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Oct 17 – SACE, Taypayers for Common Cause Press Ahead for FOIA Info on Vogtle Loans

SBJ Special Report

Oct 17, 2011 - The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is accusing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with stonewalling on the leading environmental groups requests for information on what SACE terms the full extent of the risks to which taxpayers “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.”

This week, SACE will press ahead with its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation so that U.S. taxpayers can learn more about taxpayer-backed obligations for the proposed Vogtle reactors which the group claims is roughly 15 times greater than the failed Solyndra solar panel company loan guarantee.

“In the wake of DOE’s last production of heavily redacted documents,” SACE officials said they are “continuing their 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 SACE 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 guarantee.”

According to Stephen Smith, executive director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, “Given some of the lessons learned developing from the Solyndra loan guarantee case, it’s unacceptable that the much larger Vogtle loan isn’t getting intense scrutiny when the potential risk to taxpayers is much greater. The DOE needs to operate with more transparency now, not less.””

SACE filed its FOIA request on March 25, 2010. Under FOIA, DOE was obliged to respond in full to the SACE request by April 22, 2010. On August 10, 2010, when SACE had still not received a complete response, it filed suit in the D.C. District Court. DOE recently made its final document production on September 14, 2011, nearly 17 months after the response deadline. Most of the documents produced by DOE were heavily redacted, and the loan guarantee terms and credit subsidy fee estimates were withheld as confidential information belonging to the power companies, according to Smith.

Taxpayers for Common Sense also supports the FOIA request and urges DOE to provide the details of the agreement for the Vogtle plant, especially because taxpayers are on the hook for such an enormous amount of money, according to that group’s President, Ryan Alexander, in a joint release last week with SACE. “With more than $8 billion on the line it’s time DOE start shedding some light on this program. Solyndra was the canary in the coal mine for this deeply flawed program, these defaults will continue if things don’t change,” Alexander wrote.”

SACE has now posted the thousands of pages of documents on a website that is open for the public to access. “Accompanying the documents are highlighted examples of the egregiously and… illegally, redacted materials,” said Smith.

Mindy Goldstein, acting director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic, is representing SACE in their FOIA litigation. “DOE claims that the loan guarantee terms and credit subsidy fee estimates are confidential and may only be viewed by Georgia Power and its utility partners. Let’s hope DOE is wrong. For such information to be withheld as confidential, it must have been obtained from the utilities themselves. If the power companies are literally writing their own guarantees and credit subsidy fee estimates, the Loan Guarantee Program is more flawed than anyone could have imagined,” she said Friday. ”

According to Smith, “Obama's Department of Energy, Southern Company and the public power companies involved in the Vogtle project need to set the record straight and tell the truth about what is going on here; that they are socializing the risk and privatizing the profits for big power companies."

SACE’s March 2010 FOIA request covered such items as: the Southern Company loan guarantee; related correspondence between DOE and Southern Nuclear Operating Company, Georgia Power Company, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, Municipal Authority of Georgia (MEAG), and the City of Dalton, Georgia; environmental review records related to the loan guarantee request; any credit analysis conducted by DOE in relation to the loan guarantee; all records related to the general terms and conditions of the loan guarantee; and all records related to issuance of the loan guarantee.

The Vogtle FOIA documents SACE received, document summaries, a timeline of their FOIA activities, and SACE court filings can be found at http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2011/10/13/vogtle-foia-loan-guarantee.

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