Georgia’s new nuclear project central to Kemp’s global pitch

Governor says new Vogtle reactors are a ‘great marketing tool’ to international leaders

Gov. Brian Kemp’s pitch to global business leaders Thursday at an elite economic conference illustrates how the state’s costly and much-delayed new nuclear reactors have become a central part of Georgia’s efforts to recruit clean energy jobs.

Kemp said at a World Economic Forum panel that reliable energy from two new reactors at Plant Vogtle, the first built from scratch in the U.S. in more than three decades, was central to Georgia’s ambitions to become the world’s “e-mobility capital.”

“We’ve done as much as anyone else in the country, with the first two nuclear reactors in 30 years. And we’re going to have to have more,” the Republican governor said, adding: “That’s what these companies want: clean, green energy.”

The new reactors were a recurring theme at the annual conference in the Swiss town of Davos, the second consecutive year Kemp has attended an event reviled by many fellow Republicans as a symbol of out-of-touch elitism.

Kemp has leaned into his role as one of the few Republican attendees, and he called the reactors a “great marketing tool” for Georgia that helps fuel a green energy boom that includes massive projects in the state from Hyundai, Rivian and SK Battery.

The expansion of the Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta was originally supposed to cost $14 billion, but total spending by all partners involved in the project soared past $35 billion. The first new reactor, Unit 3, was completed more than seven years behind schedule when it went into operation last year. The other reactor, Unit 4, might not enter service until later this year — at least six years later than expected. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

“We’re producing clean energy with Vogtle,” Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview from Davos, adding that it can help allay concerns from liberal executives and global leaders about investing in a state led by conservative Republicans.

“I certainly don’t agree with most things that people out here are about,” he added. “But there are things we can pitch so that these companies that have these concerns, they know they can solve these issues in our state, grow jobs in our state and invest in our state.”

‘Historic’ demand

As sunny as Kemp sounded about Vogtle, the plant’s promise to usher in a nuclear revival fueled by vast amounts of carbon-free electricity has been riddled with complications.

The expansion of the plant near Augusta was originally supposed to cost $14 billion, but total spending by all partners involved in the project soared past $35 billion.

The first new reactor, Unit 3, was completed more than seven years behind schedule when it went into operation last year. The other reactor, Unit 4, might not enter service until later this year — at least six years later than expected.

Most of the project’s cost overruns have been passed on to Georgia Power’s customers, who have seen their monthly bills increase dramatically.

Even with the new capacity, Georgia Power claims it’s not enough: The company is looking to add more power to its system — mostly with climate-warming coal, oil and gas plants — to meet the “historic” electricity demand that could be on the horizon.

That’s led to sharp pushback from environmentalists and federal regulators who say the utility is ignoring opportunities to develop more clean energy options such as solar power.

Kemp, for his part, has expressed confidence in the resilience of the electric-vehicle industry despite a recent slowdown in sales, though he has told the AJC that he worries the “window” for new green energy jobs in Georgia could be closing.

He’s also ripped the federal climate change law adopted by President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies for interfering with market forces, even as some of the executives who picked Georgia for new projects cited the lucrative incentives in their decisions.

The governor’s main concern, however, is one that he’s raised repeatedly as dozens of new green manufacturing projects promising tens of thousands of new jobs dot Georgia’s economic landscape.

“We made a lot of promises to these companies, telling them we can supply the workforce,” Kemp said Thursday at the forum, adding: “What keeps me up is being able to supply the workforce to do all of the different things that these companies want to do.”

Staff writer Drew Kann contributed to this article.

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