In Orson Welles’ classic “Citizen Kane,” the newspaper mogul of the film’s title died with his sprawling seaside palace still unfinished. Whether two under-construction nuclear reactors near Augusta turn out to be the Southern Company’s version of Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu is something we might — or, given the course of the Plant Vogtle saga so far, might not — know within the next six months.
If Southern Co., parent company of Georgia Power, ends up pulling the plug on the Vogtle expansion, it will have been one of the most expensive dead ends anybody can remember — especially given that the power company, with the OK of the state Public Service Commission, began charging customers for the up-front costs of the project years ago.
But finishing it will be massively expensive as well, making this a question of whether going all in will ultimately be the best bet or just a case of throwing good money — in the billions — after bad.
Which leaves both the utility and the PSC with some decisions that will involve megabucks either way. |
Georgia Power announced last week that it will come up with a recommendation for the commission by the end of this month on whether to finish the two new reactors or shut the project down.
If its decision in the Aug. 31 progress report on Vogtle is to forge ahead, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports, then the PSC will spend six months reviewing the project and render its verdict by the end of February 2018.
This project has taken a daunting toll: Once-mighty Westinghouse, a major contractor in the project, has gone bankrupt, and Toshiba, another partner, is reeling. It’s Westinghouse’s March collapse that is forcing the issue now.
The project to build two new reactors at Vogtle, which was originally estimated at a cost of $14 billion and was expected to be completed this year, is less than half finished. Meanwhile, as reported in the Chronicle story, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning has said if the work moves forward, one new unit won’t be in operation until 2022, the other one a year later.
The cost estimate is now in excess of $25 billion.
The PSC announced last week it has compiled a list of 14 questions members want Georgia Power to answer; the commission will take up that resolution this week.
As reported by Russell Grantham in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Georgia Power attorney told the PSC a definitive decision from the commission approving additional schedule delays and costs overruns is a must for the project being completed: “We cannot go forward without you letting us go forward.”
A footnote: As has recently been reported, a similar nuclear power expansion was abandoned in South Carolina due in large part to the Westinghouse bankruptcy and other issues similar to those at Vogtle. Grantham’s story cites media reports that South Carolina’s governor has been looking into whether other utilities, including Southern Company, might be interested in helping restart the project there.
Don’t bet on it. With the very real possibility of one multibillion-dollar Xanadu standing empty and idle in Georgia, risking another one in another state would be a long-odds gamble indeed.