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Georgia Public Service Commission gives troubled nuclear reactor project go-ahead

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The Georgia Public Service Commission has voted to allow the construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle to continue despite delays and cost overruns that echo the problems that plagued the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project.

The project’s original contractor, Westinghouse, which filed for bankruptcy protection in April, was also the contractor for the twin 1,117-megwatt reactors being built near Jenkinsville.

Georgia Power Co. and three partners — Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities — are the driving forces behind the Georgia reactors. Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the project and argued in favor of its continuation, albeit at double its original cost and five years behind schedule, the Savannah Morning News reported Thursday.

The company asked the commission to consider those factors reasonable, and the commission did, despite estimating the project would be “uneconomic” by $1.6 billion.

The cost of canceling the project would have been between $730 million and $760 million, with Georgia Power paying up to $350 million, the Savannah paper said. The financing cost for the other project co-owners is not publicly reported.

The reactors were originally projected to cost $6.1 billion and to be online in 2016 and 2017. The estimated cost has now grown $12.2 billion, with projected online dates of 2021 and 2022. Around $4.3 billion has already been spent on construction and capital with $2 billion in financing costs.

Despite approving the project’s continuation, the Georgia PSC said finishing it as Georgia Power has recommended will increase the company’s profits by $5.2 billion and cost ratepayers an additional $14 billion.

Like S.C. Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper ratepayers, Georgia Power’s 2.5 million customers have been paying in advance for the reactors. A typical homeowner pays around $100 a year in “nuclear recovery fees,” according to the Morning News.

Georgia Power has blamed previous delays and cost overruns on Westinghouse. Southern Nuclear, a Southern Co. subsidiary, is now managing the project, with Bechtel Corp. — another familiar player in the V.C. Summer saga — as the construction contractor.   

SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper, co-owners of the V.C. Summer project, commissioned a report from Bechtel to identify problems with Westinghouse’s management. Completed around 18 months before the Jenkinsville reactors were abandoned, the report found a plethora of problems, including faulty construction plans, inadequate management and high worker turnover. It was not made public, however, until S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster released it in early September.

Lawsuits, a federal subpoena and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation followed. The fallout has also led to McMaster shopping Santee Cooper in hopes of a new owner jumpstarting the reactors’ completion and a six-bill Utility Ratepayer Protection package being debated by the S.C. House of Representatives as the S.C. Public Service Commission considers motions requesting rate relief for SCE&G customers. 

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