Georgia Commission Backs New Nuke

A divided Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) Thursday approved Georgia Power Co.’s plans to investigate a new nuclear power project in Stewart County, with a time frame around 2030. Approval came in a 4–1 vote, with Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald in opposition.

The vote represented a bit of a compromise. The Atlanta-based Southern Co. subsidiary, in its triennial integrated resource plan (IRP) draft submitted in January, had asked for $175 million in cost recovery to fund site work and preparation of a license request to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The PSC staff recommended that the commission defer the issue until the next IRP filing, in 2019.

McDonald offered a motion to accept the staff recommendation. His motion failed for lack of a second. Commissioner Stan Wise, a consistent nuclear power enthusiast, then offered a motion to scale back the recovery to not exceed $99 million through the second quarter of 2019. Wise argued that with coal exiting the Georgia generating mix, the base load “void has to be filled,” and filling it with natural gas puts the utility too dependent on one fuel. “Fuel diversity continues to make rates stable,” he said.

The IRP before the commission was the result of a series of negotiations among the staff, the utility, and numerous stakeholder groups including business interests and environmental groups. The negotiations resulted in a stipulation that the company will acquire 1,200 MW of renewable energy (mostly solar), with 1,050 MW in utility-scale projects. The stipulation includes 150 MW of distributed generation.

McDonald offered a motion to scale up the renewables commitment in the IRP to 1,700 MW, with 1,500 MW in utility-scale projects and 200 MW of distributed generation. Wise opposed the McDonald amendment, arguing that the stipulation already triples the amount of renewables that Georgia Power had submitted in its draft IRP last January.

McDonald’s motion failed 3–2, with Commissioner Tim Echols also in the minority. Wise and commissioners H. Doug Everett and Chairman Chuck Eaton opposed the motion.

The five-member Georgia commission, as is fairly common in the South, is an elected body. Commissioners are elected statewide to six-year terms, although each member represents a geographical district and must live in that district. All the current members are Republicans. Wise is the longest-serving commissioner. He began his time on the PSC in 1995. Echols is the newest PSC member, having been elected in 2010. He is up for reelection this year, the only member facing voters in 2016.

Southern Co. is building two new nuclear units in Georgia, both AP1000 Westinghouse pressurized water reactors, joining two units already at the Vogtle station in east-central Georgia. The new units are years behind schedule and billions of dollars over the original budget.

Kennedy Maize is a long-time energy journalist and frequent contributor to POWER.