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Plant Vogtle enters its third presidential administration as costs, delays hover

By David Pendered

The next definitive update on Plant Vogtle’s cost and opening date is due in February. Until then, ratepayers are sifting through testimony from a monitor whose report conflicts with statements from the company.

A roof is placed on the shield building at Vogtle Unit 4 in December 2020. Credit: Georgia Power Co.

This morass has existed for years, as construction of the nation’s only nuclear reactors now underway has continued through economic downturns, a pandemic and – now – its third presidential administration. To add to the drama, Westinghouse went bankrupt during Vogtle’s construction and Bechtel was brought in, in 2017, to oversee the remaining work.

This year, more attention than usual may be paid to Vogtle’s cost and delays. The project is nearing completion: One reactor has received its first fuel shipment, and is to open in November. The second is to open in November 2022. Eyes are focused on the fruit of so much labor, and debate.

The latest statement from Georgia Power, issued Jan. 11, states that the company expects the reactors to open on schedule. The statement does not address construction costs of the two reactors, which have increased above initial expectations and have been approved by the state utility regulator, Georgia Public Service Commission.

The statement does note that construction of the two reactors has been impacted by the pandemic. “Significant adjustments to work practices” have been implemented, according to the statement that says the changes were:

  • “[D]esigned to protect the health and safety of the project workforce and the surrounding community while maintaining productivity.
  • “Since October, the site has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, consistent with the broader regional and national rise in cases. This increase, combined with other productivity challenges, continues to impact construction production and the pace of testing activity completion.”

More information is to be provided in a routine earnings call with Southern Co., parent of Georgia Power, on a date in February that’s to be determined, according to the statement.

According to written testimony provided Nov. 24, 2020 by a monitor, Vogtle is months behind schedule, likely won’t open as scheduled, and is over its approved budget by $1.5 billion to $2 billion. Highlights from the conclusion of the monitor’s testimony observe:

  • “With respect to the Regulatory Approved CODs [commercial operation dates] of November 2021[reactor No. 3]and November 2022 [reactor No. 4] although possible, it is highly unlikely that they will be achieved;
  • “[W]ith respect to the TPC [total project cost], even if the regulatory approved November 2021 / 2022 CODs are achieved, VMG [the monitor] forecasts that the TPC will be roughly $1.5 B to $2.0 B over the regulatory approved $17.1B.”

In a separate filing, Southern Co. noted a loss of $149 million related to Plant Vogtle in its latest quarterly report filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, on Oct. 29, 2020.

Challenges described in the report include everything from trying to build a reactor with technology so new it’s barely known, to “major equipment failure,” to legal challenges and “inconsistent quality of equipment, materials….” One section in a cautionary section cites risk factors including:

  • “[T]he ability to control costs and avoid cost and schedule overruns during the development, construction, and operation of facilities or other projects, including Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, which includes components based on new technology that only within the last few years began initial operation in the global nuclear industry at this scale, and including changes in labor costs, availability, and productivity;
  • [C]hallenges with management of contractors or vendors; subcontractor performance; adverse weather conditions; shortages, delays, increased costs, or inconsistent quality of equipment, materials, and labor; contractor or supplier delay; delays due to judicial or regulatory action; nonperformance under construction, operating, or other agreements; operational readiness, including specialized operator training and required site safety programs; engineering or design problems;
  • “[D]esign and other licensing-based compliance matters, including, for nuclear units, the timely submittal by Southern Nuclear of the ITAAC documentation for each unit and the related reviews and approvals by the NRC necessary to support NRC authorization to load fuel; challenges with start-up activities, including major equipment failure, or system integration; and/or operational performance….”

 

 

 

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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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