Georgia Power currently spends $50 million per month on the project. In March 2017, Vogtle’s lead contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed for bankruptcy. The project was already three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget. Georgia Power’s Paul Bowers argues the project presents “long-term benefits to customers.” Critics have fought against Vogtle's expansion for years, citing cost and safety concerns. Cost and schedule estimates presented by Georgia Power may determine the project's fate. Plant Vogtle is one of Georgia's two nuclear power plants.

Skilled labor shortages hit Vogtle as Georgia Power reports progress

Georgia Power says completion of the two new nuclear units being built in Waynesboro faces skilled labor shortages, despite the project being ahead of its revised schedule.

A report filed by the company to the Georgia Public Service Commission ahead of Vogtle construction progress hearings next month identified difficulties in meeting craft labor requirements at the plant as one challenge that could hamper efforts to meet its completion forecast of 2021 and 2022.

The report says Bechtel, the nation’s largest construction company recruited last year as project contractor has been facing challenges in providing skilled labor to the plant that employs over 5,000 people.

“Bechtel must attract the necessary labor force to support the project completion goals,” the report read in part.

According to Will Salters, business manager at the Augusta office of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the shortage in skilled workforce in a statewide issue, which he attributes in part to an abundance of ongoing construction projects across the state.

He said hiring for Vogtle is especially difficult as other companies are providing better pay and incentives, luring some skilled workers away from the plant.

“The wages at plant Vogtle are much lower than they are in other parts of the state…A lot of these other jobs pay more incentives, so they do get more manpower before Vogtle,” added Salters in an interview.

Georgia Power spokesperson John Kraft said the company was “actively working with the building trades to attract and hire the craft labor needed for the project,” mentioning a recent job fair hosted to attract skilled craftsmen to work at the site.

Between July to December last year, workers at the site put close to nine million hours of labor achieving several milestones, including last month’s setting of a 306-ton reactor vessel on unit 4.

Despite construction tracking ahead of schedule, the report said more hours were spent on the project than anticipated, “sending its budget 20 percent above what was initially set”.

Kraft maintained that “the forecasted budget and schedule remained unchanged as approved by the Georgia PSC in the Commission’s decision to move forward with the project.”

The report said Bechtel was reviewing processes to improve work and cost performances at the site to cut unnecessary travel time, late starts, early quits and increase tool time.

The report detailing construction progress and costs between July 1 to December 31, places the costs incurred during the period at $448 million bringing the cumulative project cost to $3.398 billion, which the company hopes will receive the approval of the commission at the hearings.

According to Georgia Power construction at the plant is past the halfway mark- at 50.8% -, with unit 3’s progress at approximately 44 percent complete and unit 4’s at 33 percent complete.

Overall project completion, according to the company is at 67.1%.

Southern Nuclear Co., a subsidiary of Georgia Power’s parent company Southern Company, took over management of the plant mid last year after Westinghouse Electric Company filed for bankruptcy in March. Since then, the company has reported marked progress at the plant.

The two units that have been under construction since 2011 will be five years behind schedule if completed by the 2021 and 2022 forecast. Project delays that have characterized the plant since inception have been protested by watchdog groups who maintain that ratepayers should not shoulder the burden of the overbudgeted and delayed project.

Pro-nuclear groups on the other hand hope that once complete, Vogtle 3 and 4 will revive the country’s commercial nuclear industry.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.