Georgia’s poorest people should not be forced to pay for the most expensive building project in state history.

That’s why we at the Partnership for Southern Equity joined forces with Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and the Southern Environmental Law Center to stop the overpriced nuclear power unit expansion at Plant Vogtle.

Originally, Georgia Power was supposed to pay $6.1 billion of the total $14 billion cost. Now the total cost has skyrocketed to more than $25 billion. Georgia Power is now on the hook for at least $10.7 billion, and it’s passing the extra costs onto its customers.

Every person reading this who gets an electric bill from Georgia Power is already paying for this troubled nuclear reactor, to the tune of about $100 per year.

Now for some people, that might not seem like enough money to worry about. But if you’re struggling to make ends meet, you could really use an extra hundred bucks a year.  And it’s going to get worse.

When the units go into service, five or more years from now, and Georgia Power starts charging you back the full cost, your power bill is likely to go up even more.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) has a responsibility to protect all Georgians.  It’s supposed to act in the interest of the public, not the financial interest of power companies and big corporations with a stake in huge power plants.

In December, the PSC looked at the situation – the ballooning costs, the fact that its own staff called completion of the project “no longer economic,” the news that plans for a similar nuclear reactor in South Carolina have been abandoned – and decided to let construction of this boondoggle continue anyway.

The PSC – people elected to act in the best interests of the people of the state of Georgia – decided to boost the power company’s bottom line while saddling customers with billions of dollars in additional expenses.

The burden of continuing the Vogtle project will fall particularly hard on Georgia’s most vulnerable communities, who need real bill relief.

Many families across the state have to choose between paying their electricity bill and buying groceries (an issue my family often faced when I was growing up), and they shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab for a giant corporation’s mistakes.

Elections are coming up for two out of five seats on the Commission. We must remember these past actions when voting in the fall. They are hoping we will forget.

If we don’t expand Plant Vogtle, what’s the alternative? Embracing energy efficiency can make a big difference, postponing the need for new power plants.

But if, sooner or later, we need to generate more power, how can we do that in a way that is equitable – that spreads the costs and benefits fairly among the people of Georgia?

Atlanta’s recent decision to work toward 100 percent clean energy points in a better way forward.

Building power plants fueled by renewable energy, including solar and wind, is becoming cheaper and cheaper, and it’s a big reason why worldwide, more renewable power plants are being built than fossil-fueled ones.

Across America, over half of the new power generation built last year was for renewable generation – and nobody’s talking about making families pay billions in dollars of cost overruns for a solar farm or an array of wind turbines.

It’s especially heartening to watch as people from our communities get promising jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy. With city after city now committing to clean energy, there are real opportunities to create good jobs in the ‘hood while promoting cleaner, safer and healthier communities.

Advancing towards a clean energy future provides a clear path towards economic justice. As Atlanta transitions to clean energy by 2035, we must make sure that everyone – regardless of income, race, or zip code – is included in the economic benefits, job growth, and wealth creation that will follow.

If we do this right, we will see communities own and control their own energy sources. We will watch our neighbors build clean-energy powered careers.  We will breathe cleaner air and be healthier.

We will see churches and schools, family farms, and small businesses across Georgia save money – and even make money – as they generate their own clean, renewable energy.

That’s a much better plan than hitting Georgians up for billions of more dollars to expand Plant Vogtle.

Instead of giant centralized power plants owned by corporations and powered by polluting fuels, let there be energy based in communities that use the wind, water, and sun to power our day-to-day lives.

And let’s make sure the coming clean energy revolution benefits all Georgians – including the most vulnerable among us.

Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity, a non-profit organization that advocates for policies and actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in metropolitan Atlanta and the American South.

(Photo: Nathaniel Smith)

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