'Every option' being looked at for Plant Vogtle after contractor’s bankruptcy

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'Every option' being looked at for Plant Vogtle after contractor’s bankruptcy

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Georgia Power told regulators it will look at “every option” for its Vogtle nuclear construction project after a key contractor filed bankruptcy. Plant Vogtle is near Augusta. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

A day after its key contractor filed bankruptcy, Georgia Power said Thursday it is looking at all options for what to do with its unfinished Plant Vogtle nuclear project.

“Every option is on the table,” Georgia Power attorney Kevin Green told members of the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates the Atlanta-based utility.

The Obama Administration backed new federal loans for a nuclear project in Georgia.

Westinghouse Electric, which is supplying the reactors and overseeing construction of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, filed for Chapter 11 Wednesday, largely as a result of billions in losses on the Vogtle project and another in South Carolina.

Even before the bankruptcy filing, the Vogtle project has slipped more than three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget.

At the least, the bankruptcy filing is widely expected to lead to more delays and higher costs, ultimately costing most of Georgia’s utility customers more.

Consumer and environmental groups said the best decision is likely to shut down the project, which they said is too costly and unnecessary because Georgia Power already has enough power generating capacity.

“We believe the worst alternative would be to continue constructing the plant,” said Liz Coyle, executive director of consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch. “We have been saying for years that these projects are too risky and that too much of the risk is being born by ratepayers.”

If the project is abandoned, customers’ rates could still go up to reimburse Georgia Power and other project partners for the roughly $8 billion in construction costs spent so far, including $3.9 billion by Georgia Power.

Green, with Georgia Power, said the company is now studying how much it will cost to complete the new reactors, perhaps under the company’s management, and whether it still makes sense to finish the job.

“We do know that we have almost $2 billion left … to fund a self-build” but it ultimately may not be the best option, said Green. “We have no pre-conceived notions.”

Other options include converting one or both reactors into natural gas-fired plants, or shutting down construction of one or both construction projects.

Environmental and consumer groups said solar or other renewable energy projects should also be considered.

Meanwhile, at Thursday’s meeting, some PSC commissioners expressed frustration at the turn of events.

Commissioner Tim Echols grumbled that much of the cost overruns were related to Westinghouse fixing problems with its new reactor design, the AP 1000, being used at Vogtle and another project in South Carolina owned by SCANA Corp.

“These people (Westinghouse) want our ratepayers to pay their learning curve,” said Echols. “They were the ones that were going to sell this technology around the world and make billions of dollars,” he said.

PSC Commissioner H. Doug Everett said the bankruptcy has “nothing to do” with Georgia Power’s obligations to the regulator regarding Vogtle.

“We are looking for you to do what you said you would do,” he said.

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