SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Georgia Regulators Reject Advisory Staff’s Recommendation for Beleaguered Plant Vogtle Nuclear Expansion Project
Serious challenges remain, including financial meltdown of Toshiba/Westinghouse, more than seven years into construction
Atlanta, Ga. (February 21, 2017) ///PRESS RELEASE/// As Japanese giant Toshiba faces financial ruin because of subsidiary Westinghouse’s massive losses from new AP1000 nuclear reactor projects under construction in the U.S., the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) today unanimously approved an additional $141 million in expenditures for Georgia Power for its 45-month delayed nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia along the Savannah River. The Commission has approved all of the Company’s previous applications for expenditures, now totaling $3.68 billion.
The Commissioners rejected the PSC Advisory Staff’s recommendation to approve two of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s common-sense suggestions from the organization’s final brief in the 15th semi-annual Vogtle construction monitoring docket (VCM): that Georgia Power (1) provide revised commercial operation dates that incorporate the additional schedule slippage and (2) a mitigation strategy that supports those new dates. While the Commission did approve requiring revised commercial operation dates, they rejected the latter suggestion dealing with the mitigation plan.
“We appreciate the Staff’s support of some of our recommendations and are disappointed that the Commission ignored their advice,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). “Given Toshiba’s financial meltdown, there are even more problems facing the very troubled Vogtle construction project that is only 36 percent complete more than seven years in, which increases the financial risks to customers. It’s hard to understand why the Commission wouldn’t at least want to know more about what’s going on by having Georgia Power provide an answer to the question: what is being done to make sure those further delayed dates are met? The Commission needs to remember that one of the reactors was supposed to be operating already and the other less than two months from now.”
Today’s decision follows the Commission’s unanimous approval in late December of a controversial settlement agreement that failed to provide substantial protections to Georgia Power customers for billions of dollars in increased costs. The forecasted capital project cost increased by $1.262 billion: from $4.113 billion to $5.680 billion. This represents $2 billion in yet-to-be-spent capital costs that, because of the December decision, are now deemed “prudent and reasonable” in advance of those costs even being spent.
Additionally, financing costs, which represent the largest share of the project’s cost overruns, have increased substantially: from $1.695 billion to $2.422 billion. With the increased capital costs of the project, Georgia Power’s share of the project costs is over $8 billion. Additionally, this financing cost increase only reflects the 39-month delay, despite the settlement’s mention of project completion in December 2020, a 45-month delay. Additional delays result in increased project costs, over $2 million per day just for Georgia Power’s share of the project, as outlined in a data request SACE received in the 15th VCM.
SACE’s final brief, beginning on page 14, lists excerpts of PSC Advisory Staff testimony extending back to the 6th VCM in August 2012 that highlighted the ongoing, systemic problems with the project, including Staff’s accurate prediction of schedule delays. This excerpt for instance, highlights Staff’s opinion that achieving the 45-month commercial operation dates (CODs) is unlikely:
“The Contractor will have to complete construction at much higher monthly rates than were achieved in 2016 in order to meet current CODs. For the Project to meet the current forecast CODs, the amount of construction work required to be completed each month increases in each subsequent month through September 2017 to a rate over three times the amount that has ever been achieved to date on this Project.”
“Given customers are on the hook to pay much more for this project than they were originally told, they deserve to know the actual schedule and costs along with assurance that there is a mitigation strategy in place to prevent further disruptions,” said SACE attorney, Bobby Baker, a former Georgia PSC Commissioner. “Keeping ratepayers in the dark and allowing further rate increases is unacceptable.”
Originally Vogtle reactor Unit 3 was scheduled to come online April 1, 2016 and Unit 4 one year later. Georgia Power’s 15th VCM report had schedule estimates of June 2019 and June 2020 respectively, a 39-month delay, with their estimated share of the project cost as $7.862 billion. However, the PSC-approved settlement from December 2016 refers to the whole Project commercial operation as December 31, 2020, which represents a 45-month delay. The current certified cost for Georgia Power’s share of the project is approximately $6.113 billion, which represented an original $4.418 billion for capital costs and $1.695 billion in financing costs. The revised estimated project costs for Georgia Power are now over $8 billion. Georgia Power customers are already paying more than 9.7 percent on their monthly bills in Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery (NCCR) costs and over $1.8 billion in pre-collected financing costs have been charged to ratepayers due to anti-consumer state legislation passed in 2009 to incentivize building new reactors. The original approximately $14.1 billion Vogtle project is now estimated to cost well over $20 billion. Georgia Power is 45.7% owner in the project (remaining utility partners are Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG (22.7%) and the City of Dalton (1.6%)).
Find more information about Plant Vogtle’s expansion here and the supplemental review proceeding approved in December 2016 here. Southern Company’s fourth-quarter 2016 earnings report is tomorrow, February 22, 2017; an overview of the Toshiba financial crisis is expected as was similarly done last week by SCANA for their V.C Summer nuclear plant expansion.
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy promotes responsible energy choices that work to address the impacts of Global Climate Change and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.