The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 4, 2013

Some leaders souring on nuclear power costs



ATLANTA (AP) — As the cost of building a new nuclear plant soars, there are signs of buyer's remorse.

The second-guessing from officials in Georgia and Florida is a sign that maybe the nation is not quite ready for a nuclear renaissance. On top of construction costs running much higher than expected, the price of natural gas has plummeted, making it tough for nuclear plants to compete in the energy market.

In Georgia last week, Southern Co. told regulators it needed to raise its construction budget for Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia by $737 million to $6.85 billion. At about the same time, a Georgia lawmaker sought to penalize the company for going over budget, announcing a proposal to cut into Southern Co.'s profits by trimming some of the money its subsidiary Georgia Power makes.

The legislation has a coalition of tea party, conservative and consumer advocacy groups behind it, but faces a tough sale in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. GOP Rep. Jeff Chapman found just a single co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Karla Drenner.

As a regulated monopoly, Georgia Power currently earns about 11 percent in profits when it invests its own money into power projects. Chapman's legislation would reduce those profits if the nuclear project is over budget, as is the current projection.

"Conservatives do not believe in incentivizing failure," Debbie Dooley, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, recently told Georgia lawmakers. "They should not profit from this mistake."

Southern Co. has said the nuclear plant is still a better economic deal than the alternatives over the long run.

In Florida, lawmakers want to end the practice of utilities collecting fees from customers before any electricity is produced.

"The price tag keeps going up. The timeframe they are going to build it has been extended year after year after year," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, a Republican and self-described nuclear power supporter.

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