ATLANTA – A minority utility partner in the nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle is freezing its capital costs on the long-delayed, overbudget project.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

Oglethorpe Power is one of three minority partners on the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at the plant south of Augusta, along with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) and Dalton Utilities. Georgia Power, which owns the largest share, is overseeing the project.

In freezing its costs, Oglethorpe is exercising an option agreed to by all four project co-owners in 2018. Under the agreement, Oglethorpe will reduce its share of ownership of the project from 30% to 28% in exchange for Georgia Power paying 100% of Oglethorpe’s remaining share of construction costs.

Freezing its share of the project will cap Oglethorpe’s costs at $8.1 billion.

“Oglethorpe Power and our member cooperatives are deeply invested in the success of these nuclear units that will provide emission-free energy for Georgians for the next 60 to 80 years,” said Michael L. Smith, Oglethorpe Power’s president and chief executive officer.  

“At the same time, we feel responsible for protecting our not-for-profit member cooperatives and their consumers. … Our decision to freeze protects EMC (electric membership cooperative) energy consumers who can least afford increases in their electricity rates, especially in today’s economy.”

Plant Vogtle has suffered multiple delays and cost overruns since the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the expansion in 2009. Originally expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017 at a cost of $14 billion, the project’s price tag has more than doubled.

Since September 2018, the project budget has increased five times, totaling an increase of $3.4 billion since the co-owners jointly negotiated the new cost-sharing agreement.

Under the latest projected schedule, the first of the two reactors is due to go into service by the first quarter of next year. The second reactor is scheduled to follow by the fourth quarter of 2023.

Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said the Atlanta-based utility doesn’t believe Oglethorpe has the legal right to freeze its capital costs for the Plant Vogtle expansion.

“Georgia Power and Oglethorpe have a difference of opinion over the dollar amount at which this tender option is triggered,” Hawkins said.

“Our focus continues to be bringing the Vogtle units online safely. We will continue to engage with our co-owners productively as we achieve that goal.”

Oglethorpe Power’s decision to freeze its capital costs does not stop the project. According to Georgia Power, as of the end of March, the total project was 96.3% complete.

“Oglethorpe Power is committed to ensuring our member cooperatives’ power supply needs are met with affordable, reliable, safe and environmentally responsible generation,” Smith said. “By exercising the freeze option, we are ensuring that the 4.4 million Georgians served by our member cooperatives will not absorb future capital cost increases, if they occur.”

The Plant Vogtle expansion is the first advanced nuclear project in the United States in three decades. The two new units are the only nuclear reactors currently under construction in America.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.