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Georgia Power still confident in Vogtle schedule, despite PSC staff evaluation

Highlights

In-service dates may be delayed: report

Final vessel installed, testing started

Houston — Georgia regulatory staffers said Friday that Georgia Power's two-unit Vogtle nuclear power expansion is falling further behind schedule and likely over budget, but Georgia Power on Monday reiterated its confidence in meeting the completion schedule and announced it has started "major testing" at the facilities.

In a Georgia Public Service Commission filing, Don Grace, vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group, said, "The recently established April 2019 Baseline [construction schedule] does not represent an achievable plan, nor does it provide a meaningful basis for performance monitoring and thereby it does not represent an effective tool for updating forecasts of the Project [commercial operation date] and [total project cost]."

"The Company itself refers to the 2019 Baseline as a strategy and admits that they continue to use it as such, even when it may look unachievable or aggressive," said Grace, whose VMG was engaged to independently evaluate Southern Nuclear's work on the two 1,117-MW Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear generators.

VMG applied a Schedule Performance Index to the work that has been done so far on Unit 3, and applied that to the remaining work to be done. SPI equals planned hours to be earned divided by earned hours. Thus, if the index is greater than 1, it means the earned hours were proportionately less than planned.

IN-SERVICE DATES

Cumulatively, from April through September, the SPI has equaled 1.35, meaning "it takes 1.35 months to earn progress that was planned for one month." For the period from July 2018 through this September, the cumulative SPI has equaled 1.4. Without a change in schedule, the work on Unit 3 could be delayed to February/March 2022, Grace said in his filing.

Regarding work on Unit 4, Grace said it is "difficult to assess at this point," Grace said.

"VMG's opinion, however, is that even with the Lessons Learned in planning and executing the Unit 3 work it is questionable that the assumed 1-year duration between the Unit CODs can be maintained or decreased," Grace said. "For example, the average duration between COD's at US dual unit nuclear plant sites has been roughly 2 years (as was the case for Vogtle 1 and 2)."

Southern Nuclear, the Southern Company subsidiary overseeing construction, has forecast total project cost to be $17.1 billion, including cost to all of the equity owners, not just Georgia Power's 45.7% ownership.

"With respect to the TPC, assuming the current performance trends continue, the $17.1B may be exceeded," Grace said.

Grace also calculated a Cost Performance Index, equal to the actual hours spent divided by hours earned, which for the period of April through September equaled 1.53, meaning it took 1.5 hours to complete one hour of planned work.

For the project to be completed within its $17.1 billion project cost, it would need to be done three months early -- i.e., about August 2021 for Unit 3 and August 2022 for Unit 4 -- to cut VMG's estimated total project cost of almost $17.5 billion to the project forecast cost of $17.1 billion.

GEORGIA POWER RESPONSE

However, in response to Friday's filing, Georgia Power said Monday that it "continues to expect that we will achieve the in-service dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Vogtle units 3 and 4, respectively."

"As we've been saying, the site's aggressive working plan is intended as a tool to build margin to help us achieve the November regulatory-approved dates," the company said in a media release.

Also on Friday, Georgia Power announced it had placed the sixth and final unit containment vessel -- each weighing more than a jumbo jet, with a 130-foot diameter and 38-foot height -- at Unit 4.

On Monday, Georgia Power announced it had started open vessel testing, showing how water flows from the key safety systems into the reactor vessel, confirming that the pumps, motors, valves, pipes and other systems function as designed.

"This is a significant step on our path towards operations," Glen Chick, Vogtle 3 and 4 construction executive vice president, said in a media release. "Open Vessel Testing will prepare the unit for cold hydro testing and hot functional testing next year -- both critical tests required ahead of initial fuel load."

-- Mark Watson, markham.watson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Rocco Canonica, newsdesk@spglobal.com