US utility Georgia Power said in a statement on 21 December that the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) had voted unanimously to allow construction to continue of units 3&4 at the Vogtle nuclear plant after “months of review and evaluation”.
The project had been in question because of cost overruns and the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Company (part of Toshiba), which was supplying the AP1000 reactors. The two units, co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, are the only new nuclear units under construction in the USA after the VC Summer project in South Carolina was cancelled. Vogtle 3 is expected to begin operation in November 2021 and Vogtle 4 in November 2022.
According to PSC chairman Stan Wise, the decision considered the importance of fuel diversity and the long-term benefits of the project. However, approval is conditional on Congress approving some $800m in tax credits for the project.
The project's owners have agreed to new penalties for delays and cost increases stipulated by the PSC, which had been considering a recommendation by the project owners to continue construction of the units. The recommendation was based on the results of a comprehensive schedule, cost-to-complete and cancellation assessment, which was undertaken in the wake of the Westinghouse bankruptcy.
The PSC approved and verified $542m in expenditures on the project between 1 January and 30 June. It also agreed Georgia Power's revised schedule and cost forecast, which it found to be "reasonable". The approved cost forecast will be reduced by the amounts paid by Toshiba under its parent guarantee, which places the approved revised capital forecast at $7.3bn.
A new conditional commitment of about $1.67bn in additional loan guarantees from the US Department of Energy announced in September, and the recent payment by Toshiba of 100% of parent guarantees which had been scheduled to take place over several years, will cushion the impact of the new units on electricity bills. The parent guarantee payments, in addition to penalties, are expected to contribute $2.75bn.
Construction has continued uninterrupted at Vogtle following Westinghouse's bankruptcy. Southern Nuclear has taken over as the project manager at the site and Bechtel managing construction. Georgia Power said: "Progress is steady and evident, illustrated by multiple recent achievements such as the placement of new shield building panels for both units, placement of the 52-ton CA02 module for Unit 4 and the installation of the first steam generator."