PSC Testimony
Plant Vogtle 3 & 4 Prudency Hearing
Stephen Wingeier

Background: No investor or financial institution will risk money on a nuclear power plant, so Georgia Power and its partners financed the $35 billion expansion of Plant Vogtle – the first new reactors constructed in the U.S. since Three Mile Island in 1979 – with a 10% surcharge on my power bill. Though I was given no choice, technically that makes me an investor in the project, along with other utility customers across the state. Yet the profit on that investment goes to Georgia Power shareholders, who contributed nothing, while we get stuck with a 26% total rate hike to cover what the surcharge did not. They call it a regulated monopoly; I call it legalized racketeering.

This hearing was held to decide how much of Georgia Power’s excess cost due to construction mistakes and misfortunes should be covered by ratepayers. Comments were limited to 3 minutes, so I had to skip some of the later portions of this text.

Good morning, Commissioners! I am a Georgia Power ratepayer, which is to say a captive customer of the immensely profitable corporate monopoly you are charged to regulate. Thank you for this opportunity to speak. But if you actually want to hear what the people you represent have to say, try holding your hearings in the evening when working people can attend.

Looking into your faces in this room yesterday morning, I could see that each of you sincerely believes that nuclear power is a wise investment. I respectfully disagree.

If nuclear power was a wise investment, companies like Georgia Power would have no difficulty getting an insurance policy to cover it, instead of relying on taxpayers like me to cover a potentially catastrophic accident. Nor would taxpayers have to subsidize the medical bills of thousands of uranium miners who suffer from radiation sickness, or pay the unknown cost of safeguarding Georgia Power’s deadly waste for the next ten thousand years. Nor would utilities around the country be racing to see who will have the next meltdown by recklessly extending the expiration dates of ticking time bombs. Nor would the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have to repeatedly cite the owners of nuclear plants for safety violations, accidental radioactive releases, and shoddy construction practices like the ones Georgia Power would like me to pay for through the largest rate hike in U.S. history.

And if expanding Plant Vogtle was a wise investment, Georgia Power would have gladly invested its own money instead of burdening ratepayers like me with billions of dollars in construction costs. No, nuclear power is not a wise investment, but it is an extremely lucrative one, for one simple reason: public subsidies for the nuclear industry at every step of the way, while private corporations pocket the proceeds. If the money invested in Vogtle 3 and 4 had been invested instead in renewables like solar and wind, it would have yielded far more jobs, cheaper, cleaner energy, and a much, much larger and faster reduction in carbon emissions – but far less profit for Georgia Power, which to a simple ratepayer like me appears to be your overriding concern.

But the damage is now done, so you and I will have to agree to disagree and move on to the next issue: whether the cost overruns of this grossly imprudent project can be considered prudent.

The reason we are all here today is that in theory, you are weighing the testimony of all sides on that question, even though up till now you have decided almost every issue you consider in favor of Georgia Power, rather than the people who elected you and pay your salaries. Yet I can see in your faces that you take this responsibility seriously, and you sincerely want to do the right thing.

So let me ask you. Do you sincerely believe that it is fair and just for ordinary people already struggling to pay their utility bills to pay for the mistakes and misfortunes of a multibillion dollar private corporation? Is it morally acceptable that single mothers, minimum wage workers, people on welfare and unemployment, underfunded public schools, small businesses owners, and retired people like me should accept Georgia Power’s fourth rate hike in less than a year so that wealthy stockholders can enjoy their record-breaking dividends?

Do you sincerely believe that the ratepayers who have just finished paying for the most expensive energy construction project in Georgia history through an extra fee on their monthly bills, and who will now begin paying even more for the privilege of using the most expensive form of electricity ever invented, should now also pay an added $9 per month, on average, to pay for the construction errors and cost overruns of a company that has pocketed 17 billion dollars in profit in the process of making those errors and overruns?

Do you sincerely believe it is your job as public officials to see to it that the private company you oversee does not pay a dime that their customers could pay instead, even though Georgia Power’s own annual statistics show that it started this project with far more generating capacity than we needed, leading to the painfully obvious conclusion that from the beginning, Georgia Power had no motive for expanding Plant Vogtle other than to generate those record-breaking profits?

It’s becoming embarrassingly clear why the company that supplies my home’s electricity is not called “Georgia Electricity.” This is a company that produces electricity only as a sideline. Its real business is power. The power to take what it wants from the poor and powerless to line the pockets of its stockholders and executives.

At the same time it’s becoming less and less clear why you yourselves are called a “Public Service Commission.” I’m sorry to break this to you, but aiding and abetting the powerful in their quest for unlimited profit is not a public service. If Georgia Power were not so powerful that it can practically write the laws of the state of Georgia, this would be considered a criminal activity, possibly a RICO offense.

But just as every football team needs its squad of cheerleaders, even a team without an opponent, no corporate monopoly is complete without its squad of public servants to give the official rubber stamp of approval to any scheme it comes up with to boost its profits. Regardless of how sincerely you believe in what you do, the legitimacy you confer on this latest scheme is so transparently phony that by rights, Georgia Power should be paying your salaries instead of taxpayers like me. But I’m forgetting that getting others to pay its business expenses is one of this company’s specialties.

I don’t blame you for deciding every single issue that comes up in Georgia Power’s favor, rather than the public’s. I’m sure that in each instance you honestly believed it was the right thing to do. But I want to remind you that you are not elected by the voters and paid by the taxpayers to impose your personal beliefs on the ratepayers of Georgia. Yesterday Michael Hawthorn stood at this microphone and read to you your mission statement as Public Service Commissioners. I didn’t hear anything about cheerleading for a team with no opponent on a far from level playing field. In fact, it sounded to me like you are legally required and empowered to act instead as Georgia Power’s opponent, helping to level that field. So as a ratepayer, a voter, and a taxpayer I ask you to act not on your own convictions, however sincere, but to rule instead on behalf of the powerless, who have no defense against the powerful except the hope and prayer that their public servants on the Public Service Commission will choose to act on behalf of the public they were elected to serve. I am rooting for you! Go, team! Thanks for listening.