Southern Co. faces questions in Georgia related to Kemper plant

KEMPER COUNTY — A decision to absorb losses on an over-budget power plant in Mississippi may haunt Southern Co. now that it wants regulators to raise its budget for a costly nuclear power plant in Georgia.

Southern Co. executives fielded hostile questions today during their first testimony before utility regulators since announcing the firm could not meet its state-approved budget to build two more nuclear reactors at Plant (VOH’-gohl), southeast of Augusta. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power has asked to raise the budget for its share of the massive project by $737 million to roughly $6.85 billion.

Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols asked early in the hearing whether Southern Co. executives had considered offering a deal like it reached in Mississippi. Faced with cost overruns while building Plant Ratcliffe in Mississippi’s Kemper County, a showcase facility designed to capture much of the carbon dioxide produced while burning local coal to make electricity. Southern Co. agreed to take a $540 million loss on unexpected project costs rather than passing along those expenses to its customers. The utility recently announced it may face another $160 million in additional losses on the same plant.

“Is that something you’re open to or talked about?” Echols asked two company executives.

Kyle Leach, director of resource and policy planning for Georgia Power, said he could not speak directly to agreement reached in Mississippi. Southern Co. has long argued that Georgia’s utility regulators have the power to reject any project spending it deems imprudent. The utility has consistently opposed legislation or proposed rules that would have trimmed its profits if the project broke its budget.

Commissioner Stan Wise, a reliable defender of the company, expressed frustration that has driven back the finish dates from April 2016 and April 2017 to late 2017 and 2018.

“The trend is delay and overruns,” Wise said. “Is there any reason to believe the trend is not going to continue through the construction phase?”

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