The two nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle will be delayed beyond their forecast commercial operation dates of December 2017 and 2018, an oversight team told Georgia regulators in the project’s latest construction monitoring report. 

The consortium building the project had originally projected the first of the two AP1000 reactors would be operational in April 2016.

But Dr. William Jacobs, Jr., the Georgia Public Service Commission’s (PSC’s) independent construction monitor for the Plant Vogtle expansion, and Steven Roetger, who is among the staff involved in providing oversight of the project, now say in the Nov. 21–released report that “it is impossible to determine a reasonable forecast range as to when the units could be commercially available.”

A complete integrated project schedule (IPS) through the commercial operation date of each unit has not been provided to the oversight staff, the officials said. Meanwhile, Georgia Power Co. has not reaffirmed forecast commercial operation dates, saying only that it is working with contractors Westinghouse and Chicago Bridge & Iron (CB&I) to establish a more “detailed and comprehensive” integrated schedule date.

In an updated IPS showing activities only through 2015, “the Contractor has recognized the existence of challenges to several long-term activities, including fabrication, assembly and installation of structural modules and shield building modules,” Georgia Power told the construction monitor.

The total project cost (comprising construction/capital costs and financing costs) hasn’t changed from estimates recorded in the previous monitoring report and currently stands at $6.7 billion, the officials say. That amount is, however, $591 million above the certified amount of $6.1 billion, they noted.

When a completed IPS that includes activities to project completion has been issued, project costs will be updated. Delays will most likely increase capital costs, financing costs, and replacement fuel costs.

The report also noted that litigation between project developers and contractors (Westinghouse and CB&I) to determine who should pay for changes mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other general delays remains unresolved. The dispute involves $600 million for shield building design changes and $74 million for structural modules design changes. Also under dispute is $244 million stemming from a late construction and operation license and limited work authorization.

In a separate Nov. 21 filing on behalf of the Public Interest Advocacy Staff, Philip Hayet told the PSC that “continuing to construct the units is more economic than discontinuing construction and building an equivalent amount of combined cycle gas turbine capacity.” According to the advocacy staff’s estimates, however, every day the project is delayed will cost an additional $2 million—and Georgia Power “will seek to recover the additional revenue requirements associated with these costs from ratepayers both during the construction period and over the operating lives of the units,” Hayet said.

Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the Vogtle Unit 3 and 4 project (30% is held by Oglethorpe, 22.7% by MEAG, and 1.6% by Dalton Utilities). The project was approved by the PSC in 2009, and a federal loan guarantee was finalized in February 2014.

Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company, is banking on new nuclear to diversify its generation fleet. By 2020, regardless of whether natural gas prices rise or fall, it plans to generate 18% of its power with nuclear.

Tim G. Echols, one of the PSC’s five commissioners, told POWER in November that, in addition to the two Vogtle units under construction, “we’d like to build two more.”

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