The construction of Plant Vogtle’s nuclear reactor units 3 and 4 has been a slow-motion disaster. Cost-overruns and repeated delays have marred the project. Developers are already five years behind schedule and $13 billion over budget.

The truth is that many of the issues plaguing Vogtle’s construction were easily foreseeable and, in a free market, an undertaking such as Plant Vogtle would likely never have transpired. That should tell you a lot about the project’s viability.

The power companies’ decision to proceed with the foolhardy construction is a symptom of Georgia’s problematic electricity market. Georgia permits electricity providers to maintain monopolies and shields them from competition. What this means for electricity consumers is that if they don’t like their provider or its prices, they are out of luck.

In such a setting, consumers are captive to local electricity monopolies. Thus, these companies have no incentive to provide top-notch customer service or competitive pricing to retain their customers. By comparison, in a competitive electricity market, businesses are forced to vie for consumers’ loyalties to remain profitable.

It seems unfathomable that in a free market, a company would embrace a massive and risky investment like Vogtle. Developers have abandoned over 20 nuclear sites in the South alone for various reasons, which should have been the first red flag. The plan also requires charging current ratepayers for the yet-to-be-finished reactors. In a competitive market, this would drive customers away as they flee to companies that offer lower prices.

Most importantly, given the construction and regulatory complexities, cost-overruns and delays were inevitable from the start. No company operating outside of a subsidized monopoly would undertake a venture like Vogtle. Doing so would lead to rate increases that hurt customers and, in turn, shareholders.

In contrast, free markets discourage poor business decisions by allowing consumers to freely patronize companies that are run more efficiently and offer more competitive pricing. Pursuing a project like Vogtle is just the type of imprudent endeavor that a healthy free-market would deter.

So long as Georgia has an electricity market system that requires little accountability and prohibits competition, we can expect more of the same — and consumers will pay the price.

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