Georgia Power told to do its homework on Vogtle nuke options

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Georgia Power told to do its homework on Vogtle nuke options

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Workers at the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project. Photo: Georgia Power

Georgia’s utility regulators want Georgia Power to answer several questions — including how much more it will cost — when the Atlanta utility turns in its recommendation later this month on what to do with its troubled Plant Vogtle nuclear project.

Georgia Power faces an Aug. 31 deadline to file its recommendation on what to do with its Plant Vogtle expansion in the wake of the late-March bankruptcy of its key contractor, Westinghouse Electric.

The options being considered include abandoning the project, completing one or both of the new reactors being built at its nuclear power plant near Augusta, or switching to another type of power plant.

The Georgia Public Service Commission will have final say on the project’s fate.

Most of the commission’s five members have already indicated that they don’t want to abandon the project. But some also have said they’re worried about the nuclear project’s soaring costs and a shaky $3.7 billion financial guarantee on the project. It’s from a Tokyo firm, Toshiba, that also could plunge into bankruptcy due to losses on the project.

“I do want to see this project completed,” said PSC Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald. “I do not like to see failure.”

Nevertheless, he was the single “nay” vote in a 4-1 vote Tuesday by the PSC’s commission instructing Georgia Power to answer 14 questions when it turns in its Plant Vogtle recommendation.

McDonald, who was attending the PSC meeting by telephone, did not give a reason for his vote. He was in Washington, D.C., where he was to testify before an International Trade Commission hearing on proposed tariffs on imported solar cells.

Key questions listed in the PSC’s motion included how much the various Plant Vogtle options will cost, and how long each option would take to complete.

The most controversial question in PSC Chairman Stan Wise’s motion was whether the commission should approve a revised construction cost and schedule for the project.

Last week, the PSC’s staff opposed such a move, saying it could hamstring the agency’s ability to later challenge some of the project’s cost overruns.

A Georgia Power lawyer, on the other hand, said last week that the company could not go ahead with the project without approval of revised cost estimates.

A spokesman for Georgia Power confirmed Tuesday that its recommendation will address the PSC’s questions, and seek such approval. “Our position is that Georgia Power is required by law to seek approval of new cost and schedule forecasts,” said spokesman Jacob Hawkins.

The project was already over three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget when Westinghouse filed bankruptcy, raising new doubts about the project’s viability.

Southern Company, Georgia Power’s parent, recently provided estimates indicating the expansion will cost more than $25 billion and not be completed before 2023 — adding more than two additional years to the schedule.

Currently, Georgia Power is spending roughly $50 million per month for its share of the project, financed by surcharges on customers’ bills.

Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the project. Oglethorpe Power, MEAG and the City of Dalton own the rest. Oglethorpe and MEAG supply power to electric power cooperatives and municipal utilities, respectively.

Another key question in Tuesday’s motion is how a $3.7 billion guarantee to Plant Vogtle’s owners from Toshiba Corp., Westinghouse’s parent company, will figure in Georgia Power’s analysis.

Toshiba is facing a potential bankruptcy itself, warning in April that it had “substantial doubt” that it could continue in business due to Westinghouse’s losses.

Georgia Power and Vogtle’s other partners expect to start receiving payments from Toshiba on the guarantee starting in October. But Toshiba’s guarantee could become moot in a bankruptcy reorganization.

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