Georgia PSC wants hard numbers on Plant Vogtle project

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Georgia PSC wants hard numbers on Plant Vogtle project

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

State 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 the troubled Plant Vogtle nuclear project.

Georgia Power faces an Aug. 31 deadline to file its recommendation for the Vogtle expansion in the wake of the late-March bankruptcy of key contractor Westinghouse Electric.

Options being considered include abandoning the project, completing one or both of the new reactors under construction 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 indicated they don’t want to abandon the project. But some also have said they’re worried about the project’s soaring costs and a shaky $3.7 billion financial guarantee from Westinghouse parent Toshiba Corp., which has also been financially wounded by losses on the project.

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

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

McDonald, who attended the meeting by phone, did not explain his vote. 

Key questions the PSC wants answered include costs and timetables for the various Vogtle options.

The most controversial question included 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 said approval could hamstring the agency’s ability to later challenge overruns. But a Georgia Power lawyer said then 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 to expand the plant near Augusta was already over three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget when Westinghouse filed bankruptcy.

Southern Company, Georgia Power’s parent, recently provided estimates indicating the expansion will cost more than $25 billion and will 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.

Georgia Power and Vogtle’s other partners expect to start receiving payments from Toshiba starting in October.

Toshiba, however, warned in April that it had “substantial doubt” that it could continue in business due to Westinghouse’s losses, leading to speculation about a bankruptcy filing that might wipe out the guarantee.

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