Southern’s nuke project ‘highly unlikely’ to meet deadlines

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Southern Co.’s long-troubled project to expand its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia is “highly unlikely” to meet state deadlines and is apt to face additional budget overruns, according to a local monitor.

The company is no longer on pace to complete the two reactors by November 2021 and November 2022 deadlines approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission, Don Grace, a vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group, said in filed testimony. He also estimated that the project’s cost would exceeded its current $17.1 billion target.

It would be yet another blow for the Vogtle expansion, which began in 2009, has already doubled in price and is running more than five years behind schedule. The monitoring group’s analysis doesn’t even take into account the impact of the coronavirus. It was completed in mid-March, before Southern and its partners slashed the workforce by 20% in April after dozens fell ill.

Read More: Southern Slashes Workforce at Nuclear Project Amid Outbreak

Jeff Wilson, a spokesperson for Southern’s Georgia Power unit, said Vogtle remains on schedule and at budget. Southern shares rose 0.9% at 9:49 a.m. in New York.

“The project is continuing its strategy of utilizing an aggressive site work plan as a tool to help us achieve the November regulatory-approved dates,” Wilson said in an email. “The total project capital cost forecast remains unchanged.”

Yet the monitoring group said Southern’s strategy to speed up testing before finishing much of the construction at the plant led to inefficiency and higher costs, according to the report. The company “erroneously concluded that deviation from normal industry practice would shorten the schedule,” Grace said.

The staff of Georgia Public Service Commission also disputes more than $1.2 billion in costs that Southern plans to pass along to customers immediately after the completion of Unit 3 of the project, according to separate filed testimony. The utility wants to start recouping $2.3 billion of costs in rates in the month after Unit 3 begins operation.

Shares of Southern are down about 8% this year, compared to the S&P 500 Utility Index’s 5.8% decline.

Bloomberg News