Still more Vogtle nuclear delays and costs likely, state monitors say

Georgia Power pushed back the projected completion date of new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle four times since the spring. That still isn’t likely to be enough, monitors and staff for the state said in new filings this week.

Some work may slip into 2024, they warned, citing continued concerns about quality issues and productivity problems. They also cautioned that total costs for both Georgia Power and its partners on the expansion project could rise another $1 billion.

Customers of Georgia Power and many other Georgia utilities are at risk of paying steeper rates as a result of Vogtle work that is already billions of dollars higher than first budgeted.

The first of two new reactors will likely not go online until at least November of next year, but possibly not until February of 2023, according to Wednesday filings by Georgia Public Service Commission staff and independent monitors hired to watchdog the project for the state.

The second reactor will likely not be in operation until a year after that, potentially pushing into February of 2024, according to written testimony by Don Grace, who is the vice president of engineering for the monitoring group.

And Grace said even those estimates could be off if major new issues arise, such as from increased oversight begun by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after quality and oversight problems were found at the site south of Augusta earlier this year.

Others on the monitoring team agreed with Grace’s overall assessments.

Their projections are for as much as five months of delays beyond Georgia Power’s latest timetable, announced in late October after a string of earlier updates. Until earlier this year the company had been predicting the first new reactor would be producing electricity for Georgians no later than last month.

When Georgia Power launched the project, it had said the first reactor would be in place by the spring of 2016, followed by the final reactor a year later.

The total capital costs for Georgia Power and its partners have risen to $19.5 billion, but Grace predicted the costs could go up another billion dollars. Not included in that estimate: billions of dollars in financing costs that have been or will be picked up by customers of electric utilities.

PSC staff and monitors have for years predicted rising costs and delays, even as Georgia Power repeatedly waved off such warnings only to later revise its own estimates.

Grace said the latest expectations for more delays and higher costs are “largely attributable to the more recently discovered construction quality issues.”

And “there are many performance issues that need improvement” on work on the second new reactor.