Georgia Power’s parent company is the only utility constructing nuclear power reactors in the United States, and it doesn’t plan to do it again anytime soon.
It probably will be in the 2030s or 2040s before Atlanta-based Southern Company attempts another nuclear construction project, Southern CEO Tom Fanning told analysts Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the over-budget and delayed nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle is not expected to exceed its latest deadline and cost estimates, he said.
That’s even though expected completion dates have been delayed by a month, to May 2021 for one unit and May 2022 for the other, due to “lower than projected performance in 2018,” according to a new Georgia Power filing.
Those new dates are still six months before the latest official deadline for each. Originally, the project was supposed to have been finished and in full operation by April of 2017.
Even with the Vogtle project struggling, Georgia Power officials previously contemplated building a third nuclear plant in the state, in addition to Plant Hatch and the expanding Vogtle. The company bought a site in Stewart County, south of Columbus. Three years ago, it studied the land’s potential, spending millions of dollars that was later charged to customers.
The study was halted as Vogtle’s troubles grew and the company concluded it wouldn’t need another nuclear plant as soon as thought. Georgia Power still controls the site and has said it expects to put some kind of operation there in the future.
But on Wednesday, Fanning told analysts that his administration won’t embark on more nuclear.
To further cut carbon emissions, “we do need, as a nation, to continue to invest in nuclear technology. But, for us, that won’t be my administration’s call,” Fanning said. “It will be in the ’30s and ’40s when I think we need to add more nukes.”
He said that would involve a new generation of reactors. Fanning also said that he expects the company’s reliance on coal-powered units to continue to decline. “If you are going to continue to keep coal alive, it must have carbon-capture technology on it.”
Liz Coyle, the executive director of Georgia Watch, a consumer advocacy group that has long warned about the Vogtle’s ballooning costs, questions whether ratepayers should fund another nuclear project incorporating new reactor designs.
“What we don’t want to see is Georgia once again being made the guinea pig … for unproven technologies that end up taking much longer to build and at a significantly higher cost than other forms of generation,” she said.
Tim Echols, an elected member of the state Public Service Commission that regulates Georgia Power, said in an emailed statement that “It is way, way, way too early to be talking about another nuclear plant while Vogtle is being completed.”