Plant Vogtle expansion hits two key milestones

Georgia Power Co. has achieved two important milestones in the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, the Atlanta-based utility announced Monday. This photo shows the final module placed for Vogtle three and four project.

ATLANTA — Georgia energy regulators will decide this fall how much of the costs of building the first of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle Georgia Power can recover from customers.

The state Public Service Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to schedule two days of hearings in mid-October to hear from representatives of the Atlanta-based utility, the PSC’s advocacy staff and business, environmental and consumer advocacy groups participating in the case. The commission will make a final decision Nov. 2.

The first of two new reactors under construction at the plant south of Augusta is due to be in service by the end of November.

But Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said last week that Unit 3 probably won’t be ready before next March or April.

The Plant Vogtle expansion has long been plagued by delays and cost overruns. Originally expected to cost $14 billion when the PSC approved the project 12 years ago, the price tag has nearly doubled mostly due to the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric, the original prime contractor.

Unit 3 originally had been expected to go into service in 2016, followed a year later by Unit 4.

The project has seen substantial progress in recent weeks. Hot functional testing has begun at Unit 3, a process conducted to make sure the reactor is ready for fuel loading.

Also, all modules for the two reactors have been set in place.

Environmental organizations following the case said last week they support the hearings schedule.

“We’re glad these issues will be addressed in a public proceeding with an opportunity to engage,” Jill Kysor, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said during a meeting of the commission’s Energy Committee.

The costs the commission decides should be passed on to Georgia Power’s customers do not represent the full cost of building Unit 3. A portion of the costs will not be recovered until after the Unit 4 reactor goes into service and the PSC holds a “prudency” hearing on those costs, which won’t be until late 2022 at the earliest.

The new rates related to the construction of Unit 3 will take effect one month after the reactor begins operations.

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