JEA watching as partners votes on future of Georgia nuclear plant

Will construction continue on nation's 1st new nuclear units in 3 decades?

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor, Ashley Harding - Reporter
AP photo/John Bazemore

June 2014 file photo of construction on a new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro, Ga.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two of the three principal owners of Plant Vogtle, which is building two nuclear power units in North Georgia that are years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, have voted to continue construction. 

The third partner, which on Monday said it was only willing to move forward if cost caps are implemented, is expected to vote on the future of the project Tuesday.

The two power units are under construction in Burke County, about 30 miles south of Augusta, Georgia. The project has been in financial turmoil for years. If completed, they will be the first new, large-scale nuclear units built in the United States in more than three decades.

A decade ago, JEA contracted to help pay for the plant in exchange for 10 percent the electricity it would generate over 20 years, but now is actively trying to get out of the deal.

According to the The Florida Times-Union, JEA is contracted to pay well over $2 billion, but that price goes up as the costs of the plant have exploded. Costs of the Vogtle expansion has ballooned to $27 billion.

The JEA has not only challenged whether or not its contract with Vogtle is valid because it was never ratified by the Jacksonville City Council, it also launched a public-relations attack on the project, hoping to convince the owners to abandon the project. That includes posting billboards around the state, calling Vogtle a ”$30 billion mistake."

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has weighed in supporting the project, but state lawmakers want a “cost cap” established to protect Georgians from getting gouged on their electricity bills.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy warned that any move to cancel a planned expansion would lead to demands for quick repayment of nearly $6 billion in federal loans.

In August, the plant’s owners, which include Georgia Power (45.7 percent), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30 percent) and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7 percent), learned that the plant would require an additional $2.3 billion, bringing the total cost estimate to $27 billion.

MEAG's board and Georgia Power have voted to proceed with construction. Oglethorpe was expected to cast its vote Monday but was granted a 24-hour delay. Since the latest cost overage initiated a clause in the ownership agreement where 90 percent of ownership must agree to move forward, all three principal owners must vote yes to move forward.

In a letter to the plant’s three owners, the Department of Energy said late Friday that if the construction project is canceled, the government is “prepared to move swiftly to fully enforce its rights under terms of the loan guarantee agreements, including the repayment provisions.”

Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Co., pledged that its shareholders would absorb its share of the costs. That leaves Oglethorpe Power and MEAG with a decision: pay up or pull out.

Whether the project moves forward or is canceled, it's unclear exactly how that will affect JEA customers, but it is likely they would be called on to shoulder some of the costs.

The plug was pulled on a similar project in neighboring South Carolina in July 2017 when the V.C. Summer plant was abandoned after going billions of dollars over budget.

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