Everyone knows how free-market capitalism works: corporations invest money to make and market a product, then keep the profits.
But what if you could persuade someone else to invest that money, while still pocketing the profits? Welcome to Georgia Power’s so-called “Nuclear Renaissance.”
In 2009, Georgia’s General Assembly passed the Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act, allowing Georgia Power and its partners to charge ratepayers in advance for the construction of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle. It’s called “CWIP” (“Construction Work In Progress”) and it adds an extra 10 percent to your power bill every month. It’s the first corporate welfare tax that bypasses the government and goes straight to a wealthy corporation.
Why? Because no financial institution or investor will take a chance on nuclear energy. The new reactors are the first permitted in the U.S. since 1979’s Three Mile Island accident, which proved that the risks of nuclear power are far more than financial.
So why are the General Assembly and the Public Service Commission allowing Georgia Power to invest someone else’s money in a dangerous, obsolete technology, at a time when the company’s generating capacity is overbuilt, demand is declining, and solar and wind power have become dramatically cheaper?
Because this is the story of the nuclear industry from Day One. It’s an industry that never could have made a dime in profit without cradle-to-grave subsidies from you, the taxpayer.
Nuclear power was a byproduct of government research in pursuit of the atomic bomb during World War II. It was the federal government that promoted nuclear energy as “too cheap to meter” and marketed “the peaceful atom” to a population shocked by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Uranium miners suffer disproportionately high rates of cancer, so Congress voted to compensate them with tax money, a tacit admission that nuclear power requires routine health sacrifices from its workers even to exist.
No insurance company will insure a nuclear facility, so Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act, limiting liability for the nuclear industry in the event of a catastrophic accident. The U.S. taxpayer effectively provides insurance for the entire industry, including the mass evacuation and emergency services such an accident would require.
To rescue the nuclear industry after decades in decline, Congress passed the 2005 Energy Act, which included loan guarantees to encourage nuclear construction. Georgia Power and its partners have been awarded more than $8 billion in zero-interest tax-funded loans for Vogtle 3 and 4.
Like Vogtle 1 and 2, the new reactors will suck as much water from the Savannah River as the cities of Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta together consume each day, with no compensation offered to the state or its citizens.
Mounting piles of deadly radioactive waste are left behind at every step of the nuclear industry. No safe solution yet exists, but the Nuclear Waste Policy Act commits the federal government to build a permanent repository and move the waste off-site.
In fact, because nuclear waste must be kept safely contained for thousands of years, the real total cost of nuclear power is unknown. The only thing we can accurately track are the profits. And because taxpayers bear so much of the cost, the profit margin looks darn good.
Although Vogtle 3 and 4 are 39 months behind schedule and $3 billion over budget, the Public Service Commission guarantees Georgia Power a 10.95% return on equity. Georgia Power’s financial arrangement with the state ensures that our CWIP money goes straight to the profit column of the company ledger. In the six years since breaking ground for Vogtle 3 and 4, Georgia Power has posted record profits, 15.9% in 2016.
Remember, we live in a state where our elected officials practically lined up on the border to defend us from tax-funded health care ‹ the kind they themselves enjoy. But when it comes to tax-funded corporate profits, their courageous stand for free-market capitalism evaporates like steam from a nuclear cooling tower.