The comments came from William Jacobs, a nuclear engineer the commission hired to monitor construction. He testified that a Louisiana subcontractor making components for the reactors was new to the nuclear field and not accustomed to the requirements to document every step in the fabrication process. Correcting the mistakes took eight months for one of its modules, which still hasn’t arrived at Vogtle.
“It happened month after month. We would go to meetings, and they would present all the ‘new and wonderful things’ they were now doing differently, and then the next month there’d be more new and more wonderful things. Yet, no modules were arriving at the site,” he said. “It’s been a painful process.”
He said the company has resolved the situation but that it delayed construction by 15 months.
Commission Chairman Tim Echols said that after eight months, the module could have simply been rebuilt with the correct records.
“Do you know how difficult it would be to stand in front of ratepayers and others and say, ‘The reason the project is over budget is because of paperwork?’” Echols said.
The commission is reviewing what Georgia Power spends on construction, and it can block the utility from passing along expenses to customers that are “clearly imprudent.” Jacobs has pointed out delays and budget overruns, but the commission hasn’t disallowed any expenses. He noted that under the construction contract the utility can assess penalties on the builder for missing its schedule.
A parade of residents opposed to nuclear power took turns urging the commission to halt construction to prevent customers from being saddled with the costs.
Earlier this month, PSC consultant Philip Hayet – an expert on cost modeling and utility industry policy – questioned Georgia Power’s forecast of $5 billion in economic benefits from the Vogtle project.
“Staff believes this figure is misleading and requires further clarification,” he wrote, noting that the figure is from a “cost to complete analysis” but does not represent the project’s impact on ratepayers.
Issues with late delivery of components, the need to correct non-compliant rebar and other factors are lining up to create 12- to 18-month delays in completing the projects, which in turn will further reduce the perceived economic benefit to ratepayers, he said.
“The impact of the 12-month delay is a reduction in benefits of about $1 billion, while the 18-month delay scenario results in about an additional reduction of $300 million in benefits,” he said.