SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s a huge project to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The project has had its share of ups and downs, including the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the original contractor, along with cost overruns of billions of dollars and a five-year delay.
Georgia Power says now it has an aggressive schedule to complete the project, perhaps even somewhat earlier than the latest approved date from the Public Service Commission which is November 2021 and November 2022 respectively for Reactors 3 and 4.
However, a PSC staff report just released indicates concerns regarding the staff’s confidence that deadlines can be met. The report indicates “staff does not believe that dates (from Georgia Power) of May 2021 and May 2022 are achievable.”
The report also said that even completion dates authorized by the Public Service Commission (November 2021 and 2022) will be a “challenge to achieve.”
Sara Barczak from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said she wasn’t surprised by the findings. “It’s a concern and as we all know who have followed this project, the PSC staff has always been right,” she said.
Barczak said that overall she didn’t see anything from PSC staff that provides reassurance that the Vogtle expansion is going to be completed on time and on budget.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy also took note of one part of the report which says there’s a “chance” the project can still be completed on budget.
“Using the phrase ‘ there’s a chance’ is not definitive enough this many years into the project,” said Barczak. “We need to see something that says there will be a completed project at the current budget and remember the budget is double from what we were told.”
Georgia Power emailed News 3 the following:
In regard to the PSC report:
We remain confident we will achieve the in-service dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Vogtle units 3 and 4, respectively. The May dates are aggressive and it will be a challenge, but the dates are achievable.
Georgia Power says there are are some 8,000 workers on site and the Utility also said it has completed important construction milestones have been made recently including what it says is the first “fuel order placed in more than 30 years for a newly-designed reactor in the U.S.”
In an interview shot last month with WSAV, Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols reaffirmed his support for the Vogtle Project saying despite setbacks, it will still be worth it. “Having a carbon-free resource like Plant Vogtle will benefit Georgia in the future even though it costs more. now,” said Echols.
Echols says he believes the commission is now on track in terms of an agreement that will hold Georgia Power more accountable for any cost overruns.
“I think Vogtle is great in that it’s an 80-year asset and I think in the future we’ll be glad we have it. it’s still going to be a great deal for ratepayers,” said Echols.
Barczak says ratepayers, however, have not seen any benefits yet and have been paying a nuclear fee (for interest on a construction loan) since 2011.
“I think an average person should be concerned that they are paying this fee for the Vogtle project far longer than they were supposed to be,” said. Barczak. “The project was supposed to be finished by 2017.
While Georgia Power again expresses confidence that it can complete the project (even by its own earlier deadline) the PSC Staff report indicated issues that are problematic with that “aggressive” schedule.”
The report says the faster schedule represents a major shift from the prior management strategy of the project.