The Northwest's troubled nuclear construction program will be unable to pay its bills on two abandoned nuclear plants by Friday unless the region's public utilities agree on a rescue plan, Gov. John Spellman has warned.
Spellman, who made an unusual appearance last week before both houses of the state legislature, also asked lawmakers to pass a bill prohibiting the debt-ridden Washington Public Power Supply System from declaring bankruptcy.
The governor told lawmakers WPPSS is "on the verge" of being unable to pay its bills on the two plants and could go into default by May 13 unless a rescue plan is accepted. WPPSS terminated two of its five partially constructed nuclear plants last year.
But despite the looming financial problems, lawmakers said the chances of the bankruptcy bill passing are virtually nil.
"Default may be down the road anyway, despite some things we might do," said Robert Olson, a Mason County Public Utility District commissioner and member of the WPPSS executive board.
Spellman went public with his appeal 10 days after closed-door talks with the 88 utilities that jointly own the nuclear plants collapsed.
"Unless those payments are made, default will occur as surely as I am standing here," Spellman said, adding that default will have "grave impacts." WPPSS's financial situation is also being watched closely in the municipal bond market, where much of the program's financing was generated.
Most of the two abandoned plants' utility owners have refused to make payments until their legal dispute over debt obligations is resolved in court. The utilities have set aside money from utility bills and escrow accounts that they say will be used to pay the bills on the abandoned plants if the court orders that the debts be met.
Even though the plants have been shut down, a default on their construction bonds would jeopardize the remaining plants, Spellman warned.