Southern Co. expects new Plant Vogtle delays as PSC weighs tab

    Georgia Power expects to miss another deadline of the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion, this time pushing the target completion date for unit 3 a least a month beyond the November goal. The project is already billions over budget and years behind schedule.John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

    The snakebit Plant Vogtle nuclear reactor expansion project is likely to miss another deadline.

    The Georgia Public Service Commission will soon decide whether to sign off on the $670 million in construction costs over the final six months of 2020, a tab that could eventually get passed onto customer’s electric bills. 

    Georgia Power recently announced that the third phase likely wouldn’t be ready by the targeted November deadline. The state’s largest electricity supplier projects it could take another month or longer before it’s finished.

    Worker shortages throughout the pandemic have caused the project to fall further behind schedule. Georgia Power has also said it’s making headway in addressing remediation problems.

    The Plant Vogtle expansion started in 2013 and operators have repeatedly missed deadlines and asked state regulators to approve cost overruns.

    In recent months, the PSC staff cast doubt on the company’s “aggressive” timeline.

    “The improvement plans we are implementing are designed to help drive successful completion of unit 3 and improve performance for unit 4,” Tom Fanning, the chief executive officer, said during this week’s earnings call for Southern Co., the parent of Georgia Power. 

    “As the operator of these units, we are committed to getting it right, striving to ensure our safety and quality standards are met prior to significant testing and operations activities,” he said. “We will not sacrifice that commitment to meet schedule or milestone dates.”

    Plant Vogtle nuclear reactor expansion is designed to be a significant piece of the state’s energy future as Georgia shifts away from Georgia Power’s polluting coal-fired plants to cleaner sources.

    Watchdog groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are worried about new burdens on customers once the PSC adjusts the rates after the reactors are operational. 

    Already, Georgia Power customers pay Vogtle’s financing costs on their monthly bills and help prop up the company profits. Since construction started, Vogtle’s overall costs have roughly doubled by more than $14 billion.

    Bryan Jacob, solar program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said invested parties are asking Georgia Power to ensure the average residential customer will pay a fair share versus a commercial.

    “We’re a little concerned that at the end of the day there’s going to be an expectation that residential customers pay a disproportionate amount of the costs,” Jacob said. 

    “And I think when this rate adjustment proceeding plays out, that’s where the real fight is going to be.”

    Georgia Power reached a construction milestone April 25 with the start of hot functional testing on unit 3, conducted to confirm when the reactor is ready for fuel.

    About 80% of construction is completed on the fourth reactor, with the goal still to have it running by the November 2022 deadline, Fanning said.

    To meet the final deadline, the construction workload would need to return to the same levels as at the end of 2019 and the first half of 2020, Fanning said.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.