Political Insider

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As Vogtle vote looms, Tim Echols asks: ‘Do you want to leave that stuff rusting ‘til Jesus comes?’


On Thursday, the state Public Service Commission will either approve or deny Georgia Power’s decision to continue construction on a pair of new nuclear reactors – with continued, in-advance payments from ratepayers.

Of the five PSC members, Tim Echols is the only one deliberating over that decision in public. On Monday, Echols sat down with Tim Bryant of WGAU (1340AM) in Athens. Click here to listen:

The PSC member began with this:

“This’ll be the first time where we’ve actually approved an amount of money for them that would be beyond where our staff says is a break-even point on the plant. In other words, the amount of money that we’re being asked to give them in the new schedule is – for Georgia Power’s piece – is going to be about $10.5 billion. And our staff says the break-even point on the plant is $9 billion.

“So up to this point, we’ve been essentially either on the budget or under budget, in terms of what we’ve obligated ratepayers for. This is the first decision we have to make, whether we knowingly push the plant into uneconomic territory.”

Echols put the blame on Westinghouse, which was the contractor for the nuclear plants until it declared bankruptcy. Work has already been abandoned on V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina, another Westinghouse project. Echols continued:

“I’m not looking forward to the vote on Thursday, because on the one hand, yeah, we’ve gone over. On the other, we’ve spent $5 billion, and do you want to leave that stuff rusting ‘til Jesus comes out there? It’s been a disaster out there in South Carolina for them to cancel the plant. The governor’s chopping heads off over there….”

Echols said his decision has been made harder by the fact that the tax-rewrite emerging this week from Congress failed to extend nuclear power tax credits that Georgia Power says are needed to make the project work economically, while wind and solar incentives remain intact.

But the PSC member also indicated that the economic benefit of the construction itself would be a factor:

“There’s not a good option. So now I’m looking to see, can I justify doing something uneconomic here? Is the economic impact of the facility, the 6,000 jobs – if you cancel those 6,000 jobs, it’s like pulling $150 million in annual payroll from that regional economy.

“When we cancelled the coal plant just down the road from here on (U.S.) 441 at Lake Sinclair, we saw the impact that it had on the Putnam County Board of Education in Eatonton, Ga. It wiped out a third of their tax base.”

Echols said he was preparing a motion to lower the amount of return that Georgia Power would earn from the project – which to us seems to be an indication that he’s leaning toward approval.

At the end of the interview, Bryant asked Echols what would happen if the PSC pulls the plug:

“If we cancel it, then the $5 billion they’ve spent – we’ll have a hearing to determine if it was all prudent. And then they would take that $5 billion and put it into rates, and rates would jump about 6 percent, and we’d have nothing to show for it…

“At the site, they would salvage any metal they could get out, and sell it to the scrap man. And maybe some of the parts that have been put on could be pulled off and sold to other countries like China and Russia. Maybe we sell them for 10 cents on the dollar – a nickel on the dollar.”

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In preparation for Thursday’s PSC vote on the new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, we point you to this 2014 article from Psychology Today on the hazards of “sunk cost” decisions.

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On the other hand, we have this from Reuters:

PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he would not follow Germany’s example by phasing out nuclear energy in France because his priority was to cut carbon emissions and shut down polluting coal-fired production.

“I don’t idolize nuclear energy at all. But I think you have to pick your battle. My priority in France, Europe and internationally is CO2 emissions and (global) warming,” he told France 2 television in an interview.

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The Marietta Daily Journal reports today that 50 CobbLinc bus drivers – half of those working on a daily basis -- failed to show up on Monday in an unexpected work stoppage. The cause of the drivers’ actions isn’t clear, but Cobb transit officials said the bus system would be operating a pared-down, Saturday schedule on Tuesday.

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Democrat Stacey Abrams was asked a blunt question on an appearance on the popular “Pod Save America” podcast: Is the triangulation approach – the tactic of adopting some of your opponent’s ideas – a feasible strategy in a state like Georgia? The gubernatorial candidate said, in short, no:

"As a matter of strategy, to say you’re going to triangulate your principles in order to win an election sends a message to both sides: To the people who aren’t already on your side, they see you as a hypocrite. And for the people who should be on your side, they see that you don’t actually value your principles."

She also repeated her critique that other Democratic candidates spent far too much money on TV ads - and too few dollars on field organization. Her plan: Knitting together a coalition of "consistently progressive white voters" - about 23 percent of the electorate - while turbo-charging the party's African-American base.

"In Georgia in particular, we have allowed more than 1 million votes to lie fallow, communities of candidates who haven't heard directly from candidates at the statewide level in decades," said Abrams. "We don't need a million. We just need 200,000."

Listen to the podcast here. (Greg Bluestein)


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.