Georgia Power asks to charge customers for nuke plant

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Power Co. wants to charge customers about $51 million in planning and licensing costs for a new nuclear plant, although the utility says it has not decided to build one.

The request was filed Monday with the Public Service Commission.

The charges would come when the plant begins producing power, which is about nine years away if it is built. The request asks that the utility be allowed to recoup its planning costs from customers even if it doesn't build the nuclear plant.

PSC chairman Stan Wise issued a statement applauding Georgia Power's request.

''This measure will diversify Georgia's energy mix by expanding nuclear generation at existing plants in our state,'' Wise wrote. ''We all are aware of natural gas price volatility and what it means to Georgians.''

Steve Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the proposal would shift the risk of nuclear investment from stockholders to customers.

Smith said Georgia Power is asking regulators to ''develop amnesia'' about the state's nuclear history, including controversial cost overruns at Plant Vogtle in east Georgia, where any new plant would be built.

Plant Vogtle's estimated $660 million price tag grew to almost $9 billion by the time two existing units were completed in the late 1980s, according to the Energy Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The company said planning the plant would keep nuclear energy as an option in Georgia, and possibly stabilize energy costs.

''Not having nuclear as an option is a bigger risk to our ratepayers than having that option,'' spokesman John Sell said.