One of the two long-delayed nuclear units at Plant Vogtle near Augusta successfully generated electricity and connected to the grid for the first time, Georgia Power announced Saturday morning.
The company called the step forward at Unit 3 a major milestone that brings the country’s first new reactor built in more than three decades closer to completion.
“What an incredibly inspiring time to join Georgia Power as we celebrate this milestone that marks the first day of generating clean, reliable power at this new nuclear unit, which will serve our customers over the next 60 to 80 years,” said Kim Greene, Georgia Power’s newly-minted CEO, president and chairman. Greene recently took the company’s helm after its former leader, Chris Womack, was tabbed for the top job at Georgia Power’s parent, Southern Company.
Georgia Power said in a news release that operators will continue to increase power levels and conduct more tests to ensure the reactor functions as designed in the coming weeks, before placing it into commercial service. The company said it still expects Unit 3 to begin sending power out to hundreds of thousands of Georgia homes by May or June. Its twin, Unit 4, is expected to be complete by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2024.
The event comes on the heels of another breakthrough at Unit 3 last month. On March 6, Georgia Power said it had begun splitting atoms to produce heat inside Unit 3, a key step known as “initial criticality.” Unit 4 also reached a major mile marker last month when the company began “hot functional testing,” a course of checks needed before nuclear fuel can be loaded into the reactor.
Both Unit 3 and Unit 4 have been plagued by delays and are more than six years behind schedule. Meanwhile, their total price tag has ballooned to above $35 billion, more than double what was initially forecast.
Once online, Georgia Power says Vogtle’s two new units will generate enough power for 500,000 homes and businesses without contributing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
But as the units inch toward the finish line, it also means the steep bill facing the company’s customers is closer to coming due.
Georgia Power customers have been paying for Vogtle’s construction in their bills every month for years and the company is expected to soon ask state regulators at the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to pass along even more of the cost to its ratepayers.
The average Georgia Power customer will have paid a total of about $913 in their monthly bills for Vogtle construction by the end of this year, according to witness testimony delivered to the PSC.
As soon as Unit 3 enters commercial service, another $3.78 rate increase approved by the PSC will begin hitting customers’ monthly bills, Georgia Power estimates. Additional hikes could follow, with the exact amount to be determined by the commission in hearings expected to start later this year.
In a progress report filed recently with the PSC, Georgia Power also estimated it will cost $200 million more than previously thought to complete both units. That would bring the company’s share of the total project cost to $10.2 billion, up from an earlier $10 billion estimate.
Georgia Power holds the largest stake in the new Vogtle units at 45.7%, followed by Oglethorpe Power — a cooperative serving utilities across the state — which owns 30%. The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia holds 22.7%, while Dalton Utilities has the smallest share at 1.6%.
Plant Vogtle timeline
Notes of disclosure
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Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the $3.78 rate monthly rate increase mentioned in the story is an estimate from Georgia Power.