Vogtle reactors delayed until 2020?, The State

{posted on: February 2, 2015}

By Michael Eads

WAYNESBORO, Ga. — Environmental watchdogs predict more delays and cost overruns after Georgia Power revealed this week that its nuclear reactors under construction along the Savannah River may not come online until 2020.

The utility told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday that Westinghouse Electric and the other contractors building Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle will need another 18 months to complete the work. The delay could push back reactor starts to 2019 for Unit 3 and 2020 for Unit 4, according to the SEC filing. This latest delay could cost Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., an additional $720 million, and the contractors want Georgia Power and its partners to pay roughly $1 billion for previous delays and snags.

Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins insisted Friday that the utility would hold the contractors responsible for the added costs.
“We are committed to holding the contractor accountable for all appropriate costs related to the delay, and we continue to expect them to employ all possible means to meet schedule targets, while maintaining a focus on safety,” Hawkins said.

The SEC filing Thursday drew a heated response from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which has been watching — and criticizing — the project very closely since its inception.

“Southern Company’s and the nuclear industry’s 21st Century flagship nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle is suffering from the same problems that have historically plagued this industry: significant delays, massive cost overruns and project mismanagement. Vogtle is now more than three years delayed and the total project costs are at least $4 billion overbudget,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, SACE executive director.

The utility has raised more than $640 million from a state-approved tariff on its customers since 2011 to help pay for the work at Plant Vogtle, where it already operates two reactors. Consultant Philip Hayet told the state’s Public Service Commission last month that the tariff adds an average of $10 to rate payers’ monthly bills. Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green refuted that estimate at the time, saying the average cost to customers is more like $6.60 a month.

Smith said Georgia Power’s customers should not have to bear the cost of this latest delay.

“The Georgia Public Service Commission must remember that ratepayers were forced to pay early for this multibillion-dollar project and are carrying all the risk, while the company’s shareholders are getting all the profit,” Smith said. “The commission has clear evidence before them now — there has to be a penalty delivered to the company, not to their customers, for failing to deliver an on-time, on-budget project.”

Hawkins said the Plant Vogtle expansion was originally projected to drive up customers’ bills by 12 percent, but Georgia Power has revised that projection downward to “6 to 8 percent.”

The Public Service Commission is scheduled to meet Feb. 19 to vote on Georgia Power’s request — made before this latest announcement — to draw another $198 million in tariff funds to pay costs related to building the new reactors. The Southern Co. subsidiary owns a 46 percent stake in the two new reactors, with rest owned by Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton — none of whom report their spending to the Public Service Commission.