What do “The Last Jedi” and Georgia actually have in common?

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | January 4, 2018 | Georgia, Nuclear, Utilities

At the end of December, just when everyone was focused on the premier of the new Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi” (and the holiday season), the Georgia Public Service Commission ignored their own Staff’s recommendations – and that of intervenors including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy – and unanimously voted to allow the Plant Vogtle nuclear project to proceed. In short: the Commission voted to let Georgia Power continue to build the wildly over-budget and mismanaged plant and to continue recovering costs from customers and earning profits despite management mistakes, with only a slight reduction in the allowed profit that Georgia Power can earn.

The very next day, Vice Chair and Commissioner Tim Echols had an opinion editorial piece published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (which also ran in numerous papers around the region) explaining his support for the beleaguered project and proposing that ‘The Last Jedi” and Georgia actually had much in common. (In fact, it was published the next week in the Washington Times with the headline “What ‘The Last Jedi’ and Georgia have in common”.)

While I give Commissioner Echols props for trying to headline hijack a very popular new film and a piece of the most successful movie franchise of all time (check out how many tags I included in this blog in an attempt to do the same!), he’s aiming more like a storm trooper than a Jedi Knight with those analogies. Commissioner Echols was actually – with a straight face – trying to equate the Last Jedi of the Old Order (our battle worn hero, Luke Skywalker) with the Last Nuclear Plant of the so-called Nuclear Renaissance.

Commissioner, with all due respect, I grew up with Star Wars. I watched Star Wars many times. Star Wars is a favorite movie of mine. Your nuclear plant can’t be a hero/legend in the Star Wars universe.

If we want an accurate Star Wars analogy for the much-delayed, over-budget nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle, then it’s clear we’re looking at the half-completed, behind-schedule and over-budget second Death Star that was ultimately stopped by the Freedom Fighters (aka The Rebellion).

To take the analogy a little further, grassroots groups like SACE, Georgia WAND, Georgia Watch, Nuclear Watch South and others are the “Freedom Fighters” in Georgia right now: struggling with very little to stop a multi-billion dollar project that’s being built by one of the more powerful, monopolistic utilities in our region (The Empire) with the assistance and whole-hearted support of a fully compliant Commission (the old Galactic Senate/regional governors who did the bidding of Darth Vader/The Emperor). I told you, I am a fan of the movies… we can go on all day like this.

If you’re even remotely a fan of these movies, I’d say we’re pretty much at the end of The Empire Strikes Back (1981). Han Solo just got frozen in carbonite and hauled away by a bounty hunter — much like ratepayers have seen their hard-earned money hauled away by the power company; Luke Skywalker just fought valiantly against the Sith Lord Darth Vader but lost his hand and lightsaber — like the Commission staff and advocates fought to try and terminate the project; and the Rebel forces are scattered with The Empire on track to subjugate and tax more citizens — just like Georgia’s ratepayers will continue to pay the price for a power plant that may never be fully operational.

But take heart! The Freedom Fighters do win in the next movie… so hopefully the victory on the Clean Energy Battlefront is coming. Until then though, it’s an awfully expensive battle for Georgia businesses and families to shoulder via their increasing electric bills while The Empire (Georgia Power/Southern Company) profit handsomely.

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