Plant Vogtle faces more delays

Contractors forecast extra 18 months on nuclear project; it may cost consumers.
By Matt Kempner mkempner@ajc.com

Contractors on Georgia Power’s massive nuclear expansion say the Plant Vogtle project will be delayed another year and a half, a development that might lead to pressure to add hundreds of millions of dollars onto consumer power bills over time.

While the risk of further delays has been warned about by state staff and monitors, Georgia Power on Thursday evening said contractors had informed it of the delay.

The costs to Georgia Power and for additional financing could be $40 million for each month of delay, or an additional$720 million, the company said in a regulatory filing. Costs could be substantially higher after factoring in having to rely longer on more expensive power generation at other plants.

Vogtle is already 21 months behind the original schedule, expected construction costs have risen hundreds of millions of dollars and Georgia Power is locked in a lawsuit with its contractors.

In its latest filing, the company said contractors Westinghouse Electric Company and CB&I / Stone & Webster informed it of further delays. That would push the in-service dates for one of the new reactors from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the second quarter of 2019 and, on the second new reactor, from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2020.

Georgia Power said it “does not believe that the Contractor’s revised forecast reflects all efforts that may be possible to mitigate the Contractor’s delay.”

Chuck Eaton, the chairman of the state’s energy regulator, the Public Service Commission, said, “obviously the delays are a disappointment.”

As for added costs, Eaton said, “Georgia Power and their contractors are going to have to sort through that. Most likely there will be big costs presented to us. The Georgia Public Service Commission is going to have to give that an extremely high level of scrutiny. We are going to have to do what is in the best interests of the citizens of Georgia.”

The PSC must approve any rate increases for Georgia Power customers.

The commission “is going to have to decide if and how much of those costs were prudently incurred,” Eaton said.

The expansion project involves the first new U.S. nuclear power units licensed in three decades. Plant Vogtle is near Augusta.

“Building it correctly, and safely, is more important than building it quickly,” Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday.

He said the project will have long-term benefits for consumers and that other earlier adjustments have reduced the anticipated impact on consumer rates.

Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch, a consumer advocacy group that has frequently criticized the Vogtle project, said the state’s ratepayers “need to be very concerned that these delays could end up costing them money unfairly.”

“Consumers have a right to know sooner rather than later how much of these cost overruns related to delays apparently beyond the control of the company should be paid for in people’s power bills.”

Georgia consumers currently are paying the project’s financing costs on their power bills. Regulators approved that advance funding provision as a way to reduce the overall cost of the project over time.

Said Coyle, “It’s time for policymakers to tear up the blank check.”

SOURCE: Atlanta Journal Constitution

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