Vogtle Project 'Highly Unlikely' to Meet Deadlines

An official monitoring the progress of the Vogtle nuclear expansion project in Georgia said in testimony filed June 5 with the state’s Public Service Commission that the two new reactors are “highly unlikely” to meet state-approved deadlines, and also will probably have additional cost overruns.

The expansion project involves construction of two, 1,100-MW AP1000 reactors known as Units 3 and 4 at the site. Units 1 and 2 at Plant Vogtle have operated since 1987 and 1989, respectively. 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%.

Don Grace, vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group (VMG), said the group “maintains that SNC [Southern Nuclear Co.] will not be able to achieve the aggressive target CODs [Commercial Operation Dates] of May 23, 2021 for U-3 and May 23, 2022 for U-4, [i.e., prior to the regulatory required CODs]. VGM has also concluded that it is highly unlikely that the Company will meet the Commission Approved CODs of November 2021 for U-3 and November 2022 for U-4.”

The project has been delayed numerous times and has experienced several cost overruns. Completion of the new reactors had been expected as early as 2016 when the project was first announced more than a decade ago. Grace said he estimates the project’s cost will exceed its current $17.1 billion target; the two new reactors were expected to cost a total of about $14 billion when the expansion was approved by the PSC in 2009. The project’s cost was estimated by analysts in 2019 at about at $27.5 billion.

The project has achieved several milestones in recent months, including placement of the final module for Unit 3, a massive water tank (Figure 1) that was placed atop the containment vessel and shield building roof at the site near Waynesboro, Georgia.

Friday’s testimony from several members of the monitoring group, even as Grace said the deadlines likely would not be met, did not take into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the project’s construction. The group’s analysis was completed in March, before Southern Nuclear and its project partners in April cut the construction workforce by about 20%, after several workers at the site became ill.

Southern Spokesperson: Project Still on Schedule

Jeff Wilson, a spokesperson for Southern’s Georgia Power unit, in an email to Bloomberg News said Vogtle remains on schedule and budget. “The project is continuing its strategy of utilizing an aggressive site work plan as a tool to help us achieve the November regulatory-approved dates,” Wilson said in the email. “The total project capital cost forecast remains unchanged.”

1. The final module lift for Unit 3 at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia involved the placement of the 720,000-pound water tank on May 22, 2020. Courtesy: Georgia Power

The monitoring group’s report said Southern’s efforts to speed its testing of equipment at Vogtle before finishing much of the construction at the site have led to inefficiency and higher costs.

Grace in his testimony said “VMG is of the opinion that a primary root cause of poor productivity and production is due to SNC’s strategy of accelerating testing prior to completion of a greater degree of the bulk construction commodities which then leads to inefficient and costly execution of construction. Further, VMG is of the opinion that SNC’s decision to accelerate testing was most likely due to the realization that an optimal construction schedule, together with the required durations of testing activities, would not allow SNC to meet the Regulatory Required CODs. SNC erroneously concluded that deviation from normal industry practice would shorten the schedule.”

PSC staff in separate filed testimony said they dispute more than $1.2 billion in costs that Southern plans to pass to customers after the completion of Unit 3. The utility has said it wants to begin recouping $2.3 billion of project costs from ratepayers in the month after Unit 3 comes online.

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

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