Vogtle Start Dates Pushed Back Again

Georgia Power has again pushed back the in-service dates for two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant, with Units 3 and 4 now projected to come online in the third quarter of 2022 and the second quarter of 2023, respectively.

Georgia Power in an Oct. 21 news release said its needs more time to deal with continued issues with construction, and to conduct more comprehensive testing to ensure quality and safety standards are met at the two-unit expansion project in Waynesboro, Georgia. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in late August said it would consider increasing oversight of the oft-delayed project.

It’s the fourth time in just the past six months that Georgia Power has announced a further delay in startup of the two units.

“As we’ve said from the beginning of this project, we are going to build these units the right way, without compromising safety and quality to achieve a schedule deadline,” said Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, in a statement. “We have endured and overcome some extraordinary circumstances building the first new nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Despite these challenges, progress at the site has been steady and evident.”

The utility said fuel could be loaded into the Unit 3 reactor as soon as early 2022, though the procedure could be pushed back to May of next year, which would likely lead to the 3Q2022 in-service date.

Some Testing Completed

Hot functional testing of Unit 3 was completed this past summer. Construction of that unit is 99% complete, according to Georgia Power. The utility said construction of both units in total is about 95% complete.

The expansion project involves construction of two, 1,100-MW AP1000 reactors 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%.

The Vogtle project is several years behind its original schedule, which called for the two new units to be in operation in 2016. The two-unit expansion also is billions of dollars over its original budget, owing to years of construction delays and cost overruns. The project also sustained delays cause by workforce reductions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgia Power at one point in 2020 cut about 2,000 of the then-9,000 workers on site in an effort to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. 

Georgia Power said more than 7,000 workers are still on site, and more than 800 permanent jobs will be available once the units begin operating.

The latest announcement comes as members of Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) are considering how much of the project’s construction costs should be passed on to customers of the utility. State regulators must approve any rate increases, and the PSC is expected to vote on the matter in November.

The utility’s customers for years have been paying financing costs for the project. A proposed agreement reached earlier in October by Georgia Power and the PSC’s public interest advocacy staff would add $2.1 billion of Vogtle construction expenses into the company’s rate base once the first new reactor is completed. The utility has said that under that scenario, a typical residential customer’s monthly bill could rise by about $3.78.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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