Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday voted 4–1 in support of plans by Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power to build two reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant site.

The decision means that the utility can begin building its nuclear plant in two years, as long as it secures approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Southern Co. filed for a combined construction and operating license in March 2008. That review is expected to take a minimum of three years to complete.

The Georgia House approved a bill earlier this month that authorizes Georgia Power to collect in advance from ratepayers some of the $6.4 billion it will cost to build the plant.

On Tuesday, a majority of the commission adopted a motion by Commissioner Stan Wise to allow the company to recover the cost of financing the plant during construction, known as Construction Work in Progress or CWIP. The PSC also approved a recommendation for the company and the PSC staff to work together to develop an alternative risk-sharing mechanism to provide some protection from significant cost overruns to ratepayers.

“CWIP will save customers money and better ensure that the creditworthiness of the Company can withstand the financing of these costs, which again saves customers money,” Commissioner Wise said in a press release (PDF) Tuesday.

Georgia Power filed its certification request on August 1, 2008. The PSC held three rounds of hearings in November and December 2008 and in January 2009, during which witnesses presented testimony and parties entered evidence to support their filings.

Plant Vogtle, located near Waynesboro, Ga., has been in operation since 1987 with the completion of Unit 1. Unit 2 went online in 1989.

The Georgia PSC’s decision follows the Florida Public Service Commission’s approval in October 2008 of plans by FPL Group and Progress Energy to recover preliminary costs of new nuclear development. In February, Scana Corp. won approval from South Carolina regulators to build two new reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.

Sources: Georgia PSC, POWERnews