As 1.6% owners of the Vogtle nuclear power plant, customers of Dalton Utilities may be wondering how much they will be on the hook for cost overruns, especially as the Georgia Public Service Commission is about to make a decision that could affect whether construction on the over-budget, over-deadline plant goes forward or ceases. Unfortunately, the managers of Dalton Utilities have refused to provide the public with documents that could answer those questions.
The Georgia Public Service Commission Staff (PSC) staff and the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) have asked Dalton Utilities for information related to what Dalton knew about the problems at Vogtle, when, and whether they shared everything that they knew with their customers and the public. Dalton has effectively stonewalled any attempt to learn more information about the Vogtle expansion project, stonewalling the PSC staff and refusing to answer a public records request form EPI.
In a January 2016 interview with the Dalton Daily Citizen-News, Dalton Utilities CEO Tom Bundros claimed construction at Vogtle was going very well, saying, “The actual shells of the buildings are substantially complete. Vogtle unit three is scheduled to be online in the summer of 2019 and unit four in the summer of 2020.”
But the plant was not “going very well” as Bundros stated. It is now scheduled to go online in the 2021/2022 timeframe, more than 5 years behind its original schedule.
In the new owners agreement filed by Georgia Power on August 31, 2017, Dalton notably said that it, along with the other co-owners of the project, would reserve the right the pull out of the project if Georgia Power’s customers didn’t also have to pay their fair share. In other words, if Georgia Power could not get the Commission to stick Georgia Power customers with more of the cost overruns (instead forcing Georgia Power’s Wall Street investors pay for the overages), Dalton might just leave the project altogether.
Additionally Dalton, and the other co-owners, claimed that failure to continue with the Vogtle project would have an adverse effect on its ability to compete for customers.
It should have been no surprise when, on October 19, 2017, the Georgia PSC staff asked Dalton to provide evidence for such claims. Additionally, the PSC staff asked Dalton for documents related to knowledge of problems at Vogtle prior to the March 2017 bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the original lead contractor on the project.
But Dalton refused to answer.
Not only did it refuse to answer, but Dalton said that it “objects to said Request on the basis of relevancy” to almost every question the Commission asked, stating that DU does not have the information requested in its possession and that the request was “overly broad.” How Dalton was able to make its original claims on August 31 without appropriate evidence is unknown.
EPI also requested documentation from Dalton Utilities management on October 27th, 2017 regarding any information that might demonstrate if Dalton was aware of financial problems Westinghouse was having with the project. Dalton objected in a response on December 6, 2017, again citing a lack of relevancy, and also claiming attorney-client privilege. Although the two requests were slightly different, it is unknown how similar information would be protected by attorney-client privilege in EPI’s request but not the Georgia PSC staff’s request. In both requests from the GA PSC staff and EPI, Dalton claimed no documents were in its possession. If Dalton did not have any responsive documents, why is there inconsistency in its responses to GA PSC staff and EPI?
Dalton Utilities customers deserve to know what impact Vogtle will have on their bills if Vogtle goes forward or if the project is canceled. Because Dalton does not have shareholders like Georgia Power, the answer to that question will affect the pocketbooks of Dalton’s customers.