Vogtle Loan Guarantee Update: Nuclear Power Secrecy Continues

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | February 2, 2012 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

After nearly two years of stonewalling by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) continues to press ahead with our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation so that U.S. taxpayers can learn the full extent of the risks to which they are exposed in the massive commitment of $8.33 billion in conditional federal loan guarantees to Southern Company and their utility partners for two proposed new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. Of particular concern: the amount of taxpayer-backed obligations for the proposed Vogtle reactors is more than a dozen times greater than the failed Solyndra loan guarantee, which has received extensive Congressional scrutiny including an audit report of the troubled Department of Energy loan guarantee program that was recently delivered to the Obama Administration. Given the higher price tag and troubled history of nuclear reactor construction, the Vogtle project poses a much greater risk to taxpayers if default occurs. Find our February press release here.

We have continued our suit in federal court in order to force the federal agency to release some of the improperly blacked-out and otherwise withheld information. Of particular interest to us is information revealing whether company officials played an inappropriate role in shaping the terms of the loan guarantee. Based on the limited information produced, it appears that the power companies had to put almost no “skin in the game,” promising to pay a credit subsidy fee of possibly as little as 0.5 or 1.5 percent of the total loan principal.

SACE has continuously voiced concerns about the controversial conditional nuclear loan guarantee awarded to the risky Vogtle project by President Obama back in February 2010. With legal representation from Emory University School of Law’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic, SACE filed a FOIA request to the DOE in March 2010 and a demand letter in May 2010 in order to find out more about these risky loan guarantees and we failed to receive a satisfactory response. We later filed two administrative appeals (in July and October 2011). In between these two administrative appeals, we filed suit in August against the DOE. At the end of January 2012, we submitted several significant legal filings (See #1, #2 and #3).

These recent filings relate to the following events. On December 16, 2011, DOE filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that it had produced all the documents responsive to our FOIA request, alleging that all the withheld information was justified, and asking to dismiss our claim. On January 27, 2012 SACE responded. We claimed that the information withheld in more than 133 documents – concerning the loan guarantee terms and credit subsidy fee estimates – was improperly withheld. We asked the court to deny DOE’s motion and instead order DOE to release the requested documents in their entirety. Documents 1, 2 and 3 contain our claims.

What’s next? Both DOE and SACE have one more opportunity to present arguments to the court – DOE on February 15 and SACE on March 2. Those remaining steps are outlined in this court order.

Consequently, nearly two years later, our pursuit continues. Find a detailed, updated timeline describing these activities here.

In order to do our part to shed some light on the Vogtle loan guarantee, we have worked to make public the thousands of pages of documents we have received, many of which are so heavily redacted as to be considered useless in determining the risks that taxpayers may bear if default occurs. View some of these documents here. Our experience has further cemented the fact that in order to protect taxpayers, the continuous shroud of secrecy around the nuclear loan guarantee program must end.

UPDATE 2/8/12: Please see our most recent press release for more information, in addition to the latest news regarding the challenge to the licensing of the new Vogtle reactors.

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