Georgia Power has said it expects to load fuel into the reactor during the third quarter. In a release on Friday, the company said it has already received all 157 nuclear fuel assemblies it needs, each measuring 14 feet tall. They are being held in storage until they are cleared to be placed into the reactor, Georgia Power said.
Unit 4′s twin, Unit 3, loaded fuel last fall and achieved 100% power output in late May. Despite several issues that have surfaced recently during start-up testing, Unit 3 is likely just days away from entering commercial operation — the company said it expects it to be in-service by the end of July. As of mid-morning Friday, Unit 3′s reactor was at 51% power.
Once complete, the two units will be the first commercial nuclear units built from scratch in the U.S. in more than three decades. But the project has been dogged by delays and swelling costs.
Unit 3 is more than seven years behind schedule and Unit 4 is more than six years late. The total cost of both reactors has climbed above $35 billion, more than double what was initially forecast.
Once complete, the units are expected to be in-service for the next 60 to 80 years. At maximum power, each unit will produce roughly 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 500,000 homes and businesses. As temperatures rise and the dangerous effects of climate change intensify, their electricity will be generated without pumping additional heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But for Georgia Power ratepayers, that clean energy comes with a huge price tag — one that continues to grow.
Georgia Power customers have already been paying for the units in their monthly bills for years. Expert witnesses for the Georgia Public Service Commission’s (PSC) staff recently estimated that by the time Unit 4 enters service, the average customer will have paid about $926 for Vogtle construction.
Once Unit 3 is complete, customers will begin paying even more. Georgia Power estimates the average customer could see their monthly bills jump by $3.78.
After fuel is loaded into Unit 4, another evaluation process will begin to determine how much more of the project bill ratepayers will have to foot.
Georgia Power estimates that if it is allowed to collect $7.3 billion of its construction, capital and financing costs from ratepayers, the average customer’s bill could rise by 9%.
But recent testimony filed by PSC staff witnesses indicates the total amount the company could ask to collect could be nearly $13 billion. If recovery of that amount is allowed, rates would jump even more.
The company has not indicated exactly how much money it will seek to recover and ultimately, the decision of what to allow or disallow will be up the PSC’s five elected commissioners. After fuel is loaded into Unit 4, a set of hearings to consider those costs will be scheduled, with the exact dates yet to be determined.
A note of disclosure
This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at https://www.ajc.com/donate/climate/