Southern Co. has announced another delay in hot functional testing for the first unit of its two-unit expansion at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia.
The utility in a March 19 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said its subsidiary Georgia Power “now expects the start of hot functional testing for Unit 3 will be delayed into April.” The filing said that Southern Nuclear, the nuclear power subsidiary of Southern Co., “continues to target a November 2021 in-service date for Unit 3,” though it also said “the schedule is challenged and… a delay is likely and could add one month or more to the Unit 3 in-service date.”
Georgia Power said it estimates delays beyond November “would result in additional base capital costs for Georgia Power of approximately $25 million per month.” The project, first approved by state regulators in 2009, with an original estimated cost of about $14 billion, now projects to enter commercial operation about five years after initial expectations. Analysts predict the cost of the two-unit expansion will have doubled by the time it’s complete.
Pandemic Limits Workforce
The Vogtle project has had numerous delays over the years, most recently due to a reduction in the workforce at the site in Waynesboro, Georgia, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Southern Co. in the SEC filing Friday said that due to a “recent identification of additional construction remediation work, Southern Nuclear is reviewing the project’s construction quality programs and, where needed, implementing improvement plans consistent with these processes. Findings resulting from such reviews and inspections could require additional remediation.”
The first shipment of nuclear fuel for Unit 3 was received in December 2020, one of many milestones the project achieved last year.
Southern Co. in February in its year-end 2020 earnings call acknowledged an “aggressive site work plan” at the Vogtle site. Thomas Fanning, Southern’s chairman, president, and CEO, at that time said, “We remain focused on meeting the November 2021 and November 2022 regulatory-approved in-service dates for Units 3 and 4, respectively,” noting during the call that “the start of hot functional testing [is] expected in only a few weeks.”
Fanning during the call said the current work site plan for Unit 4 “targets a third-quarter 2022 in-service date,” adding, “we continue to utilize an aggressive site work plan as a tool to provide margin to the regulatory-approved November 2022 in-service date.” Fanning said Georgia Power’s “share of the total project capital cost forecast increased by $176 million, largely reflecting estimated COVID-19 impact and other costs, along with a replenishment of contingency to fund future expected risks that will include lower productivity rates and increased support costs.”
The Vogtle expansion is adding two, 1,100-MW AP1000 reactors to the nuclear plant, where two other reactors—Units 1 and 2—have operated since 1987 and 1989, respectively. The team leading the expansion, a project which would provide the U.S. with the country’s first new large-scale nuclear reactors in more than 30 years, in 2020 successfully completed the pre-startup review process conducted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators. That agency assessed the “project’s readiness to operate the new AP1000 reactors with safety and quality as the primary focus,” according to Georgia Power.
Georgia Power owns 45.7% of Plant Vogtle. Three other project partners—Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and the City of Dalton Utilities—own the remaining 54.3%.
Southern Nuclear operates a total of six units for Alabama Power and Georgia Power at the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan, Alabama; the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant near Baxley, Georgia; and the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro. Southern Nuclear is the licensee of the two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle..
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).