Plant Vogtle co-owners sue Georgia Power over cost overruns

The cooling towers, right, and nuclear reactor containment buildings, left, at Plant Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant are shown in Waynesboro, Ga. Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Two of the co-owners of new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle have sued Georgia Power over their share of the mounting costs. The project is currently forecast to total $30 billion, double its original price tag.

The lawsuits don’t affect the construction of units three and four at Plant Vogtle, just who pays for it.

Oglethorpe Power Corporation, which supplies power to electric membership corporations around the state, and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which supplies 49 cities, both want to freeze their payments for the project. In exchange, they’d each own a smaller share of the reactors.

Oglethorpe said in a statement that it’s “deeply invested” in the new nuclear units.

“At the same time, we feel responsible for protecting our not-for-profit member cooperatives and their consumers,” President and CEO Michael Smith said in a statement. “Our decision to freeze protects EMC energy consumers who can least afford increases in their electricity rates, especially in today’s economy.”

The cost freeze is part of an agreement the co-owners made in 2018: if the cost climbed over a set limit, the smaller utilities could cap their spending while Georgia Power paid for the rest.

Oglethorpe and MEAG say they’ve hit that limit. Georgia Power disagrees.

According to Oglethorpe’s lawsuit, the co-owners agreed that if the shared cost for the project grew by $2.1 billion over the 2018 forecast, they would have the option to freeze their spending. But the parties disagree on the starting figure for that calculation.

The twin lawsuits seek to resolve that disagreement.

In its lawsuit, Oglethorpe says that Georgia Power is a for-profit company that can pass the growing costs of Plant Vogtle on to shareholders, while Oglethorpe Power is a nonprofit cooperative whose members would pay the costs. MEAG is also a nonprofit.

A Georgia Power spokesman said the company’s focus is bringing the Vogtle reactors online safely.

“We will continue to engage with our co-owners productively as we achieve that goal,” Jacob Hawkins said in an email.

Plant Vogtle, the only new nuclear construction project in the country, is more than 90 percent complete and currently slated to start producing power next year.

The first reactor was originally due to come online in 2016, but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and construction delays. Its original contractor, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Covid-19 caused additional delays.

Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the Vogtle project, Oglethorpe Power 30%, MEAG 22.7% and the city of Dalton 1.6%. If Oglethorpe and MEAG freeze their costs, their shares would decrease while Georgia Power’s would increase.