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    Georgia monitors predict more Vogtle nuclear delays

    File photo of construction at Plant Vogtle (Provided by Southern Company)

    Already years behind schedule, Georgia Power Co.’s nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle is even further behind than the company recently acknowledged, independent state monitors and state regulators said.

    The first of two new reactors likely won’t be in operation until at least the summer of 2022, and the project’s total costs are likely to rise at least another $2 billion, according to one key monitor’s report Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

    The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. had in recent years been aiming to complete the first unit in November, but officials told investors last month that it would probably be finished in December. The project, located south of Augusta, is now projected to cost more than $26 billion for all its owners, including Georgia Power, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities.

    Ultimately, most electric customers in Georgia — except those in the northwest corner of the state served by affiliates of the Tennessee Valley Authority — will have to pay for the plant. Florida’s Jacksonville Electric Authority is also obligated to buy power from Vogtle.

    The further delay was disclosed in testimony from independent monitors and state regulators.

    “Many of the problems encountered by SNC should have been resolved long before” the current testing, PSC staffer Steven Roetger and monitor William Jacobs wrote. Monitor Donald Grace added that the reactor “is in a worse condition than past U.S. new construction nuclear plants were at this same stage of construction/testing.”

    SNC, or Southern Nuclear, is also part of Southern Company.

    The second new reactor is slated to be fully running no later than November 2022. But in the latest testimony, Grace said the second reactor is unlikely to be up and running until at least June 2023.

    Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said Tuesday the company still aims to finish the second reactor by that deadline, the newspaper reported.

    “Additional construction remediation work” was needed prior to the current testing, Kraft said. And “as anyone would expect during significant testing activity, the site has worked through numerous start-up and operational-type issues including refinements to control system logic and plant chemistry. The types of issues we are addressing during testing are not unexpected and are more related to operating systems together with temperature for the first time.”

    As for the chance of costs rising another $2 billion, Kraft said the company has presented cost estimates “using its best judgment” while “continually emphasizing that risks remain on the project and it is possible that the cost estimate could increase in the future.”

    “The most expensive construction project in Georgia history keeps getting more absurdly costly, and the only people benefiting from that sorry state of affairs are Company shareholders,” said Kurt Ebersbach, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. The center represents some groups opposed to customers paying for Vogtle’s overruns.

    Though the new Vogtle units have yet to produce any electricity, Georgia Power customers’ bills have included financing costs and profits on the project for the state’s largest electric monopoly, an allowance approved by the state legislature and then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

    By the time the construction work is completed, the average Georgia Power residential customer will have paid $854 toward Vogtle’s expansion, according to a PSC staff and monitor report filed this week.

    In the recent testimony, independent monitors and PSC staff cited project issues, including work that didn’t meet design plans; construction that wasn’t completed before testing began; known problems that weren’t timely addressed, such as failure to upgrade software; and concrete that contained voids among other issues.

    While Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear have continued to blame many of the project’s problems on contractors, independent monitors said the company is ultimately responsible for its own project.