State regulators Tuesday signed off on the latest round of spending for Georgia Power’s nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.
Advocates say ratepayers should prepare for higher bills due to construction delays and cost overruns.
Georgia’s five-member Public Service Commission unanimously approved $389 million to continue construction, bringing total costs so far to $2.6 billion. The now-$15.5 billion project is at least 21-months behind schedule and around $1.5 billion over budget.
Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols said it remains a good deal for ratepayers.
“From a financial standpoint, they’re going to be glad we have these two new reactors,” said Echols.
The PSC’s approval doesn’t include any new money for cost overruns. Those will come after the first reactor comes online. The PSC had been addressing overruns as construction went along, but it changed the process last year after Georgia Power requested more than $700 million in extra money.
Echols says the two new reactors are now on track.
“Unit three is the guinea pig and we’ve had some trouble and unit four we’re not having any of those issues,” said Echols. “We need these carbon-free resources, especially if natural gas goes up, we’re going to be glad that we have it.”
Georgia Power ratepayers are currently paying about $8 per month just to finance the project.
Sara Barczak of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says that’s likely to go up at least $4 to $8 due to growing delays and project costs.
“The trend is it’s going over and over budget and the more delays you have – the further out you get – the less benefit for the ratepayer,” said Barczak.
She says this latest review process showed an additional 317-day delay in building a critical part of one of the reactors. With each day of delay costing around $2 million, Barczak says that’s more than $600 million in new overruns ratepayers aren’t yet hearing about.
She criticized the review process, saying it’s getting tougher to get a real sense of ratepayer impact.
“It’s done purposefully so that people aren’t really aware of what the sticker shock is going to be at the end of the day. If people knew that their bills are going to go up $30 or something like that, they would be at these hearings,” said Barczak .
Georgia Power insists ratepayers will benefit from the project and puts the completion date for the first reactor at December 2017.
Additional information on the Vogtle project (in PDF):