With news this week that U.S. EPA has sent its Clean Power Plan to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, how are states gearing up for the pending final rule? During today's OnPoint, Tim Echols, commissioner on the Georgia Public Service Commission, explains why his state has not officially begun working on a compliance mechanism for the power plan. He also talks about the impact construction delays at Georgia Power's Vogtle nuclear facility could have on his state's power plan compliance.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Tim Echols, commissioner on the Georgia Public Service Commission. Commissioner Echols, it's nice to have you back on the show.
Tim Echols: I appreciate your organization and the great information that you provide on many platforms.
Monica Trauzzi: Well, thank you very much. Commissioner, news this week that EPA has sent its final Clean Power Plan over to the Office of Management and Budget for review. When we last spoke on the show, you said the commission was not really talking about any compliance measures yet because the rule is not officially the rule yet. Has that changed since we last spoke at the NARUC meeting and how is your state preparing at this point as we get close to the release of that final?
Tim Echols: Yeah. We're not a part of the lawsuit. We're not party to that, but we haven't started working officially on our compliance plan either. I think we want to wait and see what's going to happen, see for example if we get wind from Oklahoma are we going to get to count that? Are we going to get direct for that? There's a lot of things that we want to see how the EPA treats it in final rule before we move forward.
Monica Trauzzi: Reliability has continued to be a key concern for many stakeholders. What's your sense of the interaction between FERC and EPA on the rule on how closely EPA will consider what FERC has sort of laid out on reliability?
Tim Echols: You know I don't know that EPA's going to consider much of anything other than what they deem is best. I'm concerned about that. I do think the comments regarding the treatment of new nuclear power -- I'm getting signals from folks down on the lower level of EPA that they think there's going to be some change in that, so I'm encouraged by that.
But I know the alarm that FERC has been sending regarding, you know, transmission and you know, and gas lines and other things like that and its impact, the impact of the infrastructure on the ability to hit the targets is of great concern so I do hope that the EPA looks at the practicality of this and being able to make it happen before they issue the final ruling.
Monica Trauzzi: And any changes to nuclear are a big deal to you all in Georgia. When we last spoke you said that the Vogtle nuclear facility would be a big part of a potential compliance mechanism, but there are construction delays there. Are you confident that the plant will be on line in time to support any potential compliance mechanism that you might put together?
Tim Echols: I think what I'm more concerned about with Unit 4, is it going to come online in 2020 so that we can get those production tax credits, which is worth about $600 million to our ratepayers. So right now we're scheduled to get Unit 3 in the summer of '19, Unit 4 in the summer of '20, and if we don't make it by the end of '20 on Unit 4 we lose that, we'd lose that credit. So I'm more probably concerned about that.
I do feel like EPA is going to move those dates back. It wouldn't surprise me if they go from 2020/2030 to maybe 2022/2032. I feel like the president wants to see the compliance plans otherwise I think that requirement is going to stay as part of his legacy. I believe in what's important to him, but I think those dates, you know, to meet those interim dates and the final date I think is going to move.
Monica Trauzzi: So you have these targets for 3 and 4, but what types of penalties or pressure could the commission place on Georgia Power to ensure that these targets are met?
Tim Echols: You know, Georgia Power has no control, no control over what's happening with our contractors. So I mean we've got 600 Southern Nuclear employees on the site. There's 5,200 people working on this site. There's a lot of moving parts and I think Georgia Power is doing all they possibly can do. I don't want to pile on Georgia Power. I want to encourage. I want to be a cheerleader there and we're looking at this every -- twice a year we do a monitoring hearing. We just finished one up recently. So I don't fault Georgia Power.
Monica Trauzzi: Did you hear what you wanted to hear in that hearing?
Tim Echols: Well, I think I've heard in these hearings what we've heard in every one of them and that is that a certain amount of money has been spent and we're being asked simply to verify that. We're not looking to any prudency, anything like that. We've delayed all of that until Unit 3 goes into production.
Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk solar, which is another element of potential power plant compliance for your state. Is Georgia in a disadvantaged position because you do not have net metering in place and there's a potential there for some major solar companies to potentially not do business in Georgia because there is no net metering?
Tim Echols: Well, I think that, you know, what we've done with solar is 90 percent of it is being sold back to Georgia Power; 90 percent of it is utility scale. So we've opted to go this route because it's the cheapest for our consumers. So next year we'll enter our integrated resource planning period and we'll look out for the next three years on how much solar we want to do.
In the meantime, out Legislature approved unanimously a third-party leasing bill, I think, that's going to create a Wild West environment in Georgia for DG, and I think we're going to see, we're going to see the deployment of rooftop arrays like we've never seen before. And I'm pushing Georgia Power for localized marginal pricing.
Let's look at the map. Where do we need this power and let's offer an avoided cost for solar that's pricier up in this area versus over in the area where maybe we don't need it. So we'll see what we wind up with in our IRP next year.
Monica Trauzzi: You've been on the commission since 2010 and you're running for another six-year term, election set for May of next year. How are you trying to distinguish yourself as a commissioner as you approach that election?
Tim Echols: Well one of the things when I came into office we had 4 megawatts of solar. Now we have almost 940 slated to be built. We're the No. 1 market for the Nissan Leaf in the U.S., and there's been a nexus between the commission and electric car charging tariffs so I've really promoted that. I own three Nissan -- two Nissan Leafs and a Kia Soul myself so I've been living this and really pushing this.
Of course the biggest issue for us is finishing this nuclear power plant, and I don't think there's anyone that's more pro-nuclear in the United States as a commissioner than I am so I've really pushed that. I've even talked about reprocessing of nuclear waste which I hope that the U.S. eventually does.
Monica Trauzzi: In addition to your three electric vehicles you also have a Ford Focus that you fuel up with E-85. I'm curious if you view renewable fuel standards differently than emission standards. Both are put out by EPA.
Tim Echols: Well, I guess the long-standing, you know, fuel standards for cars we've just kind of forgot how that came about. It's been there for so long and I'm not an advocate for that necessarily. I'm using these cars because it makes sense for our state, it makes sense for my family.
But I think just the overall issue of federalism and the encroachment of the federal government on states -- I kind of view the EPA rule as kind of an SEC wealth-transfer act is how I'm referring to it as because it will have such an impact on these Southern states that are heavy on coal.
So I just have issues with the federal government issuing rules and then never following through on their promises as is the case with the spent fuel and the charge that Georgians have borne $1.2 billion for the spent fuel that we paid for and the government's done virtually nothing. So they're really good at coming up with rules, but not really great at following them.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate your time.
Tim Echols: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Very nice. Nice job.
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