By Michael Mariotte

Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning (left) selling former DOE Secretary Chu on the wonders of Vogtle, 2012.

Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning (left) selling former DOE Secretary Chu on the wonders of Vogtle, 2012.

The question of the day is what does Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning know that the rest of the world doesn’t?

The question arises because on September 5th, Fanning sold nearly all his stock in Southern Company, more than a million shares, putting nearly $47 million into his bank account. He kept only 35,000 shares.

That’s a tidy sum, and would seem to be incentive enough to sell–unless one thought the stock would rise higher. It’s not like Fanning was selling off a few shares because he needed some cash to renew a country club membership or something. No, Fanning sold more than 90% of his stake in the company he runs. Not many people have pressing bills of $47 million.

And, after all, Southern Company has been telling Georgia regulators for years that construction of its two new Vogtle reactors is needed and well worth forcing ratepayers to put up billions of dollars for that construction. Fanning also negotiated a multi-billion dollar taxpayer loan from the Federal Financing Bank, through the Department of Energy. Fanning and Southern Co. have been assuring regulators and DOE that construction of Vogtle is going just great–nothing to worry about there.

So, you’d think that Fanning would be holding on to that stock for dear life–it’s obviously poised to soar once Vogtle is completed and becomes operational, right?

Apparently not. Maybe Fanning has been reading GreenWorld, where we’ve reported several times this year on the cost overruns and schedule slippages plaguing the Vogtle project.

Or maybe Fanning knows something the rest of us don’t know, or have only speculated upon. Maybe the Vogtle project isn’t really progressing as smoothly as Fanning and other Southern Co. execs have been saying. Maybe that schedule is going to slip some more. Maybe the cost overruns are only beginning. Or maybe Fanning doesn’t trust his own management abilities.

We’re certainly not accusing Mr. Fanning of doing anything illegal. And maybe we’re just not rich enough ourselves to realize that yes, sometimes one does need $47 million in cash instead of stock.

But one thing we are pretty sure of: Fanning doesn’t expect Southern Company stock to go up anytime soon. And we don’t either.

And that would seem to mean that Fanning doesn’t think Vogtle is going to turn out to be such a great thing for Southern Company. If that’s his thinking, we agree with him again.

But we wonder whether Fanning will still argue, with a straight face, that Vogtle is a great idea for ratepayers. Actions speak much louder than words, and in this case, Fanning’s actions are at Spinal Tap level–Volume 11.

Michael Mariotte

September 15, 2014


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Filed under: Nuclear Economics Tagged: Southern Company, Thomas Fanning, Vogtle

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