Regulators: Georgia’s Vogtle not like S.C. nuke plant

Georgia’s Plant Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Georgia’s Plant Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Two of the five commissioners at Georgia's utility regulator said the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion is in better position to be completed than a similar South Carolina project that is being abandoned.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Doug Everett said he has “100 percent confidence” that Atlanta-based Southern Company’s nuclear arm can complete the Vogtle project, despite no nuclear construction background.

“It’s like apples and oranges,” Everett said Tuesday after a PSC meeting, to compare Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle project near Augusta to SCANA Corp.’s V.C. Summer expansion, north of Columbia, S.C.

Likewise, PSC Chairman Stan Wise said the South Carolina project “did not have access to someone like Southern Nuclear,” referring to the Southern unit that runs its nuclear plants.

Wise also said he wants the PSC to be ready to make a go/no go decision on Vogtle by Dec. 5.

Under an interim agreement last week, Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power will oversee construction at Vogtle in the wake of former main contractor Westinghouse’s late-March bankruptcy. The companies are also in talks with construction firm Bechtel Corp. and Fluor Corp. about taking over construction.

Wise said the Summer plant was riskier because it has a smaller customer base and fewer partners.

Westinghouse Electric supplied the designs for new AP 1000 reactors at both Vogtle and Summer and oversaw construction until being overwhelmed by financial losses.

Both projects started in 2009 and are the first major new nuclear power plants to begin construction in the United States in more than three decades.

Summer’s partners, SCANA and electric cooperative Santee Cooper, cited cost overruns and delays, slowing electricity demand and cheaper alternatives when they announced Monday they will stop work.

Georgia Power’s review of Vogtle’s viability is going more slowly, with the utility saying it expects to give the PSC a recommendation on how to proceed by the end of this month, as part of a regular construction review.

Critics worry state regulators are allowing Georgia Power to drag its feet while the Vogtle partners continue to sink about $100 million a month into the project. Georgia ratepayers already are being billed for financing costs.

“I share the concern of my colleagues about the potential risk to ratepayers as each month passes,” Wise said Monday in a statement.

If Vogtle’s projected costs are dramatically higher, he added, that will the factored into the PSC’s decision.

But he also hinted that he would be reluctant to scuttle the project, which includes two new reactors to go with Vogtle’s two existing units.

“I believe the ratepayers would be understandably upset if they got nothing in (new power) generation for the billions that have already been spent,” Wise said.


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