Vogtle delays and cost overruns not our fault, Georgia Power CEO says

Years of delays and billions of cost overruns at Plant Vogtle cannot be blamed on any mistakes made by Georgia Power, the company’s chief executive said in an interview Friday.

In a meeting with reporters at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Paul Bowers cited other factors, including bankruptcy of the main contractor, as well as actions and requirements imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Has Georgia Power made mistakes?

“The answer to that question is no,” Bowers said.

Now, there are more costs projected for Vogtle. In recent days, the utility, a unit of Southern Co., has appeared at hearings of the Georgia Public Service Commission to argue that commissioners agree to let the company pass along to customers those new costs – potentially, billions of dollars over the life of the plant.

Bowers said he does not expect any further significant overruns beyond that. But if there are, he said he would ask the PSC to let the company pass along those costs to customers as well.

He told the AJC that Georgia Power would seek “all prudently incurred costs on the project.”

The second of the two units under construction is now scheduled for completion in late 2022, a year after the first unit, according to Georgia Power.

“We have confidence that this is going to be met,” Bowers said Friday of the new schedule and cost.

The project has repeatedly missed goals in the past and has long been contested by watchdog groups. Vogtle was years behind schedule and over-budget even before Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

While Bowers said at least some delays were connected to the NRC, two years ago, Georgia Power’s then-executive vice president for nuclear development said NRC regulatory changes had no significant impact on the project’s time-table.

Opponents of the project appearing at the PSC hearings this week argued that Georgia Power should not be permitted to pass the charges on to customers.

The commissioners will in February decide whether to give a nod to continue with the project and allow the company to pass new costs along to customers.

Bowers said Friday that nuclear power now provides “19 or 20” percent of the electricity produced for the state by Georgia Power. The addition of Vogtle would add only incrementally to that, bringing nuclear’s share to 21 or 22 percent of the total.

Despite that relatively small difference, nuclear power has the advantage of reliability and – unlike some renewable energy sources – is always “on.”

Coal now accounts for less than 30 percent of the power produced, he said. Moving even further away from coal protects the state from whatever environmental restrictions might be imposed in the future, he said.

He also dismissed the idea that the decline of coal will reverse and the product might once again become a competitive source of power.

“Economics drive all the decisions,” he said. “Coal just can’t compete.”

Anastaciah Ondieki contributed to this story


AJC Business reporter Michael E. Kanell keeps you updated on the latest news about jobs, housing and consumer issues in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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