Second new reactor at Plant Vogtle reaches 100% power

The long-delayed and over-budget nuclear unit is expected to enter service between April and June
(L-R) Views of Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, in Burke County near Waynesboro, Georgia on Monday, July 31, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

(L-R) Views of Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, in Burke County near Waynesboro, Georgia on Monday, July 31, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

The second new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle reached 100% power for the first time Monday night, another sign that the expansion of the power plant near Augusta may be nearing completion after years of setbacks.

Bringing the new unit, known as Unit 4, to full power is a key step forward for the project.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said in a statement that reaching maximum power was an important milestone for the company as it works to provide “a reliable, emission-free new energy source for Georgia.”

“Our teams continue to conduct testing for the unit, including safely running at various power levels and operating through real-life conditions, just as it will over the next 60 to 80 years after the unit enters commercial operation,” Kraft said.

Unit 4 was supposed to begin providing electricity to Georgians by the end of March, but an issue discovered in one of its cooling systems during start-up testing meant the company missed that deadline. The problem has been fixed, but Unit 4 is now expected to come online between April and June.

The new Vogtle units are the first new commercial reactors built from scratch in the U.S. in more than three decades. Unit 3 has been in service since last July and once Unit 4 is complete, the two reactors combined will produce enough electricity to power 1 million homes, without adding heat-trapping carbon pollution to the atmosphere.

But the project’s delays and enormous price tag have cost Georgia Power ratepayers dearly.

The containment area that holds the reactor vessel and refueling canal at Plant Vogtle's Unit 3 is seen on Friday, October 14, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Unit 3 entered service more than seven years behind schedule, and Unit 4 will likely be completed more than seven years later than expected, too. The total cost of the expansion has surpassed $35 billion, more than $20 billion over what was initially projected.

Before the first new unit produced any electricity, the average Georgia Power residential customer had already paid about $1,000 over the last decade-plus in monthly bill fees to cover the project’s financing.

Late last year, state regulators voted to approve a deal that passed $7.56 billion of Vogtle’s construction costs onto the company’s ratepayers. As a result, the average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month will see a cumulative increase of $14.38 in their monthly bills. Part of that increase — about $5.42 — kicked in last year after Unit 3 entered service. The rest will take effect when Unit 4 comes online.

Georgia Power owns the largest share in the Vogtle expansion with 45.7%, followed by Oglethorpe Power (30%), the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

Even as it prepares to bring Unit 4′s megawatts (MW) online, Georgia Power already says it need to add more new assets to its fleet — mostly to meet the needs of electricity-hungry data centers that are proliferating in Georgia.

Last week, the company struck a tentative deal with Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) staff that, if approved, would allow it to build three new gas and oil-fired units at Plant Yates in Coweta County, plus develop at least 500 MW of battery storage. The agreement would also allow Georgia Power to continue buying electricity from its corporate cousin, Mississippi Power, and from a gas-fired plant in Florida.

The PSC will vote to approve or amend the agreement on April 16.


A note of disclosure

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