Legal & Regulatory

Trump Administration Set to Guarantee $3.7 Billion to Finish Vogtle Nuclear Expansion

Energy Secretary Rick Perry will reportedly announce March 22 that the Trump administration will finalize $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to support completion of the Vogtle nuclear plant construction project. The announcement is expected when Perry visits the site near Waynesboro, Georgia, on Friday along with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning.

The Vogtle project, dogged by construction delays and cost overruns, has ramped up on progress over the past year, with a reported 7,000 workers now at the site. Construction of two new AP1000 reactors, Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle, is more than five years behind schedule. The project was first approved by state regulators in 2009, and at the time the cost for the two new reactors was pegged at about $14 billion, with an original startup date of 2016. The most recent estimates of the project’s cost now stand at about $28 billion. (For details on how the project’s costs rose, read “How the Vogtle Nuclear Expansion’s Costs Escalated.”)

Fanning in February said construction of the two additional units is on track and the first of the two could come online as early as April 2021, about seven months ahead of the regulatory approved startup date. The second unit could be online a year later. Units 1 and 2 at Plant Vogtle have operated since 1987 and 1989, respectively.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., owns 45.7% of Plant Vogtle. Three other project partners—Oglethorpe Power Corporation, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), and the City of Dalton Utilities—own the remaining 54.3%.

Oglethorpe Power President and CEO Mike Smith, MEAG Power President and CEO Jim Fuller, and Dalton Utilities CEO Tom Bundros are expected at Friday’s event. Others expected to attend include Sonny Perdue, U.S. secretary of agriculture who is from Georgia; Paul Bowers, chairman, president, and CEO of Georgia Power; and Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Union. Georgia Public Service commissioners Tim Echols, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Chuck Eaton, Tricia Pridemore, and Jason Shaw also are expected to attend.

Echols, vice-chair of the Georgia PSC, told POWER on March 20: “Having Secretary Perry at the Vogtle plant as the top goes on Unit 3 is exciting. We believe that, despite the difficulties, our state will benefit greatly from this carbon-free energy.”

Georgia regulators in February approved another $526.4 million in expenditures by Georgia Power for work at Vogtle.

The loan guarantees expected to be announced Friday are considered critical to finishing the expansion, though they also would mean taxpayers would foot the bill if the project goes awry. Southern Co. and its partners in Plant Vogtle already had received $8.3 billion in government loan guarantees from the Obama administration. They asked the Trump administration for more money as the project’s costs increased.

The original project leader, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy in 2017 due to financial problems associated with the Vogtle construction.

The Vogtle expansion would be the first new U.S. nuclear power plant project to be completed in 40 years. A similar project in South Carolina was abandoned in 2017 after its costs ballooned to more than $20 billion

The Trump administration has made support of both nuclear and coal-fired power a priority, and President Trump in 2017 said the government would provide a conditional loan guarantee for Plant Vogtle.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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