US Southern Company has reported second-quarter earnings of $1.1 billion in 2022 compared with $372 million in 2021. However, Southern increased the cost estimate for its Georgia Power utility’s share of the two nuclear reactors under construction at units 3 & 4 of the Vogtle plant in Georgia. The Vogtle reactors, already billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, are the only new nuclear power units under construction in the USA.
Southern also changed its previously projected in-service dates for the reactors to the first quarter of 2023 for unit 3 and the fourth quarter of 2023 for unit 4. Previously, company was looking at a wider window of the fourth quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023 for unit 3 and the third to fourth quarters of 2023 for unit 4.
When Georgia approved the Vogtle expansion in 2009, the two 1,117MWe Westinghouse AP1000 reactors were expected to cost about $14 billion and to enter service in 2016 and 2017. Analysts estimate total costs, including financing, have now increased to more than $30 billion following delays related to the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan, the 2017 bankruptcy of former contractor Westinghouse, and the coronavirus pandemic.
The Vogtle owners include Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton (1.6%). However, Oglethorpe Power Corp in June and Dalton Utilities in July said they wanted to freeze their spending on the project. Their ownership in the project will be recalculated in future depending on the total cost to complete the reactors.
Despite the difficulties, Southern CEO Tom Fanning, said during the presentation of the financial report that the company was “excited about the progress that we’ve seen at the site over the last several months and look forward to the transition of unit 3 from construction to operations in the weeks ahead”. He noted that workers “will be focusing on testing and surveillance, demobilisation, finishing work and documentation” over the next few weeks.
He added: “To support an in-service date [for unit 3] at the end of the first quarter of 2023, we will need to complete this work and load fuel by the end of October.” As to unit 4, he said construction is now approximately 96% complete “and progress continues in advance of cold hydro testing and hot functional testing”.
Image: Vogtle nuclear power plant (source: Georgia Power)