Aerial view of Plant Vogtle’s units 3 and 4 under construction. Photo: Georgia Power

Southern Co.: ‘Weeks’ before we’ll know cost of Plant Vogtle expansion

A Southern Co. executive told state regulators that it will likely be up to “several weeks” before it knows how much it will cost to complete its troubled Plant Vogtle expansion.

Since the late-March bankruptcy of the project’s key contractor, Westinghouse Electric, Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern, has been spending about $50 million a month under an interim agreement with the contractor to keep work going at the plant near Augusta.

The interim agreement expires Friday, but David McKinney, Southern’s vice president of nuclear development, told the Georgia Public Service Commission at a hearing Thursday that he was “not ready to say today” if it will be extended.

“You may see that interim agreement extended,” said McKinney.

He said Southern and Georgia Power are still evaluating what to do, including whether to abandon the project, and how much it will cost to finish the Vogtle expansion.

The hearing was on Georgia Power’s progress on the Vogtle expansion in the last half of 2016, when it spent $222 million on the project.

An army of about 6,000 workers are building two new reactors at Vogtle, but the job is well over $3 billion over budget and more than three years behind schedule.

Georgia Power officials said the project slipped at least four months farther behind schedule in the second half of 2016, and has fallen farther behind this year.

Partly because of Westinghouse’s bankruptcy, the utility’s executives told the PSC they no longer expect to be able to finish the reactors by the end of 2020 — the latest deadline set last year under a settlement between the agency and Georgia Power.

The project is being bankrolled by more than $8 billion in federal loans and loan guarantees, as well as nearly $2 billion paid through “financing” surcharges that add about $100 a year to residential customers’ bills.

Critics used Thursday’s hearing to express their anger over Vogtle’s costly troubles. Several urged the PSC to pull the plug on the project, arguing that the units aren’t needed because electricity demand in Georgia hasn’t grown over the past decade.

“I am angry,” said Atlanta resident Barbara Antonoplos. She said it’s “absurd” that the PSC says it didn’t see Westinghouse’s bankruptcy coming.

In the recent settlement a few months before Westinghouse’s bankruptcy, she added, the PSC “approved as prudent every penny of the billions that have been spent” on Vogtle, and even more for future spending.

“No one now can deny that this is a very big mess,” said Robert Searfoss, of Atlanta. He said it’s also unfair that older customers have been paying for a project for years and may never get any benefit from it.

“I’m an elderly customer caught in the Vogtle vortex,” he said. “

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