Utility monitors estimate Southern Co. may spend more than $8B on Georgia nuclear plant

Energy Associated Press

Southern Co. might spend more than $8 billion to finish building a nuclear power plant in Georgia, or roughly 30 percent more than it originally budgeted, according to a recent analysis prepared for state utility regulators.

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Power company officials disclosed in January that builders expect it will take three years longer than first expected to construct two new reactors at Plant Vogtle. Construction delays can significantly run up the cost of building and financing a nuclear plant.

Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power would spend about $8 billion if construction is delayed just short of three years, according to an analysis that the head of the Public Service Commission's utilities division sent Jan. 8 to an elected regulator. That estimate is consistent with the potential delays Southern Co. and other Vogtle owners announced later in January, after the analysis was written.

Ongoing lawsuits could raise costs. Georgia Power's cost would rise to $8.3 billion if the power company paid half the money the plant's designer, Westinghouse Electric Co., and builder, Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., are seeking in a lawsuit.

Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said the company could not immediately comment on the state agency's analysis. Utility officials last projected Georgia Power would spend $6.7 billion on its share of the plant. Company officials will file an updated budget Feb. 27 that is expected to show roughly $720 million in additional charges due to delays.

A project using the same plant design in South Carolina previously announced similar delays priced at more than $1 billion.

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"Overall we continue to maintain that building these units correctly, and safely, is more important than building them quickly," Green said.

Georgia Power's customers will pay for the cost of the new plant unless state regulators intervene. The documents show staffers at the Public Service Commission are compiling a record of testimony showing how Southern Co. executives promised the plant's original cost estimate was reasonable and rejected suggestions they account for the possibility of delays or other difficulties.

Georgia Power owns a 46 percent stake in the new reactors at Plant Vogtle. The other owners include Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton.

The owners estimated the plant would cost a total of $14 billion. Estimating the precise cost now is difficult because each utility faces different borrowing costs and other charges. If the other companies faced costs similar to Georgia Power, the plant's total price tag would stand at more than $17 billion.

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Follow Ray Henry on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rhenryAP.