Southern Company, on behalf of Georgia Power, on 15 June filed a Common Rate Adjustment Application for unit 3 of the US Vogtle NPP with the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) proposing to increase annual rates to customers by $235 million a year once the unit begins operation. GPSC approved the Vogtle expansion project in 2009, including construction of two 1,117MWe Westinghouse AP1000 reactors which were expected to begin operation in 2016 and 2017.

The project has faced numerous delays and financial challenges over the years with costs increasing from $14 billion to $25 billion. As well as the current COVID-19 pandemic, the 2017 bankruptcy of original contractor Westinghouse held back progress for several years. Vogtle is the only nuclear plant under construction in the USA and would be the first nuclear plant completed in more than three decades. Vogtle NPP is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%). Southern Company is the plant operator.

In order to recover the capital construction costs as well as the costs of operating unit 3 when it achieves commercial operation, Georgia Power says in its complex seven-page filing that it “proposes to increase base rates $369.058 million on an annual basis…. partially offset by a corresponding decrease in the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery tariff of approximately $134 million yielding a net increase of approximately $235 million”. The company said this increase does not include an estimated $44 million of fuel cost savings attributed to Vogtle 3 already incorporated in the current Fuel Cost Recovery rates effective in June 2020. The proposal would raise bills for residential customers by about $4 a month. GPSC is scheduled to vote on the request by November.

Georgia Power projects an overall 10% increase in rates, with 3.4% already having happened. GPSC indicated that it will dispute how much Georgia Power can collect, saying in recent testimony that the company should get $125 million. “Ratepayer bills would be significantly lower under staff’s interpretation,” a staff member and two consultants wrote in testimony filed June 7 in a related Vogtle proceeding. The final decision rests with GPSC.

In its filing, Georgia Power said new rates would begin on 1 February, assuming a January start date. However, GPSC said earlier that the first new reactor (unit 3) was not expected to start operating until June 2022, adding at least $2 billion more to its cost. Unit 3 is 98% complete. Georgia Power projects that it will take 60 to 80 years for customers to pay for the new reactors.

Image: Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant (Credit: NRC)