Imagine that you are the loan officer at the local community bank.
A person sits in front of your desk who wants to borrow money. He’s a developer who builds expensive McMansions for high-end homebuyers.
You look at his credit history and discover that the first McMansion he built was so shoddily constructed that the bank foreclosed on it. The one he is currently building is so much over budget and so far behind schedule that it’s probably going to be foreclosed as well.
He tells you he is applying for a loan because he wants to build a third McMansion. What is your response?
If you have an ounce of common sense, you not only tell him “No,” you tell him, “Hell, no.” And then you call security to escort him from the building.
Clearly, a person with that business history should not be given any more money. You’d have to be extremely dumb or overwhelmingly corrupt to approve a loan.
Or perhaps you’d be a member of the Public Service Commission.
The PSC has been burned twice over the last 35 years by Georgia Power because it approved nuclear projects that cost the ratepayers billions and will cost them billions more.
When Georgia Power built its first two nuclear units at Plant Vogtle during the 1980s, those reactors were originally projected to cost $660 million. A tidal wave of cost overruns drove up the final tab to nearly $9 billion.
The utility is now building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The project is about $1.7 billion over budget and 39 months behind schedule. The first of these new units was originally supposed to start generating electricity in 2016. It will be the summer of 2019, if then, before a single kilowatt of power is produced.
With that kind of construction management history, what is Georgia Power proposing to do? It wants to build a third nuclear facility, of course.
When the company submitted its Integrated Resource Plan to the PSC earlier this year, the plan included the possible construction of another nuclear plant on a 7,000-acre site Georgia Power purchased along the Chattahoochee River in Stewart County, south of Columbus.
Georgia Power said construction on the nuclear plant, if the company ultimately decides to build it, wouldn’t begin for another 10 to 15 years. But the utility wants ratepayers to cough up $175 million right now to pay for site studies and an application for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The PSC held its first hearings last week on the proposed resource plan.
In a rational world, the commissioners would have laughed Georgia Power’s attorneys right out of the hearing room for making such a ludicrous request.
They would have told the utility to forget about launching a third nuclear project. They would have held a news conference to reassure Georgia Power’s customers they won’t be burdened with higher monthly bills to pay for such a harebrained scheme.
The PSC doesn’t operate rationally, however. Georgia Power will move ahead with planning work on the Stewart County nukes because the commissioners are congenitally unable to say “No” to the state’s most powerful utility.
If there is one thing we’ve learned from the experience of the past 35 years, it is this: Georgia Power is incapable of building nuclear plants that are finished on time and under budget.
That doesn’t mean they’re bad people – they are just not capable, for whatever reason, of successfully managing a complex construction project of this type. That has been amply demonstrated time and again.
This inability creates a larger problem: Georgia Power wants to pass along all the cost overruns to their customers in the form of higher monthly bills. If the PSC members were doing the job they’re elected to do, they would crack down on the utility and require its shareholders to eat part of those cost overruns. So far, they have not done this.
Having botched two nuclear projects already, the PSC is about to let Georgia Power go down this expensive path for a third time. That reminds me of the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I’m an idiot.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.