“In a press release today, Georgia Power announced that the long delayed Plant Vogtle expansion will be delayed even further. Unit 3, which has just finished a critical testing cycle, is now expected to be in service in the second quarter of 2022, and Unit 4 in the first quarter of 2023.”
– The Augusta Chronicle, July 29, 2021.
In “Vogtle News,” a website from Georgia Power, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company, all seems swell with progress updates. But the real truth is that the construction of Plant Vogtle 3 & 4 is a boondoggle that has all but sidetracked nuclear as a major electric generation source for the foreseeable future.
It’s a mess. Original contractor Westinghouse Electric went bankrupt in 2017, which left the AP1000 (‘passive design’) project with Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of the Southern Company.
Originally slated for completion in 2016/17, the project is five years late and counting. And what was already way too costly at $14 billion when the Public Service Commission of Georgia approved the project in 2009, the final tab will be double.
In terms of capacity, Plant 3 (1,117 MW) and Plant 4 (1,117 MW) totaling 2,234 MW, will now be about $12.5 million per MW.
Joseph Pokalsky calculated the opportunity cost of Plant Vogtle in generation terms.
GA Power could have built by now 13x the generation capacity of Vogtle 3&4 in gas fired gen, or gas fired and renewable gen, with a LCOE 1/3 or lower than Vogtle, retired equivalent coal fired capacity reducing carbon emissions at least 6.5 times more, not have to raise rates 15-20%, and still earn their ridiculously high, given it’s risk free, ROE on capital investment.
“It’s the mission of the GA PSC to assure that Ratepayers are provided reasonably priced power from a financially sound, technically competent utility,” Pokalsky added. “Not to make a technically incompetent utility financially sound by allowing it to charge unreasonable rates.”
Somehow, nuclear has turned into an increasing cost industry. New designs and the latest-and-greatest have turned out to be experimental busts. Georgia Power spokesman Jeff Wilson said as much in his most recent update:
We continue to learn every day on the project and our work over the last several months, including Hot Functional Testing, is no different. Our new projected schedule includes additional time and resources to complete the remaining work safely, with the highest standards of quality, and to factor in our most recent experiences with productivity and testing activities.
Spin from Southern Company
The owners of Plant Vogtle are in full spin mode. Stated Jeanne Wolak, VP of Federal Affairs at Southern Company:
Plant Vogtle is continuing to make substantial progress as it will be the first new nuclear units built in the United States in the last three decades. Once Vogtle is complete, these units will produce enough electricity to power 1 million Georgia homes and businesses. As we look forward to its operation, we also look forward to what this means for our nation’s energy future:
– Safe, reliable, affordable, carbon-free energy
– Downward pressure on energy rates for customers
– Hundreds of permanent on-site jobs
Which inspired one critic to respond:
It’s inexplicably dishonest to say that Vogtle will result in lower rates. As Joe P pointed out in another post, 13x the capacity in highly efficient CCGT could have been built 10 years ago at lower cost. Rates are materially higher and will remain so due to this ridiculous failure of public policy.
Lots of lawsuits ongoing with the Vogtle 3 & 4 debacle.
I worked at the cancelled VC Summer project in South Carolina.
1. I entered the project midway through. I was surprised how many engineering drawings were still not finalized. I thought that in this day and age, the project would be designed on a CAD system and the drawings and parts list be relatively straightforward to produce. Particularly since there were already four units in China a couple of years ahead in construction.
2. Westinghouse’s supply chain was a nightmare. From picking a company that had no nuclear experience for critical components to having to buy an Italian supplier that was going bankrupt in order that critical components wouldn’t be seized by creditors, it was one crisis after another.
3. Westinghouse was not very honest in their dealings. Their progress reports were fiction. When The utilities were allowed to inspect their documentation, this was confirmed. They had renegotiated the contracts with the utilities to fixed price contracts with penalties for missing deadlines but this required a contract change payment up front. After this payment was made, Westinghouse declared bankruptcy.
4. It was a real struggle finding qualified ironworkers, electricians, welders etc. for the project. We were constantly competing with Vogtle for the same limited workforce which was recruited from as far away as Alaska. Many of the people we got were in their 50s and 60s and were getting injured, having hear attacks etc. The younger people didn’t want to put up with the nuclear requirements of drug/alcohol tests, security screening. This is probably the greatest limitation on any expansion of large nuclear capacity in the US.