Vogtle fallout: Ending reactor project, loss of thousands of jobs on table

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In this 2015 photo, workers inside the partly constructed containment structure on of one of the two new nuclear power plants being built at Plant Vogtle. AJC/file

This isn’t the economic news that the Legislature wanted to hear as they finished up their winter session.

Westinghouse Electric Corp., a unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba, on Wednesday finally filed for Chaper 11 protection after years of massive losses on two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in east Georgia and another project in South Carolina.

Stan Wise is chairman of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates Georgia Power – which in turn operates Plant Vogtle. In two interviews with two newspapers, Wise makes two important points about the impact. From his interview with the AJC’s Russell Grantham:

Georgia Power and its parent Southern Co., both based in Atlanta, are scrambling to ensure that the thousands of workers remain on site, he said. Plant Vogtle is about 25 miles southeast of Augusta.

 

“The worst thing that could happen is the work force abandons the site” during the likely transition from Westinghouse’s management, Wise said. A worker walkout is unlikely, but it would endanger the Vogtle project’s viability if it happened, he added.

Westinghouse would like to abandon its role as chief contractor, which could cause the PSC to rethink the entire project. From the New York Times:

Stan Wise, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, said the utilities developing the Alvin W. Vogtle generating station in the state would have to evaluate whether it made sense to continue.

 

“It’s a very serious issue for us and for the companies involved,” Mr. Wise said. “If, in fact, the company comes back to the commission asking for recertification, and at what cost, clearly the commission evaluates that versus natural gas or renewables.”

Matt Kempner, the AJC’s business columnist, continues that thought:

Would Georgia Power and the other owners — or the Georgia Public Service Commission — cancel or put on hold one or both of the new units, leaving billions of dollars of work unfinished? (Less than half the nuclear island is built.)

 

It’s possible that the cost of dumping the project will now turn out to be lower than the cost of pushing forward. Georgia apparently has years of buffer before it’s expected to need additional power the Vogtle expansion would provide.

 

If the project pushes forward, scores of vendors and subcontractors might try to use the bankruptcy filing as a way to reopen terms of their obligations, pumping up costs.

Updated at 12:50 p.m.:  Moody’s Investor Service has weighed in on the Westinghouse development. The statement attributed to Michael Haggarty, associate managing director 

“Westinghouse’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and Toshiba’s ongoing financial weakness have raised new questions over their ability and willingness to complete the Summer and Vogtle nuclear projects under the terms of the fixed price contracts, placing additional financial pressure on the project owners [see below].

“Our negative outlooks for these entities incorporated our expectation that a Westinghouse bankruptcy filing could occur, and reflect the likelihood that the projects won’t be completed under the current time and cost arrangements. We anticipate the project owners will evaluate alternatives for finishing construction, which in all likelihood would result in higher risk and additional costs.”

***

This will take some explaining, but the basic premise can be filed under “Let’s you and her fight.”

So the Sixth District congressional campaign of Republican Judson Hill notes that the Washington-based Club for Growth has launched an ad attacking fellow GOP rival Karen Handel.

But the Hill operation notes this:

“The Club’s engagement in the 6th District comes the same week that President Trump blamed the group by name for working to save Obamacare.”

Hill isn’t pointing this out because he feels chivalric — though he has hair suitable for a white knight. He’s doing this because Club for Growth has actually endorsed yet another Sixth District Republican, Bob Gray, who has trumpeted himself as a true believer in President Donald Trump.

By pointing out Club for Growth hypocrisy, Hill is making the argument that Handel might, if she had money, in the hopes that both she and Gray might be damaged and Hill can slip in and grab one of two runoff berths on April 18.

And you thought trigonometry had no place in politics.

***

The End Citizens United PAC said it has raised more than $500,000 for Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign.

The left-leaning advocacy group said its donors averaged $11 per contribution directly to Ossoff. The former Congressional aide has raised more than $3.5 million.

“Georgia families are rallying behind Jon Ossoff because he will fight for them in Congress, and take on the Big Money agenda in Washington,” said Tiffany Muller, Executive Director of End Citizens United.

***

You know that Sally Yates was deprived her hearing on Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, perhaps under duress from the Donald Trump administration. But during a quick tour of the state Capitol on Tuesday night, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he hasn’t given up on the thought that Yates could make a Democratic run for governor next year.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in the Georgia House on Tuesday. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

“I think Sally Yates is special. I think there’s a great deal of affection for her in America right now, and I think she has all of the credentials and qualifications to be an outstanding leader,” said Reed. “I haven’t spoken to her about it at all, but I am very hopeful that she will give the race very strong consideration.”

Yates has given state and national Democratic leaders no indication she’ll consider a bid for public office.

Still, the mayor is one of a gaggle of Georgia politicos encouraging the former acting U.S. attorney general to make the run. (Suffice it to say that Reed and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who is expected to enter the race, are not close.)

In the meantime, Democratic state Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna has told friends that she might join the gubernatorial race.

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His congressional district may lie a few miles south and east of Georgia’s Sixth, but U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, has played a key role in the race to replace Tom Price in Congress.

Republican-aligned groups and researchers have been doing everything to play down Democratic frontrunner Jon Ossoff’s credibility, including questioning his years as a staffer in Johnson’s office. Opponents have also indicated they intend to do more to link Ossoff to Johnson and the congressman’s foot-in-mouth moments.

Johnson on Tuesday was dismissive about it all. The Decatur congressman said this of his most famous gaffe and any attempts to link Ossoff to it:

“If they want to say that my analogy of the military build-up on Guam would cause the island to tip over, if they want to say Jon is responsible for that, I don’t really see how they could do that. Most thoughtful people know that it was my attempt to be humorous with a straight face on an important talk.”

Johnson compared Ossoff, and any attempts to frame him as inexperienced, to Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law who has become a senior White House adviser:

“I guess you could make the same argument about Jared Kushner — the 33, 34-year-old that Trump is hoisting all of this responsibility on. I can guarantee you one thing: Jon Ossoff worked in my office for five years as a high-level staffer, so he has government experience, whereas Jared Kushner has none. So Jon is well-qualified to be a United States congressman. I think he’ll be a great one.”

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Democratic state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler joined the race this week to become Georgia’s top elections official.

With Secretary of State Brian Kemp indicating he’ll run for governor in 2018, a handful of contenders are seeking his gig. Dawkins-Haigler, of Lithonia, explains below why she’s joining the contest:

Democrat David Worley, an election law expert and former state party official, has also not ruled out a run. On the Republican side of the ticket, state Rep. Buzz Brockway said he’ll run if Kemp leaves the post. And Fulton County Commissioner Liz Haussmann and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle are potential candidates.

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Two senior Senate Democrats are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to allow a reported investigation into Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s stock trades to go on “unimpeded.”

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon, who led Democrats’ pushback against then-Georgia Congressman Price during his confirmation hearings due in part to his stock activities, are behind the letter to Sessions, which will be sent later this morning.

“The independence of U.S. Attorneys is critically important, and we seek your assurance that any investigation involving Secretary Price – or others connected to the Trump Administration – be allowed to continue unimpeded,” the pair wrote.

Their effort is based on a bombshell report from ProPublica that said former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was investigating Price’s stock trades when the White House fired him earlier this month.

Price previously said he had been unaware of any federal investigations into his stock trades.


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