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Another delay for Plant Vogtle

WAYNESBORO — Plant Vogtle’s nuclear expansion is hitting yet another roadblock—one of many over the decade-long project. This delay comes after Southern Company admits to climbing costs. Southern Company, a parent to Georgia Power, disclosed Thursday, February 17, a Vogtle-related $920 million financial charge in the fourth quarter of 2021. It also pushed back the startup dates for its two new nuclear units in Georgia by three to six months.

Before Vogtle can load nuclear fuel, inspections must be in order. Southern Company blamed the latest delay on incomplete and missing inspection records. They are said to be working through the backlog now. The plant’s new Unit 3 is now slated to come online between December 2022 and March 2023. Unit 4 is scheduled to be operational between September 2023 and December 2023.

According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution, many of Georgia Power’s customers already are paying Vogtle’s financing costs—to the tune of nearly $900 on average per ratepayer. Still to come as of late last year: a $185-a-year increase in average residential rates to cover construction costs if state regulators approve all of the company’s Vogtle costs, according to monitors and state staffers.

The project’s intent is to bring a stable, reliable, carbon-free source of energy to Georgians that will last upwards of six decades. This would make the state a leader in nuclear power as the country moves away from fossil fuels. However, the bill continues to rack up. Some believe the construction and financing cost of the expansion project has roughly doubled since it was first announced, to more than $28 billion for all the project’s owners.

The latest $440 million fourth-quarter charges is said to cover the cost overruns for the plant’s shareholders, which include Oglethorpe, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities.

Passing that portion of the bill to Georgia Power’s customers is “100 percent off the table,” Dan Tucker, Southern’s chief financial officer, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Thursday.

Tricia Pridemore, the PSC’s chairperson, said the five-member body met Thursday morning to review Vogtle’s progress for the first half of 2021. It’s not scheduled to evaluate the details for the second half of 2021 for several more months.

“The state of Georgia will have 60 to 80 years of carbon-free power that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” she said. “And it allows Georgia to be a leader for nuclear energy across the country… There’s a great deal of confidence that comes from this.”

The utility predicted early last year that Georgians finally would get electricity from the first of Vogtle’s two new reactors by November 2021, nearly 11 years after customers began paying for it and more than five years after initially planned. But within months, the company pushed back the projected completion date of the reactors four times.

Overall, Southern posted a fourth-quarter loss of $215 million, compared with a $387 million profit in the year-earlier quarter. For the full year, it booked a $2.39 billion profit, down from $3.12 billion in 2020.

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