When Georgia legislators passed a bill a few years ago to make fireworks legal, I remember talking to one of the bill’s supporters.
I mentioned to him the large numbers of people who blow off fingers or other parts of their anatomy, or kill themselves by foolishly setting off fireworks. Did that concern him at all, I asked.
He had this simple reply: “You can’t fix stupid.”
When my friends and associates ask me how the Georgia Public Service Commission can allow construction to continue on the Plant Vogtle nuclear project when it keeps falling farther behind schedule and going more over budget, I offer that same answer. You can’t fix stupid.
Unfortunately for Georgia consumers, the five members of the PSC just may be the dumbest collection of individuals ever elected to public office in this state. We are talking about people, as the old joke goes, who will never be a threat to win a Nobel Prize in physics.
The idea of letting Georgia Power build two additional reactors at Plant Vogtle was a deluded notion from the start. All the commissioners had to do was look back at the first two reactors built in the 1970s and 1980s -- they went billions over budget and were completed years behind schedule.
The PSC members either misinterpreted this history or never bothered to read it. When they voted in 2009 to authorize the project, the only commissioner to vote no was Bobby Baker, who tried to warn his colleagues they were making a huge mistake.
“You’re taking a big gamble with Georgia Power’s money, the ratepayers’ money,” Baker said. “If you want to roll the dice, roll it with your own money. We’re talking about billions of dollars here.”
The other four commissioners -- Stan Wise, Doug Everett, Chuck Eaton, and Lauren “Bubba” McDonald -- laughed off Baker’s warning and voted to give Georgia Power the go-ahead.
It didn’t take long to determine that Baker was correct in his warning. The Vogtle project was originally projected to cost $14 billion and be complete by 2017, but the total cost has now ballooned to more than $25 billion and the reactors won’t be operational until 2021 or 2022 -- unless there are more delays, which is likely.
This boondoggle is a problem not only for customers of Georgia Power but also for those who get their electricity from one of its partners in the project: Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and Dalton Utilities.
Georgia Power now contends that it will have to spend at least $12.2 billion as its share of finishing the project. The PSC staff and the outside experts, however, say the project no longer makes economic sense if it ends up costing ratepayers more than $9 billion.
“If it is any amount above $9 billion, then it ceases being economic and cancellation [of the reactors] is the better option,” said Philip Hayet, one of the consultants who has tracked the economic impact of the project for the PSC.
“It doesn’t make sense, economically, to go forward if the amount exceeds $9 billion,” said Lane Kollen, another economic consultant.
That’s a conclusion already reached by officials in South Carolina, who were building two nuclear reactors identical in design to the ones being constructed at Vogtle. When the price of those two reactors exceeded $9 billion, South Carolina pulled the plug on that project.
The PSC had the opportunity to make the same decision here and terminate a project that will only cost Georgia consumers billions more in cost overruns. They set a date of Dec. 21 to make the final decision on whether to kill Vogtle or keep it going.
You would think that the commissioners would listen to their own staff analysts and consultants who monitor the Vogtle project. Their expert advice was to kill the project if it couldn’t be kept under $9 billion.
But as I mentioned earlier, these commissioners aren’t exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer.
When the vote was taken last week, the same four commissioners who voted to start this project in 2009 voted to keep it going. Tim Echols, who replaced Baker on the commission, also voted to let the Vogtle construction proceed.
You can’t fix stupid.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.