Energy

Owners Vote To Stick With Beleaguered Nuclear Plant Project

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
  • Plant Vogtle, a two-unit nuclear plant near Augusta, Georgia, has been beset with construction delays and cost overruns in its production of two additional reactors. 
  • A pledged customer of the reactors’ power, the Jacksonville Electric Authority, has gone to great lengths to remove itself from its contract, believing it can purchase power elsewhere at more competitive prices. 
  • The plant’s three major owners — Georgia Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Oglethorpe Power — have chosen to stick with the project. 

Owners of the only two nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. have voted to continue moving forward, despite the project’s long delays and bloated budget.

The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) and Oglethorpe Power both voted on Monday to continue their expansion of the Vogtle Nuclear Generating Plant, a two-unit nuclear facility near Augusta, Georgia. The only other major-stake owner, Georgia Power, has already made clear its intentions of seeing the project through.

The vote of confidence by the plant’s owners mean its addition of two more reactors will continue on.

When Vogtle began construction on units three and four of its facility, plant owners and future-customers had no idea of the project’s tumultuous future. When construction began almost a decade ago, units three and four were forecasted to be completed by 2016 and 2017, respectively, and cost $7.3 billion. However, the two units are now expected to be completed by 2021 and 2022, and cost a whopping $27 billion. (RELATED: Customers Of A Beleaguered Nuclear Plant Project Want Out Of The Deal)

The cost overruns prompted the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) — a Florida-based utility that entered into an agreement in 2008 to purchase the reactors’ power — to try to get out of the contract by any means possible.

In an attempt to sever ties with the Vogtle plant, JEA issued a lawsuit and requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee to intervene on its behalf. The Florida utility has also mounted a PR campaign against continuing the project, paying for billboard ads in Georgia that refer to it as a “$30 billion mistake” and newspapers ads that warned readers “Plant Vogtle Will Cost You.”

The entire effort was meant to pressure Vogtle’s owners to vote Monday to abandon the project — which did not happen. While JEA tried to strong-arm MEAG and Oglethorpe into calling it quits, the plant’s owners also faced a lot of pressure to keep going.

Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has continued to voice his support for the project, suggesting that walking away now would be “breaking our promise.” In a letter sent on Friday, the Department of Energy explicitly implored the plant’s owners not to end the project. The Trump administration has long been supportive of preserving the country’s nuclear fleet.

“The decision each owner makes should be made with an understanding of the ripple effect this project is already having, including job creation and the positive signal of the continued value of commercial nuclear power in our country,” John Sneed, the executive director of the DOE Loan Programs Office, wrote in a statement.

Sneed also made clear in his letter that the Department of Energy (DOE) would “move to fully enforce its rights” to get back billions of dollars in loans it gave toward the project. The DOE has already given $5.6 billion out of an $8.3 billion loan — money the Department would have demanded back if it were cancelled. Instead, the Trump administration is set to make available another $3.7 billion to move the project forward.

Ultimately, MEAG board members voted unanimously Monday afternoon in approval to keep with the project. Oglethorpe Power — the last remaining holdout — submitted a conditional vote of support on Monday evening.

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