NUCLEAR

Southern Co. decides to press ahead with Vogtle expansion

ATLANTA — Southern Co. and other utilities building the Vogtle nuclear expansion project in Georgia are prepared to finish the reactors but will lay out a set of assurances that must be met in a filing with state utility regulators tomorrow, E&E News has learned.

This means Plant Vogtle will remain the only set of nuclear reactors under construction in the United States, at least for now.

Southern's Georgia Power Co., the main sponsor of the project, must secure regulatory approvals in Georgia. The utility and the public power co-owners also must have certain financial guarantees to complete the reactors, according to multiple sources familiar with the document.

Vogtle's future has been in flux since its main contractor, Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. Westinghouse's bankruptcy stemmed from significant cost increases at Vogtle and a separate nuclear project in South Carolina.

Westinghouse's parent, Toshiba Corp., has pledged $3.7 billion in payments to Vogtle regardless of whether the reactors are built. Toshiba must start making those payments in October to help underwrite the project.

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Georgia Power's decision to continue building Vogtle is no surprise, but the electric company does not have the final say in whether Vogtle gets finished. That is up to the Georgia Public Service Commission.

The PSC filing will trigger a six-month review, which will give the company and commission time to see whether Toshiba makes its first payment, of $300 million, in October.

The other assurances the utilities are seeking are an extension of federal production tax credits beyond 2020 so Vogtle's reactors can receive them and additional money from the Department of Energy.

Vogtle and V.C. Summer in South Carolina were the first reactors to be built from scratch in nearly 30 years. The utilities stepped in to take over at their respective projects once Westinghouse declared bankruptcy, while figuring out on their own how long it would take to finish their reactors and how much that would cost.

Scana Corp.'s South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and state-owned Santee Cooper stopped building V.C. Summer last month after deciding the additional costs to finish it would be too much for their customers to bear.

The political fallout from V.C. Summer's cancellation likely played into Georgia Power's decision to keep Vogtle moving forward.

Regulators recently reaffirmed their support for Vogtle by signing off on a list of things Georgia Power must include in tomorrow's filing.

That vote did not ensure that the commission will approve Georgia Power's request. It meant regulators were willing to take a hard look at whether the reactors should be finished.

Finishing Vogtle would give Southern, Georgia Power and the PSC the opportunity to say they pushed through a wide range of obstacles, the severity of which couldn't have been predicted when the utilities pitched the reactors years ago.

Georgia Power and the PSC also tout Vogtle as a way to diversify the utility's generation fleet and add carbon-free baseload electricity to the grid. Consumer and environmental advocates will likely argue that, whatever the increased costs, Vogtle's price tag will be too much for Georgia's customers to pay even if the costs are spread out over decades.

Twitter: @BizWriterKristi Email: kswartz@eenews.net

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