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Once a Vogtle skeptic, Ralston warns Georgia can't 'walk away' from nuke project

House Speaker David Ralston didn’t support the legislation that allowed Georgia Power to charge customers more than $1 billion in advance to finance Plant Vogtle. But he said it’s likely too late for state regulators to ditch the massive project.

"We've gotten a long way down the road," he said on GPB's "Political Rewind" on Wednesday. "I'm not inclined to turn our back on the project until we've exhausted every conceivable way to salvage it."

Georgia politicians are wrestling anew with the Vogtle as the Public Service Commission prepares a vote next week to decide whether to allow construction to continue on the nation’s last ongoing commercial nuclear power project or suspend it.

Ralston was one of 66 House lawmakers to vote against a 2009 measure that allowed Georgia Power to charge customers an estimated $1.6 billion in financing charges and an additional $400 million in other taxes. The measure passed both chambers and was signed into law with support from state leaders.

"I thought it was bad public policy to have consumers, in effect, almost pre-paying for that construction project," he said of his vote, taken before he was speaker. "I was afraid we would get to the point that we’ve gotten to. But having said that, we’re way down the road now."

Vogtle was originally supposed to be completed this year, eight years after work began. But the project has been plagued by cost overruns, construction delays and the bankruptcy of its lead contractor. It won’t be finished until late 2022 at earliest – and at least $5 billion higher than the original $14 billion cost estimate.

Asked if lawmakers could be forced to revisit Vogtle next year, Ralston said he's had discussions with Georgia Power executives who are "committed to trying to turn that thing around" but offered no specifics about potential legislation.

"I want to work with them to the extent that we can," he said. "Looking at the long view, we need that facility to come on line. We need the power to be generated by it. I don’t think we should just wash our hands of it and walk away."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.