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Utility recommends completing construction of Ga. nuclear units

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of investor-owned Southern Company, on Aug. 31 filed a recommendation with the Georgia Public Service Commission to continue construction of the Vogtle nuclear expansion near Augusta, Ga.

Georgia Power said the recommendation is based on the results of a comprehensive schedule, cost-to-complete and cancellation assessment. 

The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, which consists of two nuclear units and is located near Waynesboro in eastern Georgia near the South Carolina border, is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%). The new nuclear project at Vogtle would add an additional two nuclear units (Units 3 and 4) at the site.

“Based on all factors considered, completing both units represents the most economic choice for customers and preserves the benefits of carbon-free, baseload generation,” Georgia Power said in an Aug. 31 news release.

It said that assessments of the project included robust economic analyses and evaluation of various alternatives including, among other things, abandoning one or both units or converting the units to gas-fired generation.

Georgia Power expects Vogtle Unit 3 will reach commercial operation in November 2021 and Unit 4 in November 2022. It said the total rate impact of the project remains less than the original estimate, after including anticipated customer benefits from federal production tax credits, interest savings from loan guarantees from the DOE and the fuel savings of nuclear energy.

“Once the project is on line, the company should still be able to offer retail rates below the national average with the additional long-term benefits from this new source of clean and reliable energy,” Georgia Power said.

The new units at Plant Vogtle will be the first in the U.S. to use Westinghouse AP1000 technology, Georgia Power noted.

Westinghouse is a subsidiary of Toshiba Corporation. In 2017, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 and is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

Georgia Power and the Vogtle project's other co-owners responded to the March 29 Westinghouse bankruptcy “quickly, effectively and to the benefit of customers by protecting customers' investments to date in the Vogtle expansion and ensuring that progress continued uninterrupted,” the utility said.

Georgia Power said it has invested approximately $4.3 billion in capital costs in the project through June 2017 and estimates that its cost to complete the project is approximately $4.5 billion, for a total Georgia Power capital cost forecast of approximately $8.8 billion.

The Georgia PSC has already approved $5.68 billion in capital costs for Georgia Power's share of the project.

With $1.7 billion in anticipated payments from Toshiba, the company's potential additional capital costs are approximately $1.4 billion.

Based on the new assessments, the total estimated capital cost forecast for 100 percent of the project is approximately $19 billion, Georgia Power said.

The Georgia PSC is expected to review the recommendation and make a decision regarding the future of the Vogtle Units 3 and 4 project as part of a Vogtle construction monitoring proceeding.

Other utilities scrap plans for new nuclear generation

Other nuclear projects have been halted recently.

Citing the recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse, Duke Energy Carolinas, or DEC, on Aug. 25 asked state utility regulators to allow DEC to cancel its plans to build a nuclear power plant in South Carolina. The project was slated to utilize AP1000 units.

In late July, Santee Cooper, a state-owned public power utility in South Carolina, received approval from its board of directors to suspend construction of two nuclear units at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, South Carolina. The decision to suspend construction was spurred in large part by projected steep cost and time overruns, after Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy.

Duke drops plans for nuclear project in Florida

Meanwhile, Duke Energy Florida will spend $1 billion to add 700 MW of solar energy over the next four years and forego recovery of more than $150 million from customers for an abandoned nuclear project under a revised settlement recently filed with the Florida Public Service Commission.

A key provision of the accord is Duke's decision to finally put to rest its Levy nuclear project in Levy County with no further charges to customers.

Duke announced in 2013 it was ending an engineering, procurement and construction contract with Westinghouse for the estimated $24 billion project, and litigation between the two companies ensued.

At the time, however, Duke also suggested it might consider locating a nuclear plant at the site in the future.

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