Southern Co. reports big profit increase but costly Vogtle delays loom

Unit 3 completion could stretch into May or June; Unit 4 expected by late 2023 or early 2024
A cooling tower of Plant Vogtle in Burke County near Waynesboro is seen on Friday, October 14, 2022. (Arvin Temkar /



A cooling tower of Plant Vogtle in Burke County near Waynesboro is seen on Friday, October 14, 2022. (Arvin Temkar /

Georgia Power’s parent Southern Company reported Thursday a jump of roughly $1.1 billion in 2022 profits compared to the previous year, but again extended its timeline for the two long-delayed and over-budget nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle to begin generating electricity.

Southern Company’s profits for all of last year hit $3.5 billion, up from $2.4 billion in 2021. Profits would have been even higher if not for the $285 million financial hit the company absorbed from ongoing construction at its power plants and other factors.

Southern’s revenues also rose last year by almost 27% to $29.3 billion, compared to $23.1 billion in 2021, driven mainly by an increase in the cost of natural gas, the company said. Looking at just the fourth quarter of 2022, Southern reported a loss of $87 million — far less than the $215 million loss the company recorded in 2021.

Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Southern’s Chairman and CEO Tom Fanning said the jump in company profits was driven by strong economic growth across the Southeast, including in Georgia, despite lingering recession fears.

“I would say that we’re in for a soft landing,” said Fanning, who is set to step down from Southern’s top jobs later this year and hand the reins to Chris Womack, Georgia Power’s current president and CEO. “We see no data that indicates we’re headed for a recession in the Southeast.”

“Economic growth looks like it’s sustaining for a long time to come,” he added.

However, the company signaled the possibility of new delays for Plant Vogtle’s two new nuclear units to enter commercial operation.

Southern said Thursday that Unit 3 — the new reactor at the plant near Augusta that is closest to completion — may not begin generating electricity until May or June, after recently projecting that the unit would be in service in April.

Last month, Georgia Power announced that “vibrations” were discovered in the cooling system of Unit 3 during start-up testing and that fixing the problem would delay the reactor’s in-service date by a month, from March to April. In a Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing soon after, it was revealed that the shaking was the result of critical pipe support bracing that was not installed to begin with, an omission that witnesses at the hearing called “unusual.”

Southern also left the door open to further delays on Unit 4′s construction and start-up. After previously estimating an in-service date by the end of 2023, the company said Thursday it could take until the first quarter of 2024 to bring Unit 4 online.

In a separate semi-annual progress report filed with the PSC Thursday, Georgia Power estimated it will cost almost $200 million more than previously thought to complete both units. That would bring the company’s share of the project’s total cost to $10.2 billion, up from $10 billion estimated in its last major update.

Vogtle Unit 3 and its twin, Unit 4, are the first two new commercial nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Both units are more than six years behind schedule and their total price tag has climbed above $30 billion, more than double what was initially forecast.

Fanning downplayed the possibility of new delays, saying the company’s aim is to “get it right.”

“When you think about whether we make April or May ... Listen, this plant is going to be in service for up to 100 years,” Fanning said. “Let’s be patient and we’re all going to look good.”

More setbacks could prove costly for Georgia Power’s ratepayers, who have already been paying to cover the cost of Vogtle’s construction in their monthly power bills.

While it’s unclear how much additional delays will affect customers’ bills, the company said previously that each month of delay would add an estimated $15 million to the project’s total cost. If the company asks to collect those costs and utility regulators at the PSC approve, ratepayers could be on the hook for the cost overruns.

Earlier this week, Southern also welcomed two new appointments to its board of directors, David Meador and Lizanne Thomas, who will join the board in April.

Meador previously served as vice chairman and chief administrative officer for DTE Energy, a Detroit-based company that includes an electric utility operating in southeast Michigan and other energy-related businesses.

Thomas is an attorney and former partner at the law firm Jones Day and also serves on the board of directors of American Software, Inc.