Vogtle nukes could encounter more delays, monitors say

[private]Georgia Power’s two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, already 39 months behind schedule, could encounter further delays before they actually start generating electricity, according to the experts monitoring the project for the Public Service Commission.

The start dates for the new reactors currently are June 2019 for Unit 3 and June 2020 for Unit 4, but the monitors told the PSC Thursday that it was “unlikely” Georgia Power will meet those commercial operation dates.

“From what we’ve seen in the past and what we know has to be done in the future, it will be a challenge to meet those dates,” said Steven D. Roetger, the lead analyst for the PSC.

“We say it’s unlikely,” said William R. Jacobs, a nuclear engineer hired as an independent consultant for the PSC.

In their monitoring of the project, Roetger and Jacobs have previously predicted that delays would occur, predictions that turned out to be accurate.

Construction delays add to the cost overruns on the Vogtle project at an estimated rate of $2 million per day. The reactors were originally projected to cost about $14.5 billion but that has now increased to more than $17 billion.

The PSC regulates Georgia Power’s 45.7 percent share of the project, which currently amounts to about $7.5 billion. Other partners in the Vogtle plants include Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and the City of Dalton.

Roetger and Jacobs said one of the major causes of the delays has been the large amount of rework done by the contractors – situations where they have had to go back and do work over because of a design change or because it wasn’t done correctly the first time.

“From delivery of critical sub-modules to placement of concrete in the Nuclear Island, many activities continue to slip week after week,” they said in a recent report to the PSC. “This is demonstrated by the number of milestones that have not been achieved as planned.”

The monitors were testifying at a hearing on Georgia Power’s construction cost report for the January-June period. They recommended that the PSC approve the $148 million reported as construction costs during that six months.

While the monitors testified at length about the delays and cost overruns caused by Georgia Power’s contractors, Commissioner Doug Everett contended that most of the cost increases were the fault of President Barack Obama and his administration’s “war on coal.”

“It’s not the overruns on the power plants,” Everett said. “It’s the rules and regulations of the current administration.”

Even with the delays and the cost overruns, Roetger and Jacobs said they would still recommend proceeding with the construction of the reactors.

“There is no substitute for a plant that can run 92 or 93 percent of the time and pump out the amount of electricity these plants do,” Roetger said. “I do know we are a growing state and we will add people and jobs, and they will all need electricity.”

When asked if it was time to “pull the plug” on the Vogtle reactors, Roetger said, “I don’t anticipate ever suggesting that this plant should be mothballed.”

Thursday’s construction cost hearing, as with earlier hearings, featured public comments by anti-nuclear activists who have been urging the PSC to shut down project and move to alternative methods of generation, such as gas-fired power plants.

The public comment period was even more raucous than normal, with Everett at one point ordering PSC staffers to physically eject a critic of the Vogtle reactors.

Georgia Power’s attorneys asked the PSC to strike from the record comments that had been filed by Glenn Carroll of Nuclear Watch South that urged the termination of the Vogtle project.

“Georgia Power’s not trying to stifle anyone’s voice,” attorney Steven Hewitson said. “We’re not trying to stop anyone from participating. But there are times and places to be heard and voice their opinions.”

Hewitson said Carroll’s comments were not relevant and should be deleted from the case docket because they didn’t specifically address the $148 million in construction costs that were the subject of the hearing.

“The picture we are showing is damaging to Georgia Power and that is why they want to do away with the picture,” Carroll said.

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who was presiding over the hearing in the absence of Chairman Chuck Eaton, sided with Georgia Power and ruled that Carroll’s comments were not germane.

“This is a black day for the public and the Public Service Commission,” Carroll said. “Shame on you!”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: cost monitoring report , Georgia Power , Plant Vogtle , PSC , Steven Roetger , William Jacobs