Engineering experts and financial consultants involved with oversight of the two-unit expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia said the project’s startup now likely will be delayed until the summer of 2022. They also said the project faces more cost overruns.
In testimony filed June 7 with the Georgia Public Service Commission, the groups, whose members include a lead analyst for the PSC monitoring construction of the project, said the commercial operation date, or COD, of Unit 3 of the project “will be significantly later” than the mid-January 2022 date most recently forecast by Georgia Power.
The testimony from two staffers working with the PSC—Steven D. Roetger and William R. Jacobs, representing the commission’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff—was filed ahead of a June 24 public hearing by the commission, a meeting to discuss the project’s construction during the last six months of 2020. The Plant Vogtle expansion includes two AP1000 reactors, Units 3 and 4 at the site in Waynesboro, Georgia, each with 1,100 MW of generation capacity.
The project already is five years beyond its originally forecast startup date of 2016, and analysts estimate its final cost—somewhere between $25 billion and $30 billion—will be twice the originally expected price tag.
Southern Co., the Atlanta-based energy company that is building the expansion, did not have an immediate comment on the filings. The company’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Fanning, earlier this year said the startup dates would be moved back, that news coming about one month after the company in a securities filing said hot functional testing would be delayed.
Representatives of Georgia Power and its parent, Southern Co., earlier this year said Unit 3 could come online in January 2022, with Unit 4 following several months later. Jeff Wilson, a spokesperson for Georgia Power, told the Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle in an article published Tuesday that the utility’s “current site workplan” indicates a January 2022 completion date for Unit 3. “While there is some flexibility in our schedule that could accelerate this timing, considering the scope remaining prior to fuel load, a completion date for Unit 3 during the first quarter of 2022 is expected,” Wilson said. He added that Georgia Power is working toward an in-service date of November 2022 for Unit 4. The utility on Monday said that unit had been energized, which is a necessary first step for testing.
However, Donald Grace, vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group (VMG), which has worked with PSC staff since 2018 in monitoring construction, wrote in his testimony filed Monday that “VMG continues to conclude that the Company’s schedules are unachievable and cannot be relied upon.” Grace said he thinks Unit 3 is unlikely to come online before June 2022, with the likely startup date perhaps months later.
Grace in his testimony also provided several estimates of the project’s total cost, each of them about $2 billion above the expansion’s approved cost of $17.1 billion. Grace wrote that the regulatory approved startup dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Units 3 and 4, respectively, “likely … will be exceeded by roughly 7 to 9 months, or more, for each unit.” He also wrote that, “given the approach of ‘spending whatever it takes’ to minimize the Project schedule, the Regulatory Approved TPC [total project cost] of $17.1B will be exceeded by roughly $2.0B.”
Roetger and Jacobs in their testimony said delays in bringing Unit 3 online could be attributed to the pushback of hot functional testing by three months. That procedure, a test of the entire power generation system for Unit 3, was moved to April from its original January 2021 start date. Notably, details about that delay are redacted in the testimony filed Monday, because it references information filed under a trade secret exemption to open record laws.
More Delays Expected
Jacobs and Roetger said that testing is ongoing, and should be completed in early July. They also noted a delay in additional testing is expected after the date, as several construction tasks still need to be completed.
Grace wrote that he thinks Unit 4 will not come online until at least a year after Unit 3, and the earliest Unit 4 will be commercially operational is June 2023.
The Vogtle expansion’s numerous delays and cost overruns include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on construction, as hundreds of workers were sidelined at the site last year. Vogtle is still the only large-scale nuclear power generation project underway in the U.S.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).