“As we’ve said from the beginning of this project, we are going to build these units the right way…. We have endured and overcome some extraordinary circumstances building the first new nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Despite these challenges, progress at the site has been steady and evident.”
– Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, October 21, 2021
Forget the U.S. Synthetic Fuel Administration of the 1970s. Forget the Obama Administration’s Solyndra project. The biggest debacle in modern U.S. energy history appears to be in Georgia, and the saga continues.
And far from unique, the latest-and-greatest in nuclear (this was supposed to be the breakthrough) is a warning sign about nuclear power in general. It has always needed government subsidies and protection. And it was a setup train wreck under lenient public utility regulation that allowed the franchised monopoly utility to recover all costs and a “reasonable” rate of return on invested capital.
So here we are. A project approved in 2006 and started in 2013 was expected to cost $14 billion with start-up in 2016 (Unit 3) and 2017 (Unit 4). Now, the expense is $27 billion and counting with an estimated start date of 2022 and 2023. The original contractor Westinghouse went bankrupt and Flour & Bechtel are now trying to get the two units built and operating.
Yet the federal government seems to be all smiles about the “next-generation nuclear reactor” technology at issue:
The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a total of up to $12 billion in loan guarantees to Georgia Power Company (GPC), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (OPC), and three subsidiaries of Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) to support the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 – the nation’s next generation of advanced nuclear reactors – at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating site in Waynesboro, Georgia. Two AP1000 Generation III+ reactors will be constructed at Vogtle, which currently has two previous generation pressurized water reactors in operation.
Eight hundred jobs! Clean energy! And DOE Secretary Rick Perry of the Trump Administration kept the project going when it should have been scrapped back in 1st Qr:2019.
Georgia Power Press Release
The full press release from Georgia Power follows:
ATLANTA, Oct. 21, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Georgia Power today announced a revised schedule for the Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear expansion project. The company currently projects a Unit 3 in-service date in the third quarter of 2022 and a Unit 4 in-service date in the second quarter of 2023, representing a three-month shift for each unit.
The change to the schedule is primarily due to the need for additional time to address continued construction challenges and to allow for the comprehensive testing necessary to ensure quality and safety standards are fully met.
Unit 3 fuel load could occur as early as the first quarter 2022, but a fuel load date as late as May 2022 should support a third quarter 2022 in-service date.
“As we’ve said from the beginning of this project, we are going to build these units the right way, without compromising safety and quality to achieve a schedule deadline,” said Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “We have endured and overcome some extraordinary circumstances building the first new nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Despite these challenges, progress at the site has been steady and evident.”
The new Vogtle units are an essential part of Georgia Power’s commitment to deliver safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy, and are expected to provide customers with a reliable, carbon-free energy source for the next 60 to 80 years.
Progress continues to be made towards Unit 3 fuel load following the successful completion of hot functional testing this summer. Unit 3 direct construction is 99% complete, with the total Vogtle 3 & 4 expansion project approximately 95% complete.
The overall projected peak rate impact to Georgia Power’s retail customers is approximately 10%, with nearly 3% in rates today. The rate impacts include customer benefits that the company proactively pursued – including federal production tax credits and interest savings from the Department of Energy loan guarantees – as well as fuel savings associated with adding additional nuclear units to the generation mix. Protections put in place by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to reduce the Company’s return on equity during construction are projected to save customers approximately $1.3 billion.
Once operating, the two new units at Plant Vogtle will be able to power more than 500,000 homes and businesses. A diverse fuel mix, including nuclear, is essential to maintaining a reliable and affordable energy infrastructure that attracts new investment, supports economic growth and creates jobs.
With more than 7,000 workers on site, and more than 800 permanent jobs available once the units begin operating, Vogtle 3 & 4 is currently the largest jobs-producing construction project in the state of Georgia. The project has also been an economic development driver for the region during construction.
Nuclear Energy Consultants meekly commented: “Moving forward but with another schedule delay.”
The continuing delays are not new or unexpected. More could yet come. After all, nuclear is the most complicated, expensive, perilous way to boil water. Natural gas combined cycle and state-of-the-art coal plants can be built at a fraction of the cost and much more quickly.
Nuclear power, in fact, has always been problematic and government-dependent. A classical liberal, free-market view is consumers decide what gets built, at what scale, and when. Not government subsidies.
Existing nuclear capacity with high sunk costs and low operating costs? That’s another story. But new nuclear capacity as the silver bullet for climate-change policy does not appear to be an affordable exit from the energy road to serfdom.