Vogtle Plant In Georgia Might Not Be Completed / by Norris McDonald

With a multibillion-dollar nuclear project in South Carolina dead, the fate of America’s nuclear renaissance now rests on one utility: Southern Co.

Vogtle Plant Construction Site

Vogtle Plant Construction Site

Scana Corp. dropped plans for two reactors Monday, leaving the two that Southern is building at the Vogtle plant in Georgia as the only ones under construction in the U.S. And even they are under threat: The utility had to take over management of the project from its bankrupt contractor Westinghouse Electric Co., and the plant is still years behind schedule and billions over budget. Now it must decide whether to finish them.

Southern calling it quits could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the long-awaited U.S. nuclear renaissance that has failed to materialize in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident. In 2012, Southern and Scana became the first companies to gain approval to build U.S. reactors in more than 30 years -- only to find themselves in troubling times for the industry.

On top of construction setbacks and ballooning costs, nuclear plants are reeling under intense competition from cheap natural gas and renewables that have spurred states led by New York to go as far as offering subsidies for existing reactors to keep them open.

Although Southern faces many of the same challenges that led Scana and Santee Cooper, the state power authority with a 45 percent stake in the project, to shelve their reactors, the company was quick to put some distance between the two. 

In scrapping the South Carolina project, Santee Cooper said an analysis showed the plant would not be completed until 2024, four years after the most recent target provided by Westinghouse, and would end up costing its customers a total of $11.4 billion.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s utility regulator is keeping up the pressure on Southern to make a final decision on whether to go forward with the reactors by the end of the year.  Southern secured a $3.7 billion payment guarantee from Westinghouse’s parent, Toshiba Corp., dwarfing the $2.2 billion guarantee for Scana’s project.  Southern also has more co-owners on the project, and the rate impact is spread across a bigger customer base.  (Bloomberg, 7/31/2017)