratepayers. If we're going to have Socialism let's have it for the people not for business interests. Try for more information or ways to help out with the Quit CWIP campaign.

One of the primary factors in Ga. Power getting CWIP through the General Assembly was to create a special provision for how the fee would be applied to industrial and commercial users so that their rates wouldn't significantly increase.  They were opposing it like crazy and suddenly their opposition disappeared--once the back room deal was made.  Because it was put into the law using very technical and obtuse language, the average person wouldn't have been able to figure it out.  We did our research and started yelling about it but the fast track they used for moving the bill along gave little time for understanding what had transpired.  I still believe that if we'd had just one more week we would have killed it.  But Ga. Power's 70+ lobbyists made sure that it was rushed through in a completely unprecedented fashion.

It remains to be seen how the other increases due to Vogtle get applied to industrial and commercial users via the PSC.  My bet is they will get a special deal, once again, thus silencing that powerful arm of opposition.