ATLANTA - The Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project remains on schedule, Georgia Power Co. reported in a filing with the state Public Service Commission (PSC) this week.
The construction of two additional nuclear reactors at the site south of Augusta is about 87% complete, according to the latest progress update the Atlanta-based utility submits to the PSC every six months.
The first of the two new units is scheduled to go into service in November of next year followed by the second unit one year later.
In the report, Georgia Power asks the commission to verify and approve $701 million in capital costs incurred during the first half of this year.
While the completion schedule hasn’t slipped, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the pace of the work. As of the end of last month, 800 workers at the site had tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
The company laid off 20% of the project’s workforce in April.
“The project’s reduction in workforce during April 2020 helped to slow the spread of the pandemic on site but also contributed in part to the increased costs, productivity challenges and milestone schedule delays,” Georgia Power wrote in its filing. “These impacts were the results of circumstances outside of the project team’s direct control.”
Some are skeptical that the utility can complete the project under the current timetable. Independent experts retained as consultants by the PSC’s staff testified earlier this summer the schedule is likely to slip further behind and that the final cost probably will go up by at least $1 billion.
The cost of the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion to Georgia Power and three utility partners has nearly doubled from the original estimated price tag of $14 billion the PSC approved 11 years ago. Much of the increase was due to the bankruptcy several years ago of Westinghouse Electric, the original prime contractor.
Southern Nuclear, like Georgia Power a subsidiary of utility giant Southern Co., has since take over management of the project.
Despite criticism from project opponents that the nuclear expansion has become more expensive than alternative sources of power generation, Georgia Power continues to maintain that finishing the project is in the best interest of the utility’s customers.
“Economic analysis shows that completion of the project provides approximately $3.9 billion in relative savings for customers over a gas-fired combined cycle alternative,” Georgia Power wrote in the filing.
Georgia Power also argues nuclear power is key to a diverse energy mix that will protect customers from the impacts of fossil-fuel cost volatility.