Ratepayer Advocates Nervous About Latest Setback at Plant Vogtle

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Construction on the new twin nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta is moving forward, but a foundation issue remains a problem.

Consumer watchdogs, who are already concerned about a separate batch of cost overruns and schedule delays, say the foundation issue could be trouble for Georgia Power ratepayers, who are currently paying the project’s financing costs upfront.  

“We’ve got some problems. We’ve got some cost increases, we’ve got some scheduling slippage. That’s what happens with these reactor projects. That’s what historically has happened,” said Sara Barczak, who is monitoring the $14 billion dollar project for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Unfortunately in Georgia consumers are the ones who are shouldering the burden versus the utility shareholders.” 

In April, federal inspectors discovered unapproved reinforcement steel bars, or rebar, used in the site’s foundation.

Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, had proposed modifying the rebar without removing it, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a decision Friday rejecting that plan.

Now Southern will be submitting a license amendment request to the NRC, which the company hopes settles the issue. In a written statement, Southern spokesman Steve Higgenbottom downplayed the foundation issue, saying it would be resolved without impacting the project’s overall cost or schedule.

Sara Barcack, however, finds that unlikely.

“The license amendment request is more formal. It has more of a review process that’s required so it is more likely to affect the schedule.”

She says it’s a relief federal regulators caught the mistake now rather than later when it would have been far more costly to fix.

Meanwhile, Southern is still in talks with its contractors over nearly $900 million in disputed cost overruns related to a delay in federal licensing. Depending on which side is responsible, some of that cost could be passed down to ratepayers.