Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear project expected to get more federal backing

The cooling towers for Plant Vogtle reactors 3 and 4 rise above the construction sites. GEORGIA POWER

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The cooling towers for Plant Vogtle reactors 3 and 4 rise above the construction sites. GEORGIA POWER

Georgia’s troubled and still unfinished nuclear power expansion at Plant Vogtle may land another big dose of government support.

Federal and Georgia officials on Friday are expected to announce finalization of $3.7 billion in additional federal loan guarantees for the project, which is already billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

The backing for Georgia Power and the other project owners is on top of $8.3 billion in earlier federal loan guarantees, bringing the total to $12 billion.

The U.S. Department of Energy had announced a conditional commitment of the extra backing a year and a half ago and extended a deadline to keep the offer intact through the end of this month.

Bloomberg reported that the finalization of the guarantees will be announced when U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visits the project with other officials Friday. The news outlet cited unnamed people familiar with the matter.

A Republican official with knowledge of the project confirmed Wednesday the accuracy of the report to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 2017, Perry said the Vogtle expansion is among important energy projects “that support a reliable and resilient grid, promote economic growth, and strengthen our energy and national security.”

The Trump administration's moves at Vogtle build on earlier support from the Obama administration, which pushed nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power and as a way to diversify generation of electricity.

Critics have derided government support for a project they contend didn’t make economic sense and was bound to have big cost overruns.

The latest guarantees were first announced months after the bankruptcy filing of Vogtle’s main contractor. Delays and costs had been building before then. But the bankruptcy action pushed even more risk on Georgia Power and the project’s other owners. Since then, Georgia Power has announced additional cost increases. Those costs ultimately could be passed onto customers.

Leaders of the company’s Atlanta-based parent, Southern Company, have voiced confidence that the project will stay within its most recent cost and time estimates, which call for the first new unit to be in service by November of 2021 and the second by November 2022.

Congress also has approved $800 million in tax credits for the work, and last year it extended a deadline to ensure the delayed Vogtle project would still qualify for them.

Friday’s event is expected to include appearances by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials, former Georgia governor and now Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as well as top leaders of Georgia Power and Southern.