Georgia Power executives to testify on nuclear plant

May 31, 2015

Savannah Morning News

ATLANTA — Georgia Power executives will face questions this week about the delays and expense of building a new nuclear plant.

Utility regulators in Georgia will begin a new cycle of oversight hearings Tuesday delving into the company’s progress in building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia. Ultimately, the state’s elected regulators on the Public Service Commission must decide whether to give initial approval to Georgia Power’s spending on the project during the six-month period ending Dec. 31.

The facility is one of three nuclear plants under construction in the United States. Georgia Power, which owns a 46 percent stake in the project, originally expected to pay $6.1 billion on its share of construction costs. Delays have pushed that figure upward to $7.5 billion, according to the latest company estimate.

Analysts working for the Public Service Commission predicted in March the cost could reach $8.2 billion or more since Georgia Power would need to buy replacement electricity if its new plant is not operating on time.

The first of its new reactors was supposed to start operating in April 2016, with the second following a year later. Those time periods have already been pushed back about three years.

Georgia Power said earlier this year finishing the nuclear plant is cheaper than halting construction and instead building natural gas-fired plants. While nuclear plants are enormously expensive to build, they produce power relatively cheaply once they start operating and are not affected by swings in fossil fuel prices.

The facility is "an investment in the future and is expected to provide significant long-term fuel savings for our customers over its lifetime," the company said in a February filing.

Still, the nuclear industry has failed to show it can meet schedules or budgets during construction.

Two utility companies in South Carolina, SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper, have run into similar delays while building reactors of the same design at the Summer nuclear station. Separately, the Tennessee Valley Authority is on the verge of completing a second nuclear reactor at its Watts Bar plant that was first started in the 1970s. The project to revive that partially completed reactor ran about $2 billion over original estimates.

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