Monitor: Paperwork problems a drag on Vogtle schedule

Paperwork problems — ranging from missing documents to missing signatures — are a big reason for delays in the expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant being paid for by Georgia Power customers, an independent construction monitor testified Tuesday.

The issue is tied to Vogtle’s main vendors not meeting stringent documentation rules and other quality assurance requirements, William Jacobs said at a meeting of the state Public Service Commission.

The snags are part of what he said is now a potentially costly 15-month delay in getting the twin reactors online. Heavy construction on the project began in February. The first reactor originally was supposed to be online in 2016, with the second in 2017.

The documents are related to the reactor design, approved by federal safety regulators, Jacobs said. If any part of the job is not correct, it must be redone exactly to the design.

“The delays are to ensure the plant is being built to the design requirements” for safety, he said.

Jacobs’ testimony left state utility regulators agitated.

“Do you know how difficult it would be to stand in front of ratepayers and voters and to say the reason this project is over budget is because of paperwork?” asked PSC Chairman Tim Echols.

The delays could lead to increased financing and capital costs for Georgia Power’s $6.1 billion portion of the project, which customers are already paying for. Lawsuits and any future delays at the site also could lead to higher costs for the project, which could wind up in customer bills if approved by utility regulators.

Georgia Power has not asked to collect any additional money from customers to pay for increased costs at Vogtle. The independent monitor, as well as a consultant hired by the PSC staff to review the project, said Tuesday that the $14 billion project remains economical.

“I have not identified any imprudent costs,” Jacobs said.

The utility is building twin reactors with a group of municipal and cooperative electric companies. They have contracted with Westinghouse and the Shaw Group, which is using its Louisiana-based subsidiary to make critical components for Vogtle reactors. The so-called modules are parts of the reactor built elsewhere and then assembled at Vogtle’s construction site in Waynesboro.

Jacobs said new management at the subsidiary, Shaw Modular Solutions, plus increased oversight by Georgia Power supervisors has improved work at the fabrication site. For the first two years, however, “they would find all kinds of things … missing pages, missing signatures” out of work orders that could hold up getting a job completed on time.

One module was finished in April but hasn’t been shipped because of “paperwork deficiencies,” Jacobs said, prompting questions from others in attendance at the PSC hearing on the costs and schedule of the project for the first six months of 2012.

“It’s taken eight months to handle paperwork deficiencies?” asked Bobby Baker, a former PSC commissioner who now represents Resource Supply Management, an energy consultant that works with large commercial, institutional and industrial electric customers.

Georgians opposing the Vogtle project packed the hearing room Tuesday. Consumers spoke for nearly two hours, with opponents saying the project should be stopped because of questions over cost, schedule and safety.

“We are not talking about building faulty flashlights,” Atlanta resident Barbara Antonopolis said.

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