A filing from Georgia Power to continue on with the controversial and expensive project at Plant Vogtle drew praise from Governor Deal, cautious optimism from state regulators and new criticism from consumer watchdog groups. Georgia Power tells News 3 this is a recommendation and that the Public Service Commission (PSC) will ultimately make the final decision. The chair of the PSC Stan Wise tells us that commission members are likely to study the pros and cons and make a decision after the first of the year.
Still, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal praised the effort to move forward with the troubled construction of two new nuclear reactors. A press release says the governor is pleased with the recommendation of Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 co-owners to complete construction of a new clean energy source for Georgians and that the recommendation was made today in a filing to the Georgia Public Service Commission. (Georgia Power owns about 45 percent of the project.)
“I’m extremely pleased to learn the co-owners of Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have recommended completion of construction,” said Deal. “Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities have made the right decision for our state. These new units will provide clean and affordable energy to Georgians for more than 60 years while creating 6,000 jobs during project construction and 800 well-paying, permanent ones after.”
The units are behind schedule and over budget by billions of dollars. Earlier this year, Westinghouse which is the designer of the AP 1000 reactor (being used for the first time in U-S nuclear reactors) went bankrupt. Westinghouse was also the lead contractor on the project and the Georgia Public Service Commission has been waiting for word on how Georgia Power (the majority builder) would proceed. A similar project in South Carolina was recently abandoned by utility partners there who said finishing the reactors was not economically viable.
Critics of the long standing financial issues at Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 have said if Georgia Power proceeds, the path forward will continue to be paved with higher costs and delays. Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called the decision “baffling”, saying there’s nothing new to assure the project can be completed on the latest timeline which if met, would put the reactors operational five years behind the original project estimate. She also says the latest anticipated costs show Georgia Power’s share of the project doubling in cost. Barczak sited a recent decision from South Carolina utilities to abandon a similar nuclear project there. The South Carolina utilities said they didn’t see a way forward because of the cost of trying to complete reactors. “Georgia Power doesn’t necessarily have the secret sauce here,” said Barczak. “There is nothing to show they can proceed with any more success.”
Georgia Power says its recommendation is based in part on making sure that Toshiba (the parent company of Westinghouse) keeps promises to pay the Utility more than $1 Billion. if the project can proceed now as indicated in the filing to the Public Service Commission – that the total cost for all partners would be about $19 Billion dollars. However, Barczak says several groups have estimated that to be closer to $25 Billion because of financing costs.
According to a press release from the Public Service Commission, Georgia Power Company, with the support of each of its partners (“Owners”), recommends the project continue, assuming the PSC in its review finds, among other things:
- That the revised schedule — commercial operation date of November 2021 for unit 3 and November 2022 for unit 4 – is reasonable and is approved.
- That the revised forecast for Georgia Power’s share of the total capital cost of $8.77 billion is reasonable and is approved. The actual impact on customers of capital costs over what has already been approved is expected to be approximately $1.41 billion.
- That the Prudency Review Stipulation of January 2017 continues to be in force and effect and as such, no finding of imprudence will be made in the context of the VCM 17 proceeding as any prudency review will be deferred until after the units are in operation.
- That the updated project economics are based on assumptions related to the Parental Guarantee, the extension of the Production Tax Credits and United States Department of Energy Federal Loan Guarantees.
PSC Chairman Stan Wise told us he believes the “commission is cautiously optimistic about the announcement” but that Georgia Power’s plans and timelines have to be scrutinized carefully. Wise indicated with all of the over-runs since the project began in 2010 that the PSC will have to study carefully the way forward as presented by Georgia Power. However, Wise says the PSC wanted the option of at least trying to move forward and that Georgia Power’s announcement today gives the state that option. Wise says a final decision by the PSC may not be made until February.