Delays and More Costs for Plant Vogtle Nuclear Expansion

In-service dates for two nuclear units under construction at Plant Vogtle in Georgia have been moved out to December 2017 and December 2018, and the total project cost is now estimated at $6.76 billion—$650 million more than the certified cost—staff from Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) reported this week. 

Steven Roetger and GDS Associates consultant William Jacobs, who testified on behalf of the PSC’s public interest advocacy staff on June 20 cited the 9th/10th Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report—which is yet to be made public—when they reported that companies building the project are behind on scheduled milestones.

The consortium building the project had originally projected the first of the two new reactors would be operational in April 2016.

Developers continue to be in litigation with the contractors Westinghouse and Chicago Bridge and Iron per an engineering, procurement, and construction agreement to determine which party is responsible for certain delays in the project schedule. Delays posed several risks, including mounting capital and financing costs, and replacement fuel costs, Roetger and Jacobs told the regulatory commission.

Much progress had been accomplished on the Unit 3 and Unit 4 nuclear islands last year, the staff members noted. But, “The engineering completion schedule identified that hundreds of activities were pushed out past the construction need date due to late engineering which delayed necessary procurement,” they said. “This in turn pushed out the start and end dates of some construction activities.”

Further delays are likely because some components for the AP1000 units have never been built before. The shield building, for example, is a first-of-a-kind design, fabricate, and assemble activity, and the design of the fully digital control system is also a first-of-a-kind activity, staff said. Schedule risks include technical difficulties with development of other key pieces of equipment as well, including the canned rotor coolant pumps, and the squib valves. Meanwhile, startup testing and resolution of problems identified during startup “will take longer than presently planned,” Roetger and Jacobs projected.

Southern Co. this week told the commission in its own monthly report that its “uncompromising focus continues to be on quality and safety of the project as decisions are made concerning schedule and cost.”

Construction of the two AP1000 reactors, each about 1.1 GW, was approved by the Georgia PSC in 2009. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power, which owns 45.7% of the project with three other entities, received a combined construction and operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in February 2012. The Department of Energy finalized a $6.5 billion loan guarantee in February 2014 for two of Vogtle’s owners: Georgia Power and Oglethorpe Power Corp. The DOE is working on the remaining $1.8 billion for the expansion project’s third owner, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia.

According to an overview document published by Southern Co. for investors in June, the company generated 38% of its total power from coal, 42% from natural gas (up from just 4% in 2000), 4% from hydropower, and 16% from nuclear. By 2020, depending on fuel prices, it expects to generate between 23% and 53% from coal, 23% and 53% from natural gas, and at least 18% from nuclear.

The document also reveals that Southern Co. plans to convert at least 3.2 GW of its 20-GW coal-fired power fleet to natural gas, switch 1.2 MW to activated carbon or dry sorbent injection systems to meet federal environmental rules for mercury and other air toxics, and retire 2.9 GW by 2015.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)