Georgia Power says important milestones met in Plant Vogtle nuclear project, watchdog group weighs in

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia Power says important milestones were recently reached in the project to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Burke County. (Pictures and video were provided by Georgia Power.)

The sometimes controversial project began in 2009 and was slated to be completed by 2017. The new deadlines set for completion are November of 2021 (for Unit 3) and November of 2022 (for Unit 4.)

The utility says a 720,000 pound water tank was placed on top of the Unit 4 containment vessel and represents the last major crane lift for the huge construction project.

It also said that Hot Functional Testing has begun on Unit 3, the last series of major tests that must be conducted.

“The testing for Unit 3 represents a significant step towards operations and providing customers with a reliable, carbon-free energy source for the next 60 to 80 years,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft. ” “Hot functional testing is conducted to verify the successful operation of reactor components and systems together and confirm the reactor is ready for fuel load.”

Kraft said once operating, the two new units will be able to power more than 500,000 homes and businesses.

“There is certainly an advantage to customers to have a realiable source of electricty but does nuclear necessarily have to be a part of that, that’s the question,” said Bryan Jacob from the Southeran Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

Jacob said the cost of the project remains troubling. SACE estimates the original project cost (for four partners, including Georgia Power) has nearly doubled from the original $14 Billion.

“It’s five years delayed and about double the original cost projection for those two units,” says Jacob.

Even with the milestones reported by the company, Kraft indicated that the November 2021 completion date for Unit 3 has been pushed back.

“The site work plan currently assumes a December 2021 in-service date, although that date is challenged,” said Kraft.

Jacob says when Unit 3 does go online that the company may begin the process of getting permission to charge customers for construction costs.

“There’s going to be a bill shock here probably when the additional costs in Unit 3 start to show up on people’s bills,” said Jacob.

A Vogtle Monitoring Project Report from the Public Service Commission indicates that the “peak rate impact” estimate for Vogtle Units 3 and 4 “is expected to be approximately ten percent.” It’s estimated customers are already paying up to 4 percent of that and Georgia Power must get formal approval from the PSC on what it can charge after the reactors are online.

Still, Jacob says the bottom line is that customers will be affected when the reactors are finally finished.

The reactors are the first nuclear project built in the U.S. in 30 years and have been touted as an example for utilities in other states. Jacob says after nine years he disputes that. He says Georgia Power has spent an extra $700 million in just the last six months.

“I think this will be a learning experience for other markets on whether they want to undertake such a costly and time consuming and risky proposition,” said Jacob.

Kraft says the project represents providing energy for customers but also affordable energy infrastructure that attracts new investment, supports economic growth and creates jobs.

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