Georgia Power’s parent company touts earnings as customers brace for higher bills

Unit 3’s reactor and cooling tower stand at Georgia Power Co.'s Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant on Jan. 20, 2023, in Waynesboro, Ga. Company officials announced Wednesday, May 24, 2023, that Unit 3, one of two new reactors at the site, would reach full power in coming days, after years of delays and billions in cost overruns. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

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The first new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle is expected to start generating electricity for customers by the end of next month, Southern Company officials announced at the annual shareholders meeting Wednesday.

Southern Company is the parent of Georgia Power, which is the state’s largest utility and owns a majority stake in the new nuclear project. 

The announcement comes as Georgia Power customers’ bills are slated to increase in June for the second time this year. After the meeting, a small group of protesters rallied at the company’s Atlanta headquarters to protest rising bills.

Company officials announced Plant Vogtle Unit 3, the first of two new reactors at the plant and the first new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in decades, is up and running at 90% capacity and is expected to reach full capacity within the week.

“Yes, we’ve had our challenges,” said Chris Womack, who officially stepped into the role as Southern Company’s CEO Wednesday. “I’m confident that the state of Georgia and our customers, our company, the world will be so proud of the work that we’ve done in bringing Vogtle online.”

Womack and outgoing CEO Tom Fanning did field questions on the total cost of the project — over $30 billion, more than twice its original budget. They stressed that not all of the cost will be passed on to customers, although Georgia Power bills will increase when the first of the new reactors comes online. Once the second new reactor is up and running, state regulators will begin hearings to decide how much more of the cost utility customers will take on.  

Fanning and Womack also touted the company’s earnings and gains on clean energy.

Outside Southern Company’s Atlanta headquarters Wednesday afternoon, protesters gathered to demand the company prioritize ratepayers and workers over shareholders and profits.

“We’re here in Atlanta at the corner of Ivan Allen and Ted Turner to let the world know that your high bills start right here,” said Lindsay Harper with the climate and social justice advocacy group Arm in Arm.

In addition to the Vogtle costs, Georgia Power customers are about to see their bills go up for a second time this year, with an increase of nearly $16 on monthly power bills beginning in June. The Georgia Public Service Commission recently approved that charge to cover last year’s spike in natural gas costs.

Bills will go up again in January 2024 and 2025 under rate increases already approved by the PSC.

WABE’s Julien Virgin contributed to this report.