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Georgia PSC to put off deciding who pays for Plant Vogtle cost overruns

The state agency that regulates Georgia utilities is no longer going to approve incremental costs associated with the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion.

The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone further decisions on the mounting costs of the long-delayed project and whether those expenses can be passed on to customers until after the work is completed. Under a stipulation agreement the PSC staff and Georgia Power reached late last month, the commission approved $670 million the Atlantabased utility spent on the project during the last half of last year. While the PSC will continue reviewing Georgia Power’s spending at the plant south of Augusta every six months going forward, it will not vote on those costs. Tuesday’s vote came after it became clear that Georgia Power’s share of the project’s capital costs have exceeded a $7.3 billion cap the commission set in 2017 when it agreed to let the utility finish the project despite massive delays and cost overruns.

Georgia Power announced last month that its share of those capital costs had increased to $9.2 billion. The overall price tag for the Vogtle expansion being shared by Georgia Power and three utility partners has nearly doubled from the original estimate of $14 billion approved by the commission in 2009 to about $26 billion.

The first of the two new reactors originally was scheduled for completion in 2016, with the second reactor to go into service one year later. But the work has run into significant delays, partly due to the bankruptcy of prime contractor Westinghouse and, more recently, to workforce shortages arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the latest revision to the schedule, the first new reactor is expected to go into service in the second quarter of next year, with the second to follow in the first quarter of 2023.

Tuesday’s vote by the PSC not to make any decisions on the rising costs of the project until after it is completed doesn’t take Georgia Power customers off the hook for picking up the bill eventually.

“This stipulation in no way limits or prohibits Georgia Power from bringing expenditures above $7.3 billion to the commission for verification and approval, or for inclusion in [the customer] rate base, at a later time,” the agreement states.

Still, putting off a determination on how much of the cost overruns customers will have to absorb is good news, said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney for the Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Law Center.

“[Georgia Power] could have come in again and sought commission approval for the $9.2 billion,” he said. “[But] they’ve got quality control issues. … It was not a good time for them to come forward and seek approval for an additional $2 billion.”

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