Georgia Public Service Commission candidate John Noel wants the PSC to stop Georgia Power from passing on costs to consumers for the two already far over-budget additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.
Noel lives on the west side of Atlanta near the Chattahoochee River and owns Energy & Environment LLC, an energy efficiency contracting business he started in 1999. He represented his home area in the Georgia House of Representatives for one two-year term in the early 2000s, before redistricting took him out.
“We’ve got a lot broken at the PSC, a whole lot,” Noel said. “I may be little jarring in some of my speech here, but I think it’s important for people to realize what’s at stake, and people don’t know the whole story.”
Although residents of their districts, PSC members are elected statewide. A Democrat, Noel is seeking the District 3 seat currently held by Chuck Eaton, a Republican. Noel came by the Statesboro Herald for an interview March 8, before he spoke to students in the Young Democrats organization at Georgia Southern University that evening.
The “whole story,” Noel said, began early in the last century when Georgia Power was granted a monopoly in exchange for a state regulatory body, the PSC, being set up to set rates and arbitrate fair and just expenses.
Georgia Power is ensured a return of about 10 percent above expenses, he said. Checked independently of Noel, Georgia Power’s financial summary from 2016 on the corporate website showed a zero profit after dividends, but 16 percent of revenue paid in dividends to stockholders.
“Unfortunately, instead of being regulated, they’ve become the boss when we’re supposed to be the boss,” Noel said. “I think they think they own the commission, instead of the commission being owned by the people.”
Now $25 billion
Georgia Power’s ownership of the commission, he said “is most evidently apparent with the Vogtle Nuclear Plant boondoggle.”
Originally, the added third and fourth reactors were projected to cost $14 billion and to be complete in 2015 and 2016. The most recent cost projection, when the PSC unanimously voted in December to allow continued construction, was $25 billion. Even for that estimate, Georgia Power was counting against the actual cost $3.2 billion that Toshiba, parent company of Westinghouse, refunded after Westinghouse went bankrupt while working on the project, Noel said.
So he figures the real cost is already $28 billion, double the original estimate.
When Plant Vogtle was built with its original two reactors, roughly 30 years ago, the projected cost was $1 billion, and the final cost ended up being $9 billion, also passed on to consumers in higher rates, Noel said.
With the ongoing addition of Reactor 3 and Reactor 4, the PSC has received semiannual cost reports.
“Through 17 (monitoring reports), my opponent has voted with and for Georgia Power every single time to allow these cost overruns, to shift the burden completely onto rate payers, and to not hold shareholders accountable,” Noel said.
He means Eaton. But Noel was one of three Democrats who qualified recently to run for the seat. So the winner among Noel, information technology consultant Johnny C. White and businesswoman Lindy Miller in the May 22 primary will face Eaton in the Nov. 6 general election.
While the reactors have been under construction, Georgia’s total energy consumption has actually declined a little, Noel observed. U.S. Energy Information Administration reports for recent years have shown this happening.
This occurred during economic growth, and he attributes the decline in consumption to greater efficiency, especially with the move away from incandescent lighting.
“You wonder and you scratch your head and you say, why do we need new generation now? And facts have changed,” Noel said. “When they sold us Vogtle the first time they said natural gas rates were going up; natural gas rates fell. They said power growth was going to go up; power growth has fallen. They said it would be completed in 2015 and ‘16. Double the timeline, double the cost.”
Would halt project
He suggests that the state should shift the responsibility for further costs to the company, not consumers. With the project halted, the $3 billion from Toshiba could then be counted against $8 billion Georgia Power has already spent, and the loss stopped at about $5 billion, he said.
“You say, ‘Ah, That’s terrible!’ But if we keep going, what’s to say that $28 billion doesn’t turn into $38 billion?” Noel said.
Solar power costs have also fallen in recent years, Eaton notes. He powers his home with solar-generated electricity after installing what he said was the first Tesla Powerwall, a state-of-the-art storage battery, in Georgia. He was also driving a Tesla electric car.
“Most of what I want to do is education and accountability, educating rate payers and business owners that there’s so much more they can do to save power, save energy, save money, and then really bringing accountability to the Public Service Commission,” Noel said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.