Ga. agency seeks funding to track nuclear costs

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 25, 2014 at 10:27 am •  Published: January 25, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — Badly outnumbered regulators in Georgia want to hire two more employees to keep tabs on the $14 billion project to build a first-of-its-kind nuclear plant.

Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power says its share of the project to build Plant Vogtle (VOH'-gohl) is projected to go hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. Its 2.4 million customers will pay for the company's building costs unless regulators force the utility to take losses on questionable spending.

Now the chairman of the Public Service Commission, Chuck Eaton, is asking state lawmakers for roughly $180,000 to fund two more employees to carefully track utility spending and construction efforts. The information those monitors gather will be crucial if regulators ultimately want to block Georgia Power from billing its customers for at least some of the project's increasing cost.

Regulators are at a disadvantage when contending with Georgia Power, a monopoly that owns a 46 percent stake in the nuclear plant.

Southern Co. earned $852 million in a single three-month period and can afford a small army of experienced attorneys, engineers, lobbyists and financial experts to make its case. By comparison, the PSC has a $9 million annual budget to fund all its work.

One commission employee is tasked with tracking project spending on a regular basis. Georgia Power also pays for an independent monitor who works for the state and keeps tabs on construction progress.

"It would put us in a better position to go toe-to-toe with them if there are costs that are in dispute in the future," said Eaton, explaining why he wants additional help.

State lawmakers will consider Eaton's request as they review budget plans in the coming weeks. Rep. Penny Houston, who leads a subcommittee that oversees PSC spending, said she would support adding the two new monitors assuming extra money can be freed up in the budget.

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