Southern Co. on Vogtle: ‘ultimate outcome of these matters cannot be determined’
By David Pendered
The following sentence concludes a federal filing that sets out terms of the agreement among Plant Vogtle’s partners that enables construction to continue: “The ultimate outcome of these matters cannot be determined at this time.”
These words come at the end of the Form 8-K that Georgia Power and its parent, Southern Co., filed Sept. 26 with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
This is the same date by which all four owners of Plant Vogtle had agreed to continue with the over-cost and overdue construction project. In addition, amended terms could shift ultimate responsibility for the decision to complete the project to Georgia Power, according to a credit outlook released Monday by Moody’s Investors Service.
Meantime, Moody’s has declared two partners in the Vogtle project to be winners as a result of the negotiation over the Vogtle construction project – MEAG Power and Oglethorpe Power. They can sell to Georgia Power if cost overruns reach a certain point, under terms of an amended agreement.
Moody’s included the following observation in a credit review that deemed the deal a “credit positive” for MEAG and Oglethorpe:
- “The agreement provides [MEAG and Oglethorpe] several forms of mitigation and cost shifting should future construction costs exceed the current revised budget or should current litigation among MEAG Power and JEA, Florida … affect future capital market access for MEAG … financing requirements.”
These two reports, by Southern and Moody’s, seem to belie two fairly robust forward-looking thoughts contained in a Sept. 26 statement that appears word-for-word on the websites of Southern Co., MEAG and Oglethorpe Power. Dalton Utilities does not appear to have posted a statement.
The one quote in the shared statement observes:
- “’We are all pleased to have reached an agreement and to be moving forward with the construction of Vogtle Units 3 & 4 which is critical to Georgia’s energy future,’ said the co-owners. ‘While there have been and will be challenges throughout this process, we remain committed to a constructive relationship with each other and are focused on reducing project risk and fulfilling our commitment to our customers.’”
Also highlighted in the shared statement was China’s ability to overcome setbacks with a the same type of nuclear power plant under construction in that country:
- “Additionally, an AP1000 unit in China reached its final technical milestone last week, which will allow the unit to enter commercial operations. Three more AP1000 units are in full testing and will reach commercial operation soon.”
The plant in China was slated to begin operations in 2014. It wasn’t running this past February, at which time China halted fuel loading citing “safety concerns”, according to a report by Reuters. The loading did begin on April 25, according to a report by World Nuclear News.
In addition, the “technical milestone” cited in the shared statement was so significant that the Vogtle team sent a team to China to watch how the work was being done, according to a May 23 in-depth report by Moody’s analysts, who observed:
- “One area of uncertainty now eliminated [at Vogtle] is whether there would be obstacles to the nuclear fuel load and to connecting the facility to the power grid. This was a concern because no other nuclear unit in the world using the AP1000 technology had gotten to the fuel load stage. On April 25, 2018, however, the China State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) and CNNC Sanmen Nuclear Power Company Limited (SMNPC) announced that fuel loading had begun at the AP1000 nuclear power plant in Sanmen, in Zhejiang Province, China.
- “Nuclear fuel load is a critical step before connecting a nuclear generation facility to the grid. Vogtle project owners believe that lessons from recent developments in China will help reduce problems that might arise in taking the same step in the US. During the next several months, the Vogtle project team will embed personnel at the Sanmen plant during fuel load startup testing to gain critical operating experience. Fuel load at the Vogtle units would take place approximately six months before their respective scheduled commercial start dates.”
The vote on whether to continue building Vogtle was triggered by cost overruns at the nuclear power plant being built some 30 miles southeast of Augusta. The vote had been delayed multiple times, evidently as negotiations among the partners continued.