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New Plant Vogtle credit rating says electricity prices could be higher than forecast

Consumers could face higher electricity costs than expected if construction delays forecast by an independent monitor prove to be correct, according to a credit rating issued Monday. Credit: ©2021 Georgia Power Co. All rights reserved. May 2021

By David Pendered

Additional construction delays forecast at Plant Vogtle could cause its customers to face higher electricity rates than currently envisioned, according to three credit rating actions issued Monday by Moody’s Investors Service.

Inspectors with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are looking into causes for remediation work done on guideways used to route electrical wires in Unit 3. This is the interior of the containment area of Unit 4. ©2021 Georgia Power Co. All rights reserved. May 2021

Moody’s’ analysts issued this observation as Georgia Power is starting the five-month process of justifying to state utility regulators its just-submitted rate hike request. The Georgia Public Service Commission has stated it will issue a ruling on the request on Nov. 2. The power company seeks an additional $235 million a year from ratepayers.

Also Monday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it has opened a “special investigation” into what led to the need to remediate raceways that route electrical cable in Unit 3, the first of two nuclear units that are to open. There’s no safety risk to the public because no nuclear fuel is in the reactor, according to NRC’s statement.

The trigger for the credit rating action was the planned sale in July of a total of $260 million in bonds for the Vogtle project by the Municipal Electrical Authority of Georgia. The money is to help pay costs related to construction, to pay off some existing debt and accrued interest, and cover other costs. The actual dollar figure could change by the date of issue, according to the rating.

The credit rating cites the construction delays forecast in a June 7 report from an independent monitor. The delays could add costs and defer revenues, setting the scene for potential borrowing with costs that would be passed to consumers. The rating action notes that the project has some reserve funds, though not enough to cover the extended delay forecast by the monitor. The use of these reserves would have the effect of:

  • “[S]omewhat mitigating the concern for additional cost increases that may require further debt funding and resulting higher rates passed onto customers.”

The credit rating action issued Monday shows analysts view Plant Vogtle favorably for investors. The bonds are rated as moderate to low credit risk, meaning investors can expect to be repaid, with a profit.

Analysts expect the owners, investors and the Georgia Public Service Commission will see Plant Vogtle through to completion and for the facility to generate revenue. That’s the bet behind the favorable credit ratings.

The placement of a 720,000-pound water storage tank atop Plant Vogtle Unit 4’s containment vessel is the last major crane lift at the project site, according to Georgia Power. Credit: ©2021 Georgia Power Co. All rights reserved

Analysts said as much when they identified in each rating action “Factors that could lead to a downgrade in the rating:”

  • “A negative action could result if there is any material decrease in currently strong regulatory, political, public and co-owner support for the Vogtle project;
  • “Any further significant construction delays in the Vogtle project that substantially increases the project costs leading to an impairment or abandonment decision by the co-owners.”

Coming back to consumers, the prospect of higher electrical rates is cited in the credit ratings as the result of potential construction delays forecast in a June 7 report by an independent construction monitor who’s tracking the project.

The monitor noted that Plant Vogtle’s two nuclear plants are not likely to come online until mid 2022 and mid 2023, at the earliest. That’s a delay of at least six months from the timeline presented by Georgia Power in a February report.

The written testimony was presented by Donald Grace, an industry veteran with more than 50 years experience in energy-generating fossil and nuclear facilities. The PSC hired Grace in 2018 to independently evaluate the construction process.

The delays Grace predicted result from “poor productivity and production” in the construction processed, according to his report.

Moody’s’ analysts considered Grace’s report and other information to estimate that such a delay could add $2 billion to construction costs. The sum could be needed to cover additional construction costs, compelling the owners to seek more money to pay the extra costs and cover other financing needs, analysts reported.

Meantime, a few outliers could help reduce the amount of borrowing and the resulting costs to consumers. One is the reserve fund. Another is the lower interest rates for current borrowing. The interest rate is 3.57% instead of the projected 5.91% rate initially projected, according to a calculation of numbers in the report.

The credit rating action does not address how the rate hike would be implemented.

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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3 Comments

  1. Robert Searfoss June 23, 2021 9:49 am

    .
    Georgia Public Service Commissioners have cheerled and fully supported the #Vogtle Vortex mess and will be fully supported for reelection in return by Georgia Power.
    If more Georgians knew (they won’t) the extent of the tall tales, mistakes, and costly financial scam on us with the Vortex, no present commissioner would have a chance. The GAPSC is a textbook basic case of regulatory capture.Report

    Reply
  2. writes_of_weigh June 24, 2021 1:48 pm

    Even a blind being could see what the ultimate game of GAPOWCO/Southern shall be. They obviously have decided to perform an end run around Florida and Carolina interests which are both “cooking with gas” on developing (diesel-electric) high speed rail….and return to their “roots” of providing public transit by way of pre-fronting the costs of Georgia’s soon -to-be-announced H-S-R Georgia Cracker Limited….an electrified train to operate from Jacksonville to Chattanooga via Savannah Macon and Atlanta(with sub-routes to Augusta, Albany and Columbus! This 286kmph train will feature Ready Kilowatt as it’s honorary engineer and Hunter Biden(who happens to have Amtrak Board experience)as a visiting conductor! The new trains will feature GADome service via glass roofed observation carriages and will also feature fine dining featuring an Georgia AgTour menu (think Varsity style fried Vidalia Onions, with chicken pate’ hors de ouvres , Abbeville Spring Water, Richland Distilleries Estate rum, Coca Cola, and Georgia peach cobbler and Pecan pie!…..and you just surmised that it was all a scam on the rate/bill payers! I can’t wait for THIS RIDE!?!Report

    Reply
  3. Robert Peppel June 26, 2021 11:16 pm

    Duh!Report

    Reply

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