Southern Co. predicts delays for Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear unit

Atlanta-based Southern Company, the parent of Georgia Power, is now expecting another delay before the first of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle goes into operation. The company also reported an improving business picture with its latest quarterly earnings. MATT KEMPNER / AJC
Atlanta-based Southern Company, the parent of Georgia Power, is now expecting another delay before the first of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle goes into operation. The company also reported an improving business picture with its latest quarterly earnings. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

Utility also reports rise in 1Q revenue, profit

Georgia Power’s latest plans now bake in expectations that the multi-billion-dollar nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle will bust another deadline before it goes into operation.

The first of two new reactors now won’t be in operation until late December, and any further delays could push it into the first three months of next year, according to Tom Fanning, the chief executive officer of Georgia Power’s parent, Atlanta-based Southern Company. He made his comments in a call with analysts Thursday.

The first new reactor, originally slated to be in operation in the spring of 2016, was most recently scheduled to be finished no later than November of this year. Last month, the state’s largest utility acknowledged it was “likely” to miss the deadline, citing remediation work needed to correct quality issues.

But Fanning sounded upbeat Thursday about the project, where the last major round of testing recently began on the first reactor.

“We are making great progress on Vogtle,” he said. “I think we have resolved the delays, and we think we have a clearer path.”

He added, “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we are imbued with enthusiasm.”

The second of the new reactors is currently scheduled to be in operation in November of 2022.

Delays on either reactor can add costs to the project, which is already billions of dollars over budget. Customers of many electric utilities in the state are at risk of eventually having to pay for the higher construction costs in their monthly bills.

Elected members of the Georgia Public Service Commission will decide how much more will be added to Georgia Power bills. Already, customers’ bills have included an extra fee for the project’s financing costs and a portion of company profits.

The project has been battered by a string of challenges over the years, including late design changes. Then the project’s main contractor filed for bankruptcy protection. Southern made improvements but still faced productivity issues, according to independent monitors, who continually warned of additional delays despite company assurances. Then the pandemic struck, affecting the project’s giant workforce.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Southern reported revenues for the first quarter of $5.91 billion, up from $5.02 billion in the period a year earlier. Net income increased to $1.14 billion from $868 million.

“The economies in our service territories are starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fanning said in a released statement. “Customer demand is improving faster than we anticipated.”

But factoring out the impact of weather, total electricity sold is still down a bit from a year ago.

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